Monday, December 31, 2012

The Last Night of the Year

Sadly, 2012 appears to be both the pinnacle and the nadir of the story of The Civil Wars.

I will miss their divine harmonies. Indeed I will.

As for 2012, well...

I suppose it could have been worse.

Mojo remains unemployed amidst the Great Recession that has so many others searching desperately for work and hope. My heart hurts for her. I hope that the coming year finds her working, and content.

My children continue to grow and thrive; may that never cease.

My soul continues to seek for a reason to hope, and my heart for a hope within reason. My body continues to falter beneath me. Every night I go to my rest aching and rise still restless and sore in the dark pre-dawn.

I understand that this is the cost I am paying for the adventures of my youth, and while I would not give back those times I cannot but rue the hard days ahead.

To my friends - and if you are reading this you are my friend - I wish the hopes of happiness and the blessings of peace and the love of those you love.

I wish you joy, and the strong pull of good muscles and hard bone as you enjoy the blessings of your mind and body in the coming year.

To my country...well, I have little hope and less expectation. May you surprise me with a glimpse of a probity and righteousness that I fear you have lost to the broad road to Hell that is wealth and sloth.

May we all wake tomorrow to a bright morning and a fair day. May you and yours be gentle, and greet the day with a kiss and a caress from the one you love. May your hopes be luminous, and the road rise to meet you. May you be blithe, and bonny, and good, and gay. May all your hopes for the coming year be fulfilled, all your fears be unrealized, and your uttermost dream be fulfilled.

May you in your sleep tonight take flight and that journey bring you safe and whole into the dawn tomorrow.

New Year's Day

The rain this morning falls
on the last of the snow

and will wash it away. I can smell
the grass again, and the torn leaves

being eased down into the mud.
The few loves I’ve been allowed

to keep are still sleeping
on the West Coast. Here in Virginia

I walk across the fields with only
a few young cows for company.

Big-boned and shy,
they are like girls I remember

from junior high, who never
spoke, who kept their heads

lowered and their arms crossed against
their new breasts. Those girls

are nearly forty now. Like me,
they must sometimes stand

at a window late at night, looking out
on a silent backyard, at one

rusting lawn chair and the sheer walls
of other people’s houses.

They must lie down some afternoons
and cry hard for whoever used

to make them happiest,
and wonder how their lives

have carried them
this far without ever once

explaining anything. I don’t know
why I’m walking out here

with my coat darkening
and my boots sinking in, coming up

with a mild sucking sound
I like to hear. I don’t care

where those girls are now.
Whatever they’ve made of it

they can have. Today I want
to resolve nothing.

I only want to walk
a little longer in the cold

blessing of the rain,
and lift my face to it.

~ Kim Addonizio

Decisive Battles: Barents Sea 1942

Battle of the Barents Sea Date: 31 DEC 1942

Forces Engaged: United Kingdom (Royal Navy) - Escorts of Convoy JW51B, which consisted of:

6 destroyers:
HMS Achates (A-Class destroyer, 2 x 4.7" cannon, 4 x 21" torpedo tubes),
HMS Orwell (O-class destroyer, 4 x 4" cannon, 8 x 21" torpedo tubes),
HMS Oribi (O-class destroyer, 4 x 4" cannon, 8 x 21" torpedo tubes),
HMS Onslow (O-class destroyer, 4 x 4" cannon, 8 x 21" torpedo tubes),

HMS Obedient (O-class destroyer, 4 x 4" cannon, 8 x 21" torpedo tubes) and
HMS Obdurate (O-class destroyer, 4 x 4" cannon, 8 x 21" torpedo tubes)

2 Flower-class corvettes:
HMS Rhododendron (1 x 4" cannon) and
HMS Hyderabad (1 x 4" cannon)

1 minesweeper HMS Bramble (2 x 4" cannon)

2 armed trawlers Vizalma and Northern Gem (I have no details on the armament of these vessels but typically they were lightly armed, with a single 3" or 4" cannon, if that)

After three hours this force was reinforced by two light cruisers from the "Force R" squadron assigned to general convoy escort duty on the Barents passage: HMS Sheffield (Town Class, 12 x 6" cannon) and HMS Jamaica (Crown Colony-class light cruiser, 12 x 6" cannon)

The convoy itself consisted of 14 merchant vessels carrying 2046 vehicles, 202 tanks, 87 fighters, 33 bombers, 11,500 tons fuel, 12,650 tons aviation fuel, and 54,321 tons general cargo to the Soviet Union.

