Friday, April 30, 2010

Open Sesame

I told myself that I'd never futz around with the comments section on this blog. I told myself, let joy be unconfined, let everyone comment as they damn well please.

Well, I just checked some older posts and the spam was thicker than goddam kudzu, worse than Himalayan blackberry in a Gresham vacant lot in June.

So, much as I hate to do this, I'm adding one of those irritating "random word generator" apps to the comments section. I hope the faithful won't find it too much of a pain and if you do I will revert to the old system. But I hate to go re-read my old prose and find that all the comments relate to Viagra.

Friday Jukebox: Hey Ya, Carrier Air Wing Edition

I'd almost forgotten about this; music video made by a Navy C&C squadron, the "Sun Kings" of VAW-116:Works for me because 1) the OutKast tune is wicked catchy, and 2) the gang of flying squids is funny, REALLY funny, and they catch something of the clever silliness you get when you have a bunch of young (and some not so young), smart people with time on their hands.

Happy Friday, and welcome to May...

(h/t to Armchair Generalist and Starbuck over at Wings over Iraq.

How's that "drill, baby, drill" thing working out for you?

Count me as unsurprised that an offshore drilling accident is making a mess of the Gulf Coast. Drilling in general tends to be chancy and offshore work is even more chancy. This wasn't an if, just a when.What I am perplexed at is the exact technical details of why this borehole is still blowing out. The technology to shut in wells and boreholes is pretty mature; the first ram-type blowout preventer (BOP) was engineered in 1922. Every well I ever logged had a full BOP stack in place which was tested every day. The idea is the same as the "SCRAM" switch on a nuclear reactor pile - if something bad happens the thing is designed to trip and shut everything down.

Clearly this isn't happening, but why? Was this an engineering error - the stack wasn't placed correctly to shut in the borehole? Or was something operational screwed up - some error of maintanence or function - that caused the BOP to fail to operate? The linked story says that "BP (the rig operator) is still trying to activate the well's blowout preventer." which suggests that the BOP is thought to be in place and functional and, more indicatively, suggests that the problem was human error that prevented the BOP from activating when the rig detonated.

There's a couple things to think about here, as well.

First, even back in the late Seventies and early Eighties when I worked in the oilpatch most of the people who worked for the drilling, exploration and oil companies were neither careless nor stupid. Many of them were or were descended from outdoorsmen, most of them loved the wild lands if only because they hunted or fished. The oil majors' companymen knew perfectly well that the public considered them greedy, careless or both, and that every spill that made the papers was harmful for their profits as well as a target for everyone who wanted them off the public lands and heavily regulated on the private ones.

But they also had a bottom line to think about. So they had to tread a very sharp edge, worrying about their surroundings but worrying about their margins as well. Everybody I knew, for example, had a scare story about PHI, the helicopter company that flew us on and off the ocean platforms. PHI wasn't a big name like the airlines. And it operated in a low margin business, and so we figured it was working pretty close to the edge. It seemed very likely to us that PHI would be willing to pencil-whip a safety check or scheduled maintenence if it meant ending the month in the black. So while a catastrophic spill could damage careers at Shell or BP, well, taking a chance with environmental precautions that paid off in decreased expenses? I can see where and when some might consider that an acceptable gamble.

Second, oil exploration work is - although I didn't know it at the time, having not yet been in the Army - a lot like military service. Every once in a while it's dangerous. But mostly its either skull-bendingly boring or completely, bone-rippingly, ceaseless, brutally hard labor. Either way you can't goof off for a moment - there are WAY too many things that can kill you - but there's a ton of wasted time as you're drilling an inch an hour. And when you're topholing through gumbo off of Louisiana or tripping out a drilistring from 6,000 feet you're doing the same thing over and over, usually at the very top end of control, often in the cold, the wet and the dark, for hours at a time.

So how do bad things happen on drilling rigs? In a lot of ways, it's pretty amazing that bad things don't happen all the time. But accidents in drilling - like casualties in wartime - are going to happen. And, as in war, the problem is that you spend a hell of a lot of time preparing for something that doesn't happen...until it does. And sometimes, as appear to have happened here, that sudden insane transition from everything working right to everything going wrong just runs ahead of your planning and experience.

So what frustrates me about the "drill, baby, drill" crowd is their obstinate refusal to accept that petroleum dependency is a dead-end street that is often, almost inescapably, signposted with dead men and fouled waters.We're discovering, extracting and consuming petroleum at several orders of magnitude faster than it can be produced geologically. So the cul-de-sac is up ahead, and unless we're prepared for it we're going to be in an ugly place when we reach it; out of gas and with no alternative to keep us going. And since these spills are inevitable, the risk versus return (as the prospects become more marginal and the drilling more difficult) becomes much less acceptable.

But, again, this stinks to me of the same shoving-our-fingers-in-our-ears-and-singing-"lalalalala!" that we've seen over and over again; invading semifailed states in central Asia...arresting poor people for jumping our border...whistling along as our economy is looted by speculators...pretending we can "fix" the medical system with a handful of nails and a roll of duct tape.

We seem to have substituted motion for direction and making loud noises and waving our arms for actual thinking. I have no idea how this will work out, but I can't imagine any way it will end well.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hispanics in your backyard at 3 a.m.

Let's get this straight up front: George Will is a curmudgeonly old stick who has managed to lose whatever common sense and humanity he ever had toadying to the power brokers in today's GOP. He's become Rush Limbaugh in a tweed jacket.

Still, the man is what passes for an "intellectual" of the Right. I can only assume that this is the only reason that today's Oregonian ("We're the Worst Newspaper In the World But We're The Only Newspaper In Portland!") was willing to front up his appalling screed on the Arizona "Papieren, bitte!" immigration law.

As usual, Will takes his little conservative sawed-off shotgun of Deep Conservative Thinking, aims it at the Godless Lib'ruls, and blows off his own foot. And, no, I'm not going to link to the sunovabitch. Google "George Will" and "Arizona immigration" and you'll find his worthless ass.

Specifically what he does is he manages to completely miss the whole point of those of us who find the new law so frigging stupid.

It doesn't have anything to do with racism. Or fascism. Or anti-Mexican prejudice. Or the damn Tea Party idiots and what they do or don't believe is true.