The escort commander was CAPT R. St.V. Sherbrooke RN aboard HMS Onslow.

Germany (Deutsches Kriegsmarine) -

1 large protected cruiser ("pocket battleship"):
KM Lützow (Deutschland-class cruiser, 6 x 11" cannon)

1 heavy cruiser:
KM Admiral Hipper (Admiral Hipper-class cruiser, 8 x 8" cannon)

6 destroyers:
KM Frederich Echholdt (1934A-class destroyer, 5 x 5" cannon, 8 x 21" torpedo tubes),
KM Richard Beitzen (1934-class destroyer, 5 x 5" cannon, 8 x 21" torpedo tubes),
KM Theodor Riedel (1934-class destroyer, 5 x 5" cannon, 8 x 21" torpedo tubes),
KM Z 29 (1936A-class "Narvik" destroyer, 4 x 5.9" cannon, 8 x 21" torpedo tubes),
KM Z 30 (1936A-class "Narvik" destroyer, 4 x 5.9" cannon, 8 x 21" torpedo tubes),
KM Z 31 (1936A-class "Mob" destroyer, 5 x 5.9" cannon, 8 x 21" torpedo tubes)

1 (possibly 2) x submarines:
U-354 (Type VIIC submarine, 5 x 21-inch torpedo tubes)
(Note: There seems to be some question regarding how many and which U-boats were in the Barents Sea that day. I've read several sources that state that two submarines were on station shadowing the convoy. U-354 is mentioned by name in the Wiki entry but no mention of a second submarine occurs in that source. The History Learning Site page doesn't name any of the German subs, but states; "Sherbrooke had been kept well informed of German radio traffic and he knew that a U-boat was ahead of the convoy with another one stationed to the south of it."

The Naval Weapons site also specifies U-354, does not mention the position of a second U-boat, but then goes on to list the U-626 as part of the German order of battle. The problem with that, however, is that this U-boat is supposed to have been sunk fifteen days earlier by the USCGC Ingham.

So, I suspect that there WAS a second U-boat on the scene that day, but have no idea which vessel it was; any help with this issue would be greatly appreciated!)
the surface force under the command of Vice-Admiral Oskar Kummetz with his flag in KM Admiral Hipper

The Sources: The usual well documented modern records from both sides, as well as numerous secondary sources.

Several good places for information in the internet include the History Learning Site entry for the engagement, a terrific entry on the "Naval Weapons" site covering the action and including the order of battle for both sides. The Wiki entry also does a good job summarizing the engagement and the larger context of the northern convoy battles in WW2.

Naval History has a terrific couple of pages on the action, including some great battle maps which I have freely looted for this post. The modern Kriegsmarine has a nice little web page covering the engagement, too.

The Campaign: Hopefully I don't have to explain the context of the northern convoy battles to you.

The bottom line is that the Soviet Union got valuable materials through the UK-to-Murmansk convoys but as much as the equipment was useful to the Soviets the very act of providing it was essential to binding Stalin to the Western Allies.

Short of a Second Front on the European mainland - which just wasn't going to happen in 1942, regardless of the political pressures - the Arctic convoys were a vital tangible commitment by Britain and, later, the U.S., to providing some degree of skin to the game in the East.

As for this particular engagement, the Kriegsmarine page does a good job of summing up the particulars at stake that New Year's Eve seventy years ago today:
"...we have to consider the dilemma confronting Hitler at a time when his Sixth Army and Fourth Panzer Army were surrounded at Stalingrad. The Soviets were counting heavily on materiel from the west which could be supplied only through a treacherous sea route through the Barents Sea into Murmansk.

During the summer, the edge of the ice pack retreated to 300 miles from the North Cape of Norway, so convoys could pass well clear of a coastline dotted with German air bases. But the long summer days also made them vulnerable to u-boat attack.

Conversely, in winter when ice-free waters narrowed to 150 miles and the days were short, the u-boat danger was lessened but air attacks became more frequent.