Nope. It's in the process that's stated in S.B. 1070 in these words: "For any lawful contact made by a low enforcement official or agency...where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a resonable attempt shall be made, when practical, to determine the immigration status of that individual."

"Where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States..."

Do you see the problem here?

Let's say that I am Canadian. I slipped across the border into Oregon, applied for a state ID (which in my state does not require proof of citizenship). I have a job, a house, am in all ways indistinguishable from someone born in Portland or Gresham except that I'm not a legal U.S. citizen.

How is a Maricopa sheriff's deputy going to know that?

Should I wear a Canucks jersey? Go around saying "eh?" a lot? Wear snowshoes in Tempe and run gallumphing away when the county cruiser drives by?

Let's cut through the bullshit being spouted about this and man up to the fact that there are only two ways to enforce this law:

1. Target groups or individuals who are "likely" to be in the U.S. illegally.

This is clearly what the law intends. It is designed to smoke out Latinos; Mexicans, Salvadorians, Hondurans, Guatemalans, who are in the country without their papers. Will's column admits as much. He describes it as a "cry for help" because the feds have failed to control passage through our southern border. In the process he also makes the specious claim that Democrats and liberals who object to this are only doing so to win Hispanic votes, but, nevermind, it's George Will. Will makes the assertion that this is merely federalism at work, and that we who know Hispanics only as people with leafblowers in our front yards at noon - rather than in our backyards at 3 a.m. - need to get over it and let Arizonans get on with the job.

(Let me also observe the nasty implicit racisim in the notion that because the Arizonans who like this law are more "familiar" with brown people they have more reason to suspect that many of them are criminals. But, nevermind, it's George Will.)

If this is the intent - which it is - the law is clearly both wrong in intent and illegal in practice. If it becomes obvious that Arizona lawmen are stopping hispanic-looking people and asking for their papers the disparity and prejudicial intent of the law will be legally unavoidable. When the first Hispanic U.S. citizen unable to produce the appropriate papers is arrested (and at least one will be - the Border Patrol and the USCIS, charged with enforcing immigration law, do this all the time) the violent and debilitating payout of taxpayer funds in lawsuits will begin. How many deputies and librarians will Arizona counties have to lay off before realizing that this is a mug's game?

2. Begin asking random individuals for their proof of citizenship.

Game over. The "Papers, please!" chestnut is the oldest shorthand for dictatorship we know. When and if this happens, Arizona will have officially become the rubber bobo head for all the dumb nativist beliefs spouted everywhere in the U.S. And yes, I'm looking mostly at you, conservatives. You've embraced this tarbaby all on your ownselves.

More to the point, none of this really has anything to do with dealing with the problem of controlling our southern border and why it is so difficult.

I have no doubt that this law has something to do with hating on some Mexicans and something to with the a certain type of person's approach to a problem being to find the biggest stick possible and beat on it. But that's not the problem.

One problem is that this law is an unenforcibly bad law; it requires Arizona cops to choose between racism and authoritarianism. It's said that hard cases make bad law. Well, bad law makes for hard cases, and this one is going to be as bad as can be. But that's not the problem, either.

The problem is that this law is a symptom. The problem is that this is a symptom of the kind of bad, stupid, things that people do when they have no patience and no intelligence to come up with a complex solution to a complex problem. The problem is that this law isn't all that much different than doing bad, stupid things like launching land wars and occupying lands in central Asia in retaliation for an act of civilian criminality by a handful of raggedy-ass guerillas. It's not all that much different from doing bad, stupid things like passing legislation that let slicky-boys run financial Ponzi schemes and then refusing to change anything when their greed and dumb stupidity impoverish others.

Back in June of 2007 I talked a lot about this. About how the "illegal immigration" problem isn't really an "illegal immigration" problem but a multi-car pileup of social, economic and political ills in Central America, economic imbalance across the Border, pig-stupid U.S. drug and labor laws, wishful thinking and reality-avoidance on all sides wrapped up in the bone-deep simplicity of the sort of people like Arizona's governor and her fellow thumb-hammerers in the state legislature. About how this does nothing more than punish people desperate to help themselves and their families while doing nothing, less than nothing, about the problems and structural instability that brought them there.

I have no hope that the sort of people in Arizona who thought this law would work will suddenly get smarter. In fact, I have little hope at all that my nation as a whole can avoid the long slide into magical thinking and stupid answers to difficult questions that this law represents. All I can do is repeat to Governor Brewer and the idiotic legislators of Arizona now what I said then:
"The real issue - the one Which Dare Not Speak Its Name - is that the institutional poverty, misgovernance and social maladjustment of most Latin American countries is so profound and so destructive that to address it would take every penny that the U.S. has spent on poorly planned foreign adventures and more. Much more.

So instead we get this idiotic argument that all we need to do is fence these little heatherns out and everything wil be Good. God will once again be White and in His Heaven, the food will magically get harvested, processed, cooked and served by Real Amurikans (actual Citizens) who will suddenly, magically, want to work for the pittance we want to pay for these jobs to prevent our food, clothing and service costs from reflecting what it would cost to pay humans actually living wages to do these things.

As Hadrian himself might have said: Nam tua res agitur, paries cum proximus ardet.

It is your business when your neighbour's house is on fire."
Hadrian used stone to build his wall and try and keep the Pictish wetbacks out. It was a warlike act and as such it worked for a time. But eventually the pressure from without and the rot from within knocked the rocks down.

I have no idea of what it means that the only rocks involved here are inside people like Jan Brewer's and Russel Pearce's and George Will's heads.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Birthday Girl

We don't know, and probably never will, whether this really was the day four years ago when a woman - whom we will also probably never know - went into labor, probably in a private home, probably somewhere near the city of Dongguan in Guangdong Province in the People's Republic of China.We don't know and probably never will know whether it was an easy labor or a difficult one, whether the woman was young, middle-aged, whether she was a sunny, cheerful sort of person, whether she went through the effort to see her child into the world with her friends and family about her or alone, prey to the fears that suffering unaided through such a great labor might be expected to summon from the lonely darkness.We do know that the baby girl she lifted in her arms had what in the bad old days would have been called the "cat's mouth"; a cleft lip and upper jaw.

We don't know if that was why this woman left the baby outside a filling station one morning several weeks later. We don't know if she was pressured to give the baby up by her family, boyfriend, or husband. We don't know if it was because the baby had difficulty nursing and was failing to thrive, and the worried mother had decided that those more powerful and wealthy than she could help the tiny girl in a way that she couldn't.We will never really know what the little girl's first year-and-a-half was like, in the "Social Welfare Institute" in Dongguan. We know that it couldn't have been much good for when we first met her that Friday evening two and a half years ago in the immense hotel on Shamian Dao she was a tiny, underweight, crewcut little thing; nonverbal, barely ambulatory and full of giardia.We'll probably never be able to know what she thought and felt that first long winter as we struggled to understand each other. We'll never know what she needed, or wanted, or the whys that started each tear that fell.

There's so much that we'll never know.But we know that it has been a very long way for such a small girl to run in four short years of life.

You've grown so big, and stretched so far. Those slender little legs you barely used now carry you so quickly that your mother and I can barely keep up with you. Climbing high, singing, dancing, telling stories to the accompanyment of your own've become a very, very Big Girl.So in that time you've done what we all have to do at some time; you've taken hold of the day that someone else gave to you and made it your own. You're becoming the child, who will be the adolescent and, eventually, the woman you choose to be; smart girl, sweet girl, happy girl, stubborn girl, silly girl, loved and loving girl, funny girl, serious girl, growing girl, daddy's girl...
Birthday Girl.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Steiner ist REALLY nicht fucking angekommen

I came across this over at Armchair Generalist; it seems that some pissant outfit named "Constantin Film AG" has been harassing YouTube into taking down parodies of the now-viral "bunker rant" scene from their movie "Downfall" ("Der Untergang").

Here's a parody of that, courtesy of Zaquery Green, on the much-less well known Vimeo website.

This is actually pretty infuriating. The Copyright Act of 1976 (17 U.S.C. § 107) and subsequent decisions such as Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., Mattel v. Walking Mountain Productions, and Suntrust v. Houghton Mifflin clearly lay out parody as a "fair use" of copyrighted material. Not to mention that the damn flick would be scarcely known outside the German-speaking world without these parodies.

My world is a little darker knowing that driftglass' brilliant "Little Richie Daley Reacts to Losing The Olympics" parody can no longer be viewed through his, or my, blog. I know that we're all wholly owned subsidiaries of the corporate media and their whores. I know that our modern media culture has no integrity and will bend over for the bemonied, belawyered interests that run the house. But it's nice to forget that for a moment and just have a laugh. Until you're reminded of Who Owns You.

So curse you, snippy and humorless little Constantin Film AG. Curse you, testicle-free YouTube. You are helping to ensure that we are truly living in a debased time.

Those look like about a Moment Magnitude 8.5 to me...

Here's a teensy funny; a young woman in Indiana is conducting an experiment to see if her rather delightfuly displayed frontispiece (see Figure 1, below) can cause seismic activity in the normally rather tectonically bland regions of the central U.S. I admit to being rather unprofessionally seduced by her off-kilter geek girl charm and her clever idea, but then I'm a fool for the smart geeky gals. Hell, I went and married one.

Figure 1: Potentially Seismogenic Breasts
For, you see, a brief verbal monograph on plate tectonics (referred to in the media somewhat curiously as a "Friday sermon" - there may be some cultural reference I'm missing here) has been published, based on the work of a previously little-known Iranian seismologist, Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi. Dr. Sedighi (I'm assuming the doctorate, since this level of seismological work is usually done at fairly advanced levels) who has been quoted as saying; "Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes..."

The investigator is shown in Figure 2, below:
Figure 2: Potentially Non-Seismogenic Iranian Cleric
"What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble?" says Dr. Sediqi, "There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam's moral codes."

Mind you, the Iranian cleric/scientist has not been able to explain the relative lack of seismicity centered around the French Riveria, Rio de Janiero and the Oregon Country Fair.

But I'm hopeful that the Journal of Geophysical Review can provide some insight into Dr. Sediqi's methodology and analysis that will explain this omission.

Now in case you think I'm getting all snarkily academic; please note that I'm generally all in favor of the notion that science is for everyone. IMO one of the most pernicious things we've done since the Enlightenment is make scientific knowledge the province of the specialist, the "egghead", the science geek. In return, most people know less about natural phenomenon like earthquakes and volcanoes than they do about electronic gadgets, sports statistics, and the marital status of Sandra Bullock. This, to my mind, is NOT a healthy way to run a technological civilization.

Now, unfortunately, my work safety dress requirements preclude my participation in this fascinating experiment. Add to that the well-known tectonic activity of the Pacific Northwest, even if I could help out it may be difficult to rule out pure randomness in the "scandalous attire = seismic catastrophe" connection.

But you bet that when I get home tonight Mojo and I are going to put on our grass skirts or our Speedos and do the Barbie Girl dance, you betcha. Swinging fleshy bits mean M9 subduction zone earthquake? Bring it on, baby!

Anything for science.

Update 4/27: Well, the U.S.G.S. has come down squarely on the side of boobs. They're seismologically friendly!

Not only did the global frequency of seismicity NOT increase yesterday, but the mean magnitude actually decreased. Perhaps flaunting female bounty actually has a sort of pleasingly calming effect on tectonic activity?

Works on me that way, so why not the Cascadia Subduction Zone?

Kudos to Jen for her ground breaking experimental work.

And a shake of the finger to certain Iranian clerics and their theological counterparts everywhere. What she wears is her business, giacomo. You want to keep your chastity uncorrupted? Try and grow up and act like a man; she's not your rubber love-doll and she's not dressing for your sexual uses. Her body, like yours, is and should be a wonder of nature - strong, swift and healthy. She is a sunrise, a flower, a hawk in flight; beautiful, an inspiration. Try and think past your goddamn penis for a moment, eh?