The Luftwaffe had been successful in sinking large numbers of Allied merchantmen in the turbulent, icy waters of the Barents Sea. But now Field Marshal Hermann Göring’s dwindling number of fighters and bombers were urgently needed on the eastern front in support of the attempted Stalingrad breakout.

Russian re-supply would have to be crushed by the Nazi surface and undersea fleet if it was going to be done at all. And winter was the time to do it."
The other major political factor in this engagement was the question for Germany of "What is this fucking Navy for, anyway?"

Hitler had been a grunt in WW1, when the German Emperor had amassed a fleet with the explicit design of challenging the Royal Navy in the close waters of northern Europe.

It is unlikely that Hitler the grunt had any better understanding in 1917 of the military-political pressures that led to the stalemate in the North Sea than Hitler the supreme commander did in 1942.

But it didn't stop him from second-guessing his naval leadership.

Again, the Kriegsmarine site does a neat job of summing up the strategic situation of the German Navy at the end of 1942:
"Because of some British commando landings in Norway he (Hitler) became convinced that the British planned to invade Norway and that Sweden would then join forces with Russia and trap his land forces in a gigantic pincer move. For years he had railed against his surface ship fleet...often referring to it as a useless liability, (however) he was placing an inordinate confidence in its ability to crush any Allied attempt to invade Norway or re-supply the Russians."
Hitler was also fiercely (in a sort of carpet-chewing-nutzo Hitlerian way) freakish about losing capital ships.

He hated the notion that he would have to lose any of them to gain some military objective, and so his infatuation with what today in the U.S. military we'd call "force protection" permeated his naval staff.

He wanted the gains without the risk, and this thinking dominated his and his Navy's employment of their surface forces.

So on the morning of 31 DEC 1942 the target of the Kriegsmarine's sortie was the Arctic convoy JW-51B, just another of the conveyor belt of vessels sailing the fringe of the polar seas on the way to or from the Soviet port of Murmansk.

The convoy was in line-ahead because of the danger of drifting ice roughly 230 miles from the North Cape when U-354 made the day's sighting. It's indicative of Hitler's fixation about his surface Navy that the orders to sortie the Lützow-Hipper group had to come directly from the Navy CINC, Raeder, himself.

In particular it's worth noting that the sortie orders include the following phrase as a Fuhrer Directive: “Procedure on meeting the enemy is to avoid a superior force, otherwise destroy according to established protocol”

Now don't get me wrong; I get that it isn't smart for an armed force to deliberately engage a stronger force when there's no greater strategic gain in doing so. But the Kriegsmarine took this directive to extremes, refusing to engage even when on relatively even terms as we'll see in a bit.

Mind you, the Kriegsmarine operational plans for engaging convoys were simple and appear to be effective. The sortie group would separate prior to approaching the target convoy; the pocket battleship Lützow and her escorts to the south, the cruiser Admiral Hipper and escorts to the north.

The Hipper group would attack first to draw the escorts and force the convoy to turn away, into the guns of the Lützow. The Hipper would massacre the escorts, the Lützow would butcher the merchies, easy peasy lemon squeezy.

But as we know, no plan survives contact with the enemy, so it shouldn't be a shock that starting at about 8:30am local time things began to go seriously wrong in the dark polar day.

The Engagement: The first intimation that the British convoy escorts had that they were going to have a busy day was when lookouts aboard HMS Hyderabad, leading the convoy to the southeast, reported two destroyer-type vessels on the western horizon.

The corvette's captain had been advised that Soviet destroyers were en route to link up with the convoy, so he took no action. HMS Obdurate's commander was more curious, however, and when he sighted the ships a bit later he turned towards them, signaled a challenge and received not a password, but gunfire.

The British escorts were well-drilled and took immediate action; four destroyers (HMS Onslow, Obdurate, Obedient and Orwell) turned towards the enemy ships while HMS Achates began to lay down a smokescreen, which included black smoke from her funnels and white smoke from "smoke floats", some sort of floating smudge pot.

For about thirty minutes the British escorts and the German northern force closed the range. At the same time the British were broadcasting a "surface action" alarm that detached the two cruisers from Force R towards their location.

At 9:00am the escort commander's lookouts identified a capital ship with the German forces as the Admiral Hipper, a vessel seven times the size of the O-class destroyers and whose 8-inch cannons both outranged their smaller guns as well as delivered projectiles capable of sinking the British destroyers with a single well-placed hit.

At about 9:30am Hipper opened fire, her target HMS Achates silhouetted against her own smokescreen. Within several minutes the cruiser's fire had crippled the British ship and the Hipper shifted fire to HMS Onslow and HMS Orwell.

Weather conditions that day helped the British defenders, with much low-lying haze and sea-smoke, and numerous snow squalls. The Kriegsmarine web page notes that "(t)he dazzle camouflage patterns of British ships sometimes made them easier to spot but in this circumstance it worked to their distinct advantage. Gunners aboard the Hipper had difficulty in finding targets in the dappled gray haze and the superiority of British fire-control radar was now making a difference."

What didn't help the German attackers was their own dread of combat loss. VADM Kummetz kept turning the Hipper away from the British escorts in fear of torpedo attacks.

His combat log for this part of the action reads: “Only quick action can solve the problem of danger from torpedo attacks and this has to be considered in the light of my orders not to take any serious risks.”

Had he closed on the British escorts he might have made short work of them...but he might also had suffered a lucky hit from a shell or torpedo that might have crippled his cruiser and left him helpless and swarmed over by the British light vessels. He chose caution and in so doing forfeited his chance for a decisive success.

As it was, however, the attack of the Hipper group was having the effect desired in the tactical plan - the convoy was turning away south.

By about 11am the situation on the north side of the convoy looked about like this:

HMS Achates was continuing to screen the retiring merchies but was in increasing distress. She would sink at 1315, with only 80 survivors taken off by one of the trawlers.

Hipper and the two destroyers, Orwell and Onslow, continued to trade fire, most of it ineffective due to a combination of weather, including savage icing that caused ammunition and propellant charges to freeze to their racks and cannon breeches to stick open or closed. Finally, however, the heavier weight of the cruiser's battery began to tell on HMS Onslow:
"One hit shattered a surface radar antenna and caused thousands of splinters to pepper the bridge. One struck Sherbrooke in the head, smashing a cheekbone and causing his left eye to hang loose from its socket. For a few moments no one on the bridge knew of his injury because he kept giving orders in an even voice."
Sherbrooke, by the way, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions that day.

Not sure whether that was worth an eye, but, there.

The Hipper was also trading ineffective fire with HMS Obedient when the two cruisers from Force R turned up some time about 11ish. Their fire, especially Sheffield's, was immediately effective, getting several "straddles" (rounds falling both over and short of the target) before scoring three hits in succession.

VADM Kummetz's force turned away, made smoke, and in a short time had ordered his entire squadron to withdraw at speed.

At this point - about 1130 - one of those bizarre incidents that happen fairly regularly in war took place. The officer commanding (and, one assumes, the lookouts and several other officers as well) two German destroyers, the Friedrich Eckholdt and the Richard Beitzen, somehow mistook HMS Sheffield and HMS Jamaica for his own capital ships.

(How the hell you mistake this:
for this:
I got no idea, but then, that's war; fucked up things happen all the time. Fear, confusion, bad weather, inattention...anything can get you killed and usually does)

For whatever reason the two destroyers steered toward the British cruisers who appear to have been well aware of the identity of the approaching vessels.

When the British opened up on the two the Eckholdt was hit directly amidships and sunk within less than two minutes with the loss of all 325 sailors aboard her.

The Beitzen escaped untouched.

While they were thus pounding the piss out of the hapless Eckholdt the British cruisers lost track of the Hipper, who was slipping away west to link up with the southern force.

That force, meanwhile, had sighted the convoy and opened fire at about 5,000 yards. Lützow - whose 11-inch main battery had a maximum range of over 26,000 yards - managed to shoot a total of 87 (eighty-seven!) 11" and 75 (seventy-five!) 6" rounds without scoring a single hit.

As an artilleryman even given the poor weather and unstable gun-platform conditions I'm impressed with that as a sort of pinnacle of indirect fire clusterfuckery. Serious; it takes a real gift to shoot that poorly. The result was that when the order to withdraw came the pocket battleship ended up with a massive bolo on her record sheet.

The German force withdrew to the west and then south. The British had lost a destroyer, HMS Achates, and the minesweeper HMS Bramble (which had been sunk by the Eckholdt as she returned to the convoy's position from sweeping up straggling merchies earlier that morning) and about 250 matelots; not a single merchant vessel was lost from this convoy either that day or before it docked in Murmansk other than one that ran around on the way into harbor.