What IS it with religion and women's bodies that makes so many men so stupid?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Decisive Battles: Culloden 1746

Culloden Date: 16 APR 1746Forces Engaged: Jacobite ("Highland") Army:
Roughly 5,300 Scottish infantrymen (largely "clansmen" from the tribal organizations of the Scottish North and West, with some Catholic and Jacobite supporters from the southeast - everywhere in Scotland, in fact, outside the Presbyterian and Covenanting southwest).

The Highland Army was less medieval than it has been portrayed; many of the Jacobite soldiers had muskets or some sort of firearm. But many did not, and sword-and-targe, lochaber axe, even spears, pikes and scythes were not unknown. The Jacobite infantry should best be considered as a sort of unholy stramash of late-medieval sword-and-spear footsoldiers with a scattering of projectile-firing infantrymen.The Jacobite Rising had the nominal support of the Bourbon monarchy in France but despite his aggression in the bedchamber Louis XV was not inclined to spend French blood or French treasure on the megalomaniac fantasies of the Stuart pretender. Cheap victories when he could get them, but the Bourbon sent no more than two regiments; about 350 men of the "Royal Écossaise" (the Wiki entry for Culloden mistakenly identifies this short battalion as "Gardes Écossaise", an improbable confusion since though originally Scots by 1745 the Garde was part of the personal bodyguard of the maison de roi and mainly French nationals) and 302 Irish Picquets (a composite unit formed from the Irish Brigade of the French Army)

Roughly 200 troopers. As medieval as the Highland infantry was for 1745, the cavalry was worse. The Jacobites brought about 120 or so assorted "cavalry", meaning any Jacobite wealthy enough to keep a horse, to Culloden and these were scattered into three units, not one of which fielded more than 50 troopers. The only reliable cavalry unit in the Highland Army consisted of one "FitzJames' Horse", a French unit (though composed, interestingly, mostly of English former merchant sailors) numbering about 60-70, almost half of the mounted troops.

The Jacobite Army is recorded as having dragged a total of 12 artillery pieces to Drumossie Moor; eleven 3-pounder cannon and a "Swedish" 4-pound gun. Assuming that these had an average crew of 4 to 5 the Jacobite gunners probably numbered somewhere between 50 and 80. The Highland gunners were not nearly as amateurish as they have been painted, but their commander had neither understanding of nor patience for the cannons, so what efforts that made on Drumossie Moor were largely wasted by poor tactics.

A total of roughly 6,000 troops all arms (roughly 20 battalions, though actually the units ranged in size from a small company to a large battalion) under the personal command of Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Silvester Severino Maria Stuart, notional Prince of the United Kingdom of England, Ireland, and Scotland and better known as the "Young Pretender", or "Bonnie Prince Charlie".

Government (Hanoverian) Army of the North:


15 battalions of regular British infantry; five brigades of three regiments (in 1746 each British infantry unit consisted of a single battalion) totalling 5,570 rank and file. A single Highland battalion of roughly 300 - "the damned Campbells" - accompanied the Government Army to Culloden.

Two regiments of dragoons (which by this time were no longer mounted infantrymen but rather heavy cavalry), a regiment of light horse and a small escort troop of "hussars" - a total of 774 troopers.

One company of Royal Artillery (106 sergeants, gunners and matrosses) employing 10 3-pound cannon and 6 Coehorn mortars.

So, a total of roughly 6,600 to 7,000 all arms under His Royal Highness William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, Marquess of Berkhamstead in the County of Hertford, Earl of Kennington in the County of Surrey, Viscount of Trematon in the County of Cornwall, and Baron of the Isle of Alderney, aka "Butcher Cumberland". Oh, and LTG Henry Hawley, Commander-in-Chief, North Britain.

A Personal Note: In the interest of full disclosure I should state that I am a MacMillan of That Ilk through my mother's side of the family.

Her father, Donald MacMillan of Edinburgh, arrived in this country from the Auld Sod back in 1899 probably, as with many Scots of his age and time, full of romantic bilgewater about "Bliadhna Theàrlaich" (Charles' Year) and the sort of nauseatingly pseudopoetic crapola about the Forty-Five that skeptic Scots-Americans like me call the "shortbread tin Scotland".

Perhaps the best example I can find is this awfully rotten song by one Isla Grant called the "Ghosts of Culloden":(I pause to note that the battle was fought in April without a flake of "drifting snow", that there never has been a death in battle that featured "pride and dignity", and most of all that Charles Edward, Prince of the Blood, King of the Tantrum, and absolute monarchist would have split a fucking gut laughing at the notion that the clansmen who fought for his right to rule the United Kingdom "fought and died for liberty")

So I have to be cautious dealing with Culloden because it is my considered opinion that individually and collectively the Stuarts represent among the worst that human governance has to offer, a stain and a dishonor on Scotland and a clan that should be a byword and a hissing.

From Charles I, whose abilities were so meager that he pushed his entire dominion into civil war, to the absolutism of James II (with, perhaps, a soft spot for that merry monarch Charles II) I can not but see "Bonnie Prince Charlie" as just another in a succession of the goddamn feckless, incompetent Stuarts that spent the better part of a century fucking up the British Isles and it colors my vision of the entire Forty-Five.

So if I therefore tend to give the Jacobite commanders the benefit of the doubt for fear of rather indulging my dislike of Charlie and his entire camorra I apologize in advance for any error in fact or partiality in observation.

It is in the blood; although it is recorded that one Captain Ewen Macmillan of Murlagan led the Macmillan company in Lochiel's regiment at Culloden along with his lieutenants Dugald and Finlay Macmillan...

I would not have turned out for the Pretender in 1745.

The Sources: As for most battles fought in the human Industrial Era, widespread literacy has provided a wealth of documentation. The Royal Army of the time preserved in its official papers a variety of orders, muster rolls, returns and assessments. Other state papers detail the activity of the Government faction as well as what they knew of the Jacobite movements. Even many of the common people of the day could write; tradesmen, lawyers, prelates and the like, and have left their accounts of the great events that passed by outside their doors.Perhaps the most entertaining of these are the hasty pen sketches by a resident of the town of Penicuik. This "Penicuik artist" left some of the most engaging and immediate images of the Rising. His hastily drawn caricatures give us perhaps the most vivid and memorable images of the men and women who lived through the Second Jacobite Rising.