The German force lost the destroyer Eckholdt and a handful of sailors aboard Hipper, perhaps 350 all tolled.

And that was that. Or, at least, that was all for the shooting war. What happened next, though, was rather more important.

The Outcome: Tactical British victory with strategic implications for German naval operations.

The Impact: Again, the Kriegsmarine site sums up the impact of this engagement nicely:
"Ironically, Admiral Kummetz’s Operation Rainbow tactic had worked. The Hipper had served as a decoy to attract the escorts and the convoy had then turned southward directly into the path of the pocket battleship Lützow, just as expected.

But both German heavyweights were timidly fought, although it must be admitted that they had been hampered by periods of poor visibility. As he retreated toward the naval base at Altenfjord, KAPT Stänge (of Lützow) noted sadly in his war diary, “As we withdrew from the battle scene, it was hard to escape the feeling that, even though the situation appeared to be in our favor, we were unable to get at the convoy and scored no successes whatsoever.”

A combination of technical fuckups then made matters worse.

U-354 had transmitted a message reporting success at about noon the day of the engagement, a not-surprising result of viewing the entire action from a tiny submarine periscope.

The German surface squadron maintained radio silence en route to Norway and then, after their arrival, several transmission glitches prevented the after-actions report from arriving at Hitler's operational HQ in East Prussia until the afternoon the following day.

By that time Hitler had heard a BBC broadcast that cheerfully reported the Kriegsmarine's latest balls-up.

Not only was he furious at the defeat, Adolf interpreted the delay in his own Navy's reporting the defeat as either cowardly fear of, or insubordinate unwillingness to, report bad news.

The engagement spelled the effective end of the German surface ship navy. Raeder was forced out and replaced by the U-boat man, Doenitz. While the German capital ships largely evaded the scrapping that Hitler's New Year's Day tirade recommended they were finished as anything other than a force in being, effectively no different than the Kaiser's High Seas Fleet after Jutland.

The Battle of North Cape in 1944 was the only remaining time that a German capital ship would sail into deep water.

I think there are several lessons to be learned from this engagement.

First, and most important, is that a nation needs a way to coldly and clearsightedly assess its national interests and how military force can best be used - if possible - to achieve them.

Germany in the middle of the 20th Century was, as it had been for half a century, a continental European power. Its forays off the land mass of Europe were typically brief and almost always unprofitable.

A German government with a dispassionate view of its needs - even assuming that aggressive war was part of those needs - would have recognized that a large conventional Navy or, indeed, much of any sort of investment in naval force at all, was at best an indulgence and a luxury and at worst an antagonizing factor.

As the Kaiser had found out in 1914; any German Navy genuinely capable of projecting German power would have to be capable of defeating the Royal Navy on equal terms.

And any German Navy capable of defeating the Royal Navy on equal terms would immediately and inescapably be a reason for Great Britain to become Germany's enemy. And that would be a problem that would prove insoluble, both in 1917 and in 1942.

Because the insurmountable problem was Germany's geographic position relative to Great Britain; her fleet was automatically trapped within the close confines of the North Sea. Much as Russia and the later Soviets discovered, the lack of a confined (and in Russia's case, ice-free) port meant that any naval force would have to fight its way out of its own harbors before any attempt at blue-water command was possible. This problem would and did prove insoluble in practice.

Second, assuming that Germany had decided that a Navy WAS a valuable use of resources that Navy should have spent time thinking of what its geopolitical objective was as a blueprint for its design and construction.

To my view the German Navy of 1942 had no real strategic objective and hadn't since it's inception and it showed in both its organization and its tactics.

I don't really blame the Kriegsmarine leadership for missing the carrier revolution; many other more experienced naval thinkers and leaders did, too. But short of a full-on carrier-based force (a USN-circa-1944-type navy, then) the German fleet only had two real options;

It could try and be a blue-water strategic-ocean-control type force, similar to what the Hochseeflotte had been designed for in 1914. This would have entailed giving some thought to the strategic disadvantage inherent in the North Sea bottleneck, ways to break through that, and a fleet organization and tactics designed around it. The Kriegsmarine leadership doesn't show me signs of having ever thought that through.