General histories discussing the battle began to appear in Victorian times, stimulated by the romances of Sir Walter Scott and the British mania for all things tartan and Highlandish entrained by the young queen's fascination with the bens and the glens and the heroes. As with the tartan setts themselves, much of what was written in the 19th Century was romantic Victoriana, best dismissed today as the yearning of a settled society for the danger and wilderness then a safe distance away

Of the modern sources, John Prebble's "Culloden" is perhaps the first and the best known while being the most reviled and dismissed. Written in the early Sixties, Prebble's account reads like - and has been compared by later historians to - a novel. It does wonderfully to give a feel for the experience of the soldiers of the Highland Army, but is flawed by the author's lack of scholarship and partisanship with the Jacobite cause.

Perhaps the best work extant is Christopher Duffy's "The '45: Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Untold Story of the Jacobite Rising". Published in 2003, Duffy went back to the original sources and chased down a lot of the shortbread that had worked its into the record.

As always, the Osprey campaign series does a good job of covering the purely military details. In particular Stuart Reid's "Culloden Moor 1746" does good work making the campaign, and the battle accessible and readable.

The Wiki entry, which appears to be based largely on Reid's work, is rather more complete and well researched than most.

The Campaign: It's not easy to find the head of the road that leads to Drumossie Moor. Would it be in the troubled reign of Charles I, whose religious intransigence was married to a social ineptitude of truly magnificent proportions? "A mild and gracious prince..." said one of his archbishops, "...who knew not how to be, or how to be made, great." But also a man of foolish obstinacy, and one who had little sense of proportion or feel for statecraft. His repeated and violent collisions with his Parliament helped pitch his nation into a pointless civil war, cost thousands their lives, and leave the country with fifteen years of wars and instability and dictatorship. Was it with Charles II, whose royal penis was unable to remain within the royal trousers, and whose assorted bastards produced a handful of pretenders, insurrectionists and rebels over the next fifty years?

No, I'd opine that the real outbreak of Stuart fucktardry begins with Charles I second son, James, the second of that name to reign in England (though the sixth to rule in Scotland). Ironically, this character succeeded in uniting the old enemies England and Scotland, putting an end to the centuries of war that had troubled the Border. He was a relatively efficient and effective administrator. And he was genuinely interested in religious liberty in a time of vast and relentless sectarian misery. It was his misfortune that he was both pigheadedly intolerant of any attempts to place limits on royal power and far in advance of his subjects' opinions on confessional diversity.

And worse, after pusillanimously failing to defeat the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 he fled to exile not in some inoffensively neutral country but into Catholic France. The Bourbons, showing their usual nose for Trouble, kept the exiled James on a string as a weapon against the Brits, though for the cost and trouble they'd have done better with a blandishing ape.

James' pendant pack of troubles came calling the next year in Ireland, where his military ineptitude managed to get a short pantsload of his Irish supporters killed at the Battle of the Boyne and his craven flight earned him the nickname "Seamus a'chaca" which translates from the Irish as "James the Shit".

The Boyne really was the end for James' exercise of royalty. His "court" dwindled away to a pack of idle exiles hanging on at the chateau of Saint Germain-en-Laye. He never seriously attempted to retake the United Kingdom.

But his pretensions lived on in his spawn. His son James ("The Third" to his partisans) made a brief appearance in Scotland when those partisans tried to turf out the new Hanoverian king of Britain in 1715.

The so-called "Old Pretender" may possibly have been an even worse leader than his Da; he landed in Peterhead in late December 1715, set up a "court" and impressed the locals mostly with his mopish demeanor and his various illnesses, and scarpered back to the boats in early February, 1716, having "reigned" a whopping 44 days in the British Isles. His parting message to the Scots who had turned out for him was, effectively, "so long, suckers" - telling them to shift for themselves.

And that brings us to his kid, Charles Edward the "Bonnie Prince".

The latest Stuart embarrassment landed in Eriskay, a four-square mile island on the far west coast of Scotland in July of 1745.

The background for the Forty-Five is, as always, the usual pointless dynastic Anglo-French war, in this case the War of Austrian Succession which began in 1743. The French saw their Jacobite client as a relatively inexpensive way to do the British a mischief. The portion of the Wiki entry discussing the Forty-Five sums it up pretty well;
"Through Semphill, English Jacobites made a formal request to France for armed intervention. The French king's Master of Horse toured southern England meeting Tories and discussing their proposals, and in November 1743 Louis XV of France authorized a large-scale invasion of southern England in February 1744. Charles Edward Stuart was invited to accompany the expedition and rushed to France, but a storm destroyed the attempt. The British lodged strong diplomatic objections to the presence of Charles, and France declared war but abandoned ideas of Jacobite risings and gave Charles no more encouragement."

Mind you, lack of encouragement never discouraged Charlie, then or after. He scraped together some cash (by means which included pawning his mom's jewelry) and set out with two ships to invade Britain. In typical Charles fashion the more useful of the two vessels, which embarked 700 Irish volunteers and arms and funds for the rebellion, was beaten back by a Royal Navy battleship. The Great Man himself arrived with no more than the clothes he stood up in and seven supporters; four Irishmen, two Englishmen and a Scot.

Several of the local clan leaders and notables told the Young Pretender that if this was the best he could do he'd best piss off back to France. Several of the chiefs, including a distant ancestor of mine, Norman MacLeod of MacLeod, wouldn't even meet with the guy. But brutal truth never convinced a Stuart, so the Bonnie one continued on through the Highlands that summer until his supporters officially "raised the Royal Standard" - the Jacobite equivalent of declaring war - at Glenfinnan on the 19th of August.

By September the Prince had assembled an army of about 2-3,000, mostly from the west Highland clan MacDonald and Cameron, but including Lowlanders from Edinburgh, which the Jacobites carried in August 1745.

The bulk of the Royal Army was fighting on continental Europe and the commander or troops in the north, one General Cope, had between 3,000 and 4,000 relatively green troops to hold Scotland and north England. He marched north too late to hold Edinburgh and was then smashed in late September at the comic mixup that is known as the Battle of Prestonpans. Caught by an unintentional envelopment, surprised by Jacobite troops hidden in a morning fog that unhinged their own deployment and created a fatal trap for the Government troops, Cope and his command were destroyed and the entire north of Britain opened to the Jacobites.