Or - it could have been designed as an ocean-denial type force based on a plan for isolating the British Isles and continental European enemies from overseas sources of war materials. This would have been very possible; the USN had accomplished it against Japan by 1944. The problems of access to the open seas would still have been there, but, again, the German Navy seems to have been very reactive rather than proactive on this subject. A sea-denial force consisting of U-boats, light units, and an integrated air arm might have managed the military tasks needed from it; holding the Channel long enough for an invasion force to cross, cutting British oceanic supply lines, and denying the Royal Navy free use of the Med.

The U-boats did phenomenally well, especially when you compare their work to the IJN's I-boats that were technically equivalent to the German submarines. But overall the Kriegsmarine lost the U-boat war, too, and one main reason was that they never had another plan other than "sail 'em out and hope for the best".

They never solved the lethal combination of sonar and the escort carrier.

So I think that the Battle of the Barents Sea was just an exclamation point on the reality that the Kriegsmarine as constructed by Nazi Germany was a resource-sucking luxury and a foolish diversion

Assuming for the moment that NOT launching an aggressive war - not at all a settled question in my opinion - was not on the table in 1933 then the question "What would we use these ships for?" becomes a critical one in allocating national resources. Even more important would be the question "What do we need from the seas and oceans around us?"

In Germany's case the problems came down to issues of projecting power across sea barriers - invading Britain and control of the Mediterranean littoral - and cutting off war materials their enemies needed to bring in by sea.

As it turned out the Kriegsmarine was not well organized, or well handled, to accomplish either task, and the overall operational disconnect between the often-at-each-other's-throats German service branches didn't help.

Whatever the reasons, the effect was to sink millions of marks into a force that was dramatically ineffective at advancing Hitler's Germany's geopolitical aims regardless of what you think of those aims. Taken purely as a guide to military strategy, the Kriegsmarine of WW2 is a cautionary tale.

So, in short, although the engagement of New Year's Eve 1942 meant the beginning of the end, the end of the beginning was written into the Kriegsmarine almost from its Nazi rebirth.

It only remained to sink the floating wreckage in the frozen waters of the Barents Sea.

Bunny Slippers

In a rather entertaining example of "blogging is an odd business", here's how this post developed:

In researching the trope of aliens arriving to chastise humankind I wandered over to the Wikipedia entry for the old Twilight Zone broadcast "To Serve Man" (because I vaguely remembered this as a TV trope from a long-ago viewing of the Simpsons spoof Hungry Are The Damned

Okay, so; having got that far, in the footnotes of the Wiki entry I stumbled across a reference to the whole "tasty, tasty humans" thing as a slogan on the unit patch of the 509th Bomb Wing, the USAF unit that flies the B-2 bomber.

I then ran down this patch, which does, in fact, have an aliens-eating-people connection but doesn't quote "To Serve Man" verbatim. Instead the motto on the unit patch is "gustatus similis pullus", very doggy-latin for the English phrase "tastes like chicken".

Are you with me so far?
The pursuit of this, then, led me here: to a small collection of oddball funny USAF patches. I like all of them, including the 22nd Military Airlift Squadron, whose motto is pretty direct: NOYFB is an acronym for "none of your fuckin' business" which is, one assumes, the attitude that the C-5 jockeys who "...deliver classified aircraft from aerospace plants in Southern California to testing facilities around the country." routinely give when asked what they do for a living.

Which, then, led my mind back to this patch:
Which, when you get past the existential horror of nuclear holocaust, is pretty funny. There's a certain humor value - midnight-black humor, mind you - to the notion of Capt. Joe or Maj. Molly shuffling to the control console in their b-robe and fuzzy slippers, coffee in hand, to put an end to life on Earth.

As an aside, I wonder if there is something about the youthful nature of the USAF that produces these funny patches? Certainly the Army had it's silly slogans and catchphrases but in my experience they tended to be unofficial at best and secretive at worst. We would never have been willing to openly chuckle at ourselves the way these patches do. I have been hard on the USAF in the past and will be in the future, but this is an aspect of that service that I can and do appreciate.

They have a certain perspective of themselves that my own service conspicuously lacks.

So, anyway, there's the destination of all this Internet wandering; tasty fried humans - not as a centerpiece for an alien Thanksgiving but as a result of our own inability to figure out how to solve our differences without a bow and spear.

Not exactly an original thought, but perhaps one to stop for a moment and curl a lip at on the last day of the year.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Universal Bearing

OK, this is just odd.

Mojo and I found ourselves watching the Miss Universe broadcast the other night, which speaks volumes of how bored we were with whatever else was on the idiot box that evening.

We both agreed - having consented to go along with the silly premise of the magilla - that the young lady from the Philippines seemed head-and-shoulders smarter and more together than the other four gals posing decorously for the delectation of the ridiculously-coiffed Donald Trump, who really is an astonishingly enormous dick in case I haven't mentioned what an astonishingly enormous dick he is lately. But that given that the whole shebang was being filmed from Vegas that the gal from the U.S. would probably get the nod, the fix obviously being in.

And so it proved.

Upon which we laughed heartily and went to bed, forgetting the entire forgettable incident.

Until, while searching the World's Worst Newspaper Website I came across this:
"Monnin, of Cranberry, Pa., wrote on her Facebook page last week that her father had recently pointed out a clause in the Miss USA contract gives top pageant officials the power to pick the top five finalists and the winner. "I was not aware of the clause in the Miss USA contract which says that the Miss Universe Organization, Donald Trump and others have the legal right to choose the top five and winner...irrespective of any publicized selection process."
Gee. I'm shocked, shocked!

So this young lady has been socked with a ginormous fine, and I'm just left with one slightly cynical bit of snark; "Miss Universe"?

It may just be my biased opinion, but it would truly serve the people who put up this pageant, and the other people who actually spend time and money taking this pageant seriously, right if a beauty queen from one of the other sentient species (which presumably inhabit some far portion of our universe) turned up to chastise these jumped-up hairless monkeygirls and -boys for the arrogant assumption that their pathetic little species was, in fact as it seems to be in their overheated imaginations, the crowning glory of the stars.
Along with a cookbook, perhaps?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sugar and Spice...

...and sweat and effort. And sometimes some pouting and whining. She's six, after all.

But don't mistake her for a delicate little flower. Her money quote for today was overheard during a hard-fought game of HALO against her big brother. Little Miss elbowed him with both hands on her controller to warn him to get out of the way; "I want to kill!" she piped in her sweet-adorable-tiny-girl voice.

Here's a couple more of the snapshots I took today at Rose City Gym that I rather liked:

This group of little girls sort of adopted Missy, but here they are entranced by the older gymnasts practicing;

Here's the Girl, herself, practicing to be a little vampire:

And one last image of the subject giving her unabridged opinion of the photographer's vision;

She's sweet but spicy, the Girl. And she doesn't care who knows it.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Go Beavers!

Damn proud of my Oregon Senators.
Wyden argued in an impassioned floor speech that intelligence officials have failed to provide estimates on how often Americans' email or phone communications have been swept up during foreign surveillance carried out under the law. He offered an amendment that would require intelligence agencies to report that information.

"I think, when you talk about oversight, and you can't even get a rough estimate of how many law-abiding Americans had their communications swept up by this law ... the idea of robust oversight, really ought to be called toothless oversight if you don't have that kind of information," Wyden said.

In addition to Wyden, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) has offered an amendment that would require the government to declassify the FISA Court's opinions on surveillance requests. The amendment is aimed at shedding more light on how the court interprets the surveillance law since the court's opinions are currently classified.
It would seem ridiculously obvious to anything with a functioning hindbrain that without actually knowing how many of these FISA orders have swept up Joe telling Molly about his Egyptian vacation we have no idea whether these FISA orders actually are sweeping innocent people's conversations into the spy vs. spy games we're playing.

That fact that the Senate GOP would reflexively oppose the revelation of any such knowledge says pretty much all you need to know about the fucking Senate GOP.

That, and, for the record, I'd like to make it clear that I consider Feinstein (D-CA) the most worthless oxygen-thieving skinbag currently caucusing with the Congressional Dems. Sheesh.

Update 12/30: As expected, the Senate voted to reauthorize all this snooping and pooping. Also, disgustingly, it voted to remain consciously ignorant of what the hell all these snoops and spies are doing:
"In the Senate, they actually voted not to know what the law does by rejecting an amendent that would have made the government state how many Americans have been spied on without a warrant."
And so it goes; in pursuit of fantastical enemies we imbue with powers beyond reason we empower our own government with powers beyond our own understanding.