Who, in their Bonnie Princely fashion, made poor use of it.

After dallying in Edinburgh for a month the Jacobite Army set out south early in November. The general rising that the Prince expected had not materialized and although his more sentient counselors advised him to recruit and consolidate in Scotland over the winter Charles Edward was still prancing towards his fantasy of reigning in Westminster. He lied to his council, claiming that English Jacobites had written to him pledging their certainty of a rising in his favor if he moved south. The Highland Army marched out on November 3rd and arrived in Derby, just a hundred miles or so north of London in early December.But the Jacobite forces hadn't really done anything to beat the Government troops that were being reinforced from the Continent. They had bypassed Field Marshal Wade's force by moving on Carlisle instead of Newcastle, but that force remained in being to the rear. Now Ligoner's Army of the Midlands was closing in, Jacobite intel (never good at the best of times, which this was not) falsely reported a third Government army closing the trap, and the Prince had to admit that the stories of English support were lies.

The Highland Army started back north on December 6th.

By this time Charles Edward was less than Bonnie; he sulked and moped all the way back to Glasgow, and was reported to have taken to drink and began suffering from the various illnesses that seem to have affected Stuart royalty whenever they were required to be decisive and effective.The Army refitted in Glasgow and then moved to take the town of Stirling, where the sort of incompetence that afflicted the Jacobite cause once again lost them an opportunity;
"Monsieur Mirabel de Gordon (the Franco-Scots Jacobite "artilleryman" in charge of the siege of Stirling Castle) chose a poor location in digging trenches for the Jacobite cannons, lower and completely in range of the castle's own guns. Following the victory at Falkirk the cannon would be destroyed after firing a single shot."
While there the Army defeated LTG Henry Hawley's Army of North Britain in the dark wind and rain of Falkirk. But in typical Jacobite military fashion they then did nothing to consolidate the victory; Hawley marched away, his army intact, until the Duke of Cumberland took over as commander-in-chief in late January.

Cumberland and his troops wintered in Aberdeen, reinforced by 5,000 Hessian mercenaries who blocked off the Jacobite retreat south. The Highland Army, now managed by the fractious duo of Lord George Murray and O'Sullivan, was attempting without much success to reduce the Government's strongholds in the north.The weather moderated in late March, and by early April Cumberland's forces took Cullen on the 11th and Nairn on the 14th. The Government encampment at Balblair just west of the Nairn was the objective the last, saddest and most Jacobite attack of the entire campaign.The Bonnie Prince had gotten all princely, demanding to lead the army personally. Given his by-now manifestly personal problems and the utter exhaustion of the Jacobite troops his officers probably should have stepped in. But the problem with royalism is that you can't, by definition, shove aside the Royal. About 5,400 Jacobite troops left Inverness and most of their supplies behind and assembled on Drummossie, around 12 miles from the Government encampment.

The Plan, supposedly devised by Charles and his confidant O'Sullivan, was to defend Drummossie Moor. Murray went on record as saying that he "did not like the ground"; he and several other of the more intelligent officers pointed out that the rough, boggy moor would make the "Highland charge" - the Jacobite Army's only real tactic - difficult while exposing the Jacobites to the Government artillery and the volley fire of the British infantry. They again pressed their arguments for a guerrilla campaign in the hilly north, but Charles Edward Stuart - as stubborn as most fundamentally weak men - refused to change his plans.

The Engagement: The battle proper really begins late in the evening of the 15th, when the Highland Army marched out to make a night attack on the Government camp at Balblair.

The onus for this one fall directly on Murray, who was responsible for both the idea and the piss-poor execution.

Now night movements, and night engagements, are perhaps the most difficult and chanciest things for an armed force to accomplish. Clausewitz famously says "Es ist alles im Kriege sehr einfach, aber das Einfachste ist schwierig" - that "Everything in War is very simple, but the Simplest things are very difficult". Adding darkness, exhaustion, hunger to the ordinary confusion of an army with fairly low standards of military competence was almost sure to be a disaster and, sure enough, the night attack on Nairn was that on an almost De Milleian scale.The attack moved out at 8pm, already too far into the shortening April night. The route looped into the rough country but was said to be marked and posted with guides from the local clansmen. The slipshod logistics of the Highland Army was as usual; the troops were issued a sad little bannock, or oatcake, which constituted the entirety of their rations for the march. A 19th Century author reported
"I have beheld and tasted a piece of the bread served out in this occasion (preserved as a momento, supposedly, by a survivor's family)...It is impossible to imagine a composition of greater coarseness, or less likely to please or satisfy the appetite: and perhaps no recital, however eloquent, of the miseries to which Charles's army was reduced, could have impressed the reader with so strong an idea of the real extent of that misery as the sight of this singular relic. Its ingredients appeared to be merely the husks of oats and a coarse unclean species of dust, similar to what is found upon the floors of a mill."
The Highland Army, then, set off already hungry and tired, in a column of two elements. George Murray led off with the Highland clan units, followed by Charles, followed by the Duke of Perth with the Lowlanders.

The night march featured all the misery soldiers associate with such.
"The rear column did not keep pace with that in front, possibly in part owing to its members not being all so nimble of foot, nor so accustomed to moor ground and rough footing as the clansmen, though even of these several fell behind, some from exhaustion. Repeated interruptions were accordingly experienced to the advance of the leading column, by messages to halt or slacken pace."
Probably anyone with infantry service has been here. I certainly remember it with sour displeasure. I'm sure that the Scottish marchers also experienced what my paratroop contemporaries and I used to call the "accordian effect", in which the line of march remains motionless for long periods, tired soldiers falling half-asleep on their feet.

Finally the leading elements begin to move - and not just move, but hurry forwards so quickly as to force those behind them to race to catch up, cursing and stumbling in a rattle of gear and weapons. Until suddenly the head of the column stumbles to a halt again, causing the straggling column of running soldiers to close up and slam into them from behind, invariably to a cascade of hushed, violent curses and inventive bad language.

This nightmare continued through the early morning of the 16th when Murray, realizing that his force was still 2 miles from Balblair and less than an hour before dawn, ordered a countermarch. After a heated council with other officers, Murray concluded that there was not enough time to mount a surprise attack and that the offensive should be aborted.

Sullivan and some others in the Prince's retinue claim that Murray just buggered off without telling anyone. Murray claims that he went to inform Charles Edward Stuart of the change of plan, but missed the prince in the dark and instead of retracing his path back, Murray led his men left, down the Inverness road.

Whatever happened, the rest of the column kept going - this is what a modern infantryman calls a "break in contact" and counts as a truly mortal tactical sin. Supposedly Perth's detachment actually made contact with Government pickets before realizing they were unsupported and recoiling.

The countermarch was surely as miserable as the movement to contact, and as the eastern sky lightened many of the Jacobite soldiers were asleep where-ever they could find shelter or under their plaids if they could not. Others, starving, were searching the area for anything edible. The Prince and his coterie retired to Culloden House, where the Prince, apparently, was still fulminating about the preceding night's fiasco. The Highland Army still had no real strategic objectives or war plans, and the only fixed point was the Prince's determination to give battle where it was offered.Then up the road from Nairn came the sound of drums.Cumberland, well aware of the Jacobite position, ordered the camp struck at about 5am and set off towards the high moor around Culloden. It took the Government forces about three hours to march the eight miles between the Balblair campground and the Jacobite picket line 4 miles east of Drummossie. By 11 the two armies were within about 2 miles of each other, and the Government troops shook out from column of march into their line of battle; Cumberland had ensured that his march order enabled the army to form line by a simple series of left wheels.

The Jacobite troops, having formed somewhat earlier, had stood shivering in the driving rain and sleet that sliced down from the north-east.In case you haven't figured out by this time that the Jacobite Army was a fairly shambolic and amateur organization let me state for the record; the preparations for Culloden serve to emphasize how disastrous the Jacobite leadership was.

First, as mentioned above, the ground was as bad as it could have been for the highland tactics. The Highland Army had no real projectile weaponry - the clans had no significant domestic arms or propellant industry and still relied on steel - and no professional soldiery. Their "tactics" were medieval; a brief exchange of missile fire (including arrows!) followed by an all-in charge, a scuffle at handstrokes, and then the beaten side would break and flee.

The upper echelons of Jacobite command all had experience with 18th Century musket drill, but their experience was confined by the technical ignorance of their troops, and their own incapacity as trainers. The skill set of the typical Highland "officer" - and the Jacobite Army was an embarrassment of officers; many clan units would arrive with a handful of private soldiers (the impoverished "humblies", usually forced into service by their landlords) and an equal number of ensigns, lieutenants and captains, since every tacksman and landed gentleman felt he should have some rank - was confined to facing his men front and booting them forward.

So there was no real appreciation for the deficiencies of the Moor as battleground among the bulk of the Jacobite command. Even today, Reid (2002) claims that the terrain was no worse than that of Prestonpans and Fakirk, eliding the differences that weather, the inexperienced Government troops, and poor leadership of Cope and Hawley made on both earlier occasions.

The second endemic problem was an almost complete lack of overall command and control in what the Jacobite army DID have for top level leadership. The Prince for all his pretension had neither experience nor competence and the "command" of the Army devolved onto two men who refused to accept the authority of the other; Murray and O'Sullivan. Often at cross-purposes, their performance on the 16th was as disastrous as it had been for the campaign that preceded it.About the same time that the Government forces finished deploying Murray, who was the nominal commander of the right wing, exercised his concern about the effect of the projecting wall of the Leanach "enclosure" (a private field, as differentiated from the common moorland) to his right front by moving his right flank units forward in a left oblique. This had the effect of extending the Jacobite line and skewing the facing to its left. In fact, Murray may have intended just that, seeing the possibility of a traffic jam on his right and a quicker movement to contact to the left front.

But in his usual fashion he neglected to inform anyone else, and the resulting confusion in the Jacobite center and left helped decrease what little control the Jacobite command had over their troops.

Cumberland saw this movement and immediately extended his right. He also saw the potential for using the enclosures to turn the Jacobite right and dispatched several mounted units and the Government Highland battalion (held out of the battle line for fear of a blue-on-blue) to move to the southwest. These movements were carried out quickly and effectively and had the desired result, an object lesson in the difference between the two sides.

At some time around noon the Jacobite artillery opened fire, the Royal Artillery responded and a brief - something between ten and twenty minutes worth - artillery duel ensued. The combination of solid roundshot, small calibres and sodden ground meant that each cannon probably killed or wounded a man per round or less; 20 or so Government troops and perhaps 50-70 Jacobites. But this was the first exposure the Highland Army had to cannon fire and they didn't enjoy it.

The Clan Chattan is said to have boltered forward first but the remainder of the right followed in a mass. The center and left surged towards the Government lines but the distance and the fire shock of the infantry volleys and artillery grapeshot (a nasty ping-pong ball sized antipersonnel round) tore the Jacobite center-left to pieces before they could come within fifty yards of the Government line.

The Jacobite right had a shorter distance to charge and fewer shots to endure. The impact of their arrival at handstrokes disrupted two battalions; Barrel's 4th Foot and DeJean's 37th Foot. The two units lost 31 killed and over 200 wounded out of some 800 present, and were temporarily combat-ineffective. But again the lack of Jacobite leadership failed the hard-fighting clansmen. Instead of shoving out and trying to roll up the center of the Government first line the clan troops piled up in the pocket they'd hacked.Cumberland pushed his reserve in and sealed the breach and the regulars were able to fire into a mass of bodies too dense to miss.
"We marched up to the enemy, and our left, outflanking them, wheeled in upon them;" wrote an officer of the 8th of Foot (Wolfe's) later: "...the whole then gave them 5 or 6 fires with vast execution, while their front had nothing left to oppose us, but their pistolls and broadswords; and fire from their center and rear, (as, by this time, they were 20 or 30 deep) was vastly more fatal to themselves, than us."
It is hard to say how long the right-flank clan units stood this awful fire. It can hardly have been more than ten minutes or so - at two volleys a minute there would not have been a man standing after half an hour. Certainly within a quarter of an hour it must have been over and the shattered remnants of the Jacobite right fleeing with the rest of the army.The Jacobite reserve, what little there had been, had either been pulled back to overwatch Hawley's mounted troops (who, much to the frustration and fury of their junior officers, had turned the flank and rear of the Jacobite army but halted in dead ground to observe the outcome of the meeting of the battle lines) or committed in vain attempts to stem the rout. When Cumberland yoicked his cavalry forward there was little the Jacobite army could do. The French units did well, retiring in order (and very likely saving Charles the Bonnie from capture, worse the cess to him...) and the Lowland troops made a good retreat south, but the pursuit of the Highland units down the road to Inverness was a savage and merciless business.

The Outcome: Decisive Government grand tactical victory and strategic victory.

The Highland Army fell apart on the 18th April 1746. Cumberland's troops savaged the Highlands that summer, and while Charles Edward flitted around the Isles disguised as a woman, among other things, until September his partisans were beaten like drums whenever they appeared. The Bonnie Prince finally scarpered off from Arisaig in a couple of French ships. He never returned and died in Rome forty-two years later a beaten drunk whose only legacy was a schoolyard's worth of bastard kiddies.The decisiveness of Culloden enabled the Hanovers to do what they had not dared after the Rising of 1715; rip out much of the "Scots" idiosyncrasy of the Highlands and Scotland in general. Even much official correspondence substituted "North Britain" for "Scotland". Episcopalian clerics had to swear loyalty to the Crown, clan chiefs were stripped of their judicial and military power over their followers; many lost their lands, and the highest lords lost their lives for their Jacobite ambitions.The wearing of tartan and similar clan badges was banned from everyone in Scotland except as a uniform for officers and soldiers in the British Army.

It had taken forty-five years, but the Act of Union had become a living law.

The Impact: To say that the long-term impact of Culloden was positive is to take a comfortably long view. For the supporters of the Georgian dynasty, Tories across Britain and those Scots whose fortunes were tied to the Hanoverians, obviously, the rewards were immediate. Yes, the long term incorporation of Scotland into Great Britain benefitted both cultures, producing a nation that became the colossus of the 19th and first half of the 20th Centuries.

But for the next decades, in the Highlands, and for the humblies who formed most of the clan regiments at Culloden, the immediate impact was terror, starvation, arrest, often dispossession, occasionally death, and the passing of what had already become a tenuous way of life. For the reality is that much of the clan system had passed or was passing; the Jacobite cause promised at best a faint hope of betterment. After the disaster on Culloden Moor the end was sure to arrive, and in the most bitter fashion.Culloden is really not all that different from Plassey and Isandlwana; the "natives" in this one have pink hides (or at least pink somewhere under the grime...) but the factors that led to the one-sided butchery on Drumossie Moor are much the same. On the one side you had a mess of feudal incompetence, technical and tactical incapability and general Stuart schlamperi. On the other, the genius for ruthless killing and military thrashing of hapless natives that made the British the Huns of the globe until 1945. Their methods were barbaric, really, but these barbarians brought the streetlight, the timetable, and the tea tray, and they came to stay. The natives would just have to get over it, or die.Ironically, a guerrilla campaign in the Highlands might just have succeeded in obtaining the clan chiefs what they wanted. But it wouldn't have gotten Charles "Bonnie Prince" Edward the throne, though, and that was all he was about. So Culloden is just another entry in the ledger of poor military decisions made for political reasons, and a reminder that for the weak and the poor there is no honor to be gained in standing up for a "fair" fight. All fights are about who is standing on the ground at the end, and to challenge a superior enemy in conventional battle is worse than to invite destruction; it practically ensures destruction and is the act of a fool.And for all that his name is still remembered I doubt that the shade of the royal fool in question is pleased with having never managed to become more than the Prince of the Shortbread Tins.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Voguing Vaguely

Lazy Saturday; kids playing, wife Craigslisting...I'm webriding and ran across this over at Armchair Generalist.I have no real interest in "Glee", although their cover of the old Madonna dance hit reminded me that:

1. Madonna used to perform fun, catchy, hooky pop songs. A reminder to all of us that the death of entertaining likeability begins when you start believing your own press releases, and

2. There was a moment in the Eighties when Julie Brown was as funny and clever as anyone in the celebrity biz;
3. There really IS no explanation for celebrity, and that doesn't seem to have changed all that much since the days of Madame Pompadour. Sarah Palin? Rush Limbaugh? Every human being ever connected with a reality TV show..?

"Ladies with no point of view; fellas who don't have a clue..."

Vague. That us, all right...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Love for Sale

...but not to you disgusting drunkards.It's a bit sad to think of all those sweet, sweet, soft kisses these temperance ladies never got to enjoy...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Wish Flower

Little Miss squeaked happily when I met her in the grubby playground outside her daycare.

"DaddyDaddyDaddy!" accompanied her jump into my hug.

She wanted to know everything. She wanted to know about the bandage from my blood draw that afternoon. She wanted to know what would happen if you opened the truck door when you were driving down the street. She wanted to know where the sun was. She asked where her Mommy had gone.

She leaped out of the door the moment I released her onto the city planting strip next to where we were parked.

"Flowers!" she crowed, wrenching up two doomed dandelions, pleased with the yellow colors. But the yellow blooms were forgotten as soon as she spotted the white globe of a dandelion seedhead.

"A wish flower!" exclaimed the Little Miss. "Did you see the wish flower, daddy?" she asked as she rotated it for my examination. I admitted I didn't.

"Make a wish," she chanted, "I wish, I wish, my wish come true...may my Daddy stay home with me all day and not go to school...and may Mommy's nipples still be really big!"

Just when you think you know them...

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Rocket Man

Let's face it: Kyrgyzstan has it cooled out when it comes to keeping and bearing arms.This dude was just doing a little urban defense as part of the latest revolution in Bishkek.

My favorite part of the image? The little urban geek tummy pack. For when you don't want to leave the iPod, American Spirits and little roll of detcord back at the crib 'cause you KNOW your bros will boost the fuckers. Maybe the riot shield and antitank rocket will get you a little harmonious bro-i-tude now...


(h/t to Unleashing Chiang - crossposted to MilPub)