We are fools, and of we are despoiled by our own fooling it will be our just reward. Thanks to my Oregon senators for trying, at least, to prevent my countrymen from hitting ourselves on the head with a hammer just because it feels so good when we stop.


No Uncle Sam

Here's the thing; I've pretty much run through all the actual decisive battles and even the engagements I'm interested in that were fought in January. Same-same for December as I'm sure you haven't noticed, but we didn't have a battle here, either.

So I'm casting about for something to discuss in the upcoming month and what's been tickling my fancy is to review the fight that took place in Bataan between December 1941 and January 1942, the so-called "Battle of Bataan".

My thoughts are that I want to discuss the Imperial Japanese Army and there are really only three places I'm interested in doing that; Khalkhyn Gol in May (IJA vs. Soviets, 1939), Kohima-Imphal for April (IJA vs. Britain, 1944),and this one, the IJA vs. the US and Philippine Army.

Any interest in that?

Friday Jukebox: WTF Terry? Edition

Just couldn't look away from this one when I caught it over at Fran's site, so now it's here, too. What can I say? I'm a slave to the backbeat.

(big h/t to the Blue Gal for finding this curiosity.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


I'm trying to give a shit about the "fiscal cliff" but the best I can come up with is a sort of vague irritation that my fellow lefties in D.C. are even considering "compromising" with the GOP on anything about this.
Because "compromise" for the wingtards (which is, functionally, what the modern GOP has become; a windsock for the gales of the unhinged reactionary Right) means "What's mine is mine and what's yours is also mine."

You might be able to compromise with a ravening wolf over a pork chop. You cannot "compromise" with the Congressional GOP; there's just nothing there but a reptile brain full of hateful shit and hunger.

I am pondering a New Year's Message post about the State of the Nation as I see it, but I wanted to take a moment at this point and just marvel that here we are, still mired in the Great Recession, and the Usual Idiots are fulminating and bloviating about deficits and all butt-hurt about raising taxes on the Uberrich.
Yeah, THOSE fuckers;
"That prompted a tall, extremely tanned blonde named Kay, from Old Greenwich, Connecticut, to ask Hassett, the co-­author of the 1999 book Dow 36,000, “So what do we do with our money?”

He recommended investing in real estate in another country, maybe in Central America somewhere. A woman to Kay’s right wrinkled her nose: How about a Western country? “Okay, if Europe is what you want, go to Poland,” he said optimistically. “Go to Krakow, buy a house for $50,000, and it’s going to be like Paris in a few years.”
The unchanged and unchanging reality is that while there are probably several truly wealthy Americans who are deeply committed to this nation and its democracy that the vast majority have no structural reason to be so.

The Rich have always been able to afford their own Nation.

The rest of us need some semblance of a functional polity to have a decent, non-Hobbsean existence. We need police and firefighters and we need to know that they are relatively honest and devoted to our community as a whole and not to its oligarchs. We need a relatively square deal from the legal system and its arbiters; we need to believe that when we come before a judge that what will weigh will be the matters of our case and not our origins or the contents of our purse (although this is already well in doubt - you needn't look hard at the U.S. judicial system to recognize that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor).

We need a government that cares whether we eat clean food, drink clean water, and breathe clean air because we have neither the breadth of information nor the depth of wealth to fight back those who would befoul all three.

For the wealthy all this is a frippery. They don't need this "government"; they can purchase access to safety, to health, to cleanliness. They are free to roam the wide Earth in search of places to make their monies; we are, most of us, tied to where we live now. If that place goes to hell we are trapped in Hell; our plutocratic Lords can flit away as easily as a camel may leap through the eye of a needle.

So I gaze with scorn and loathing upon the gyrations of the Powers that Be along the Potomac now so fretfully aquiver over the notion that our domestic satrapy might be forced to wring another penny or three from their bulging moneybags.

Whilst in the streets the jobless stand in endless lines and below the overhangs and beneath the bridges the women and children stare with empty eyes at the pitiless rain that washes their future away before it.
Go over the "cliff", then, goddamn it.

Let us leap out into the unknown before we "compromise" so much as one more wretched cent to the grasping Midases we have already so wrenchingly enriched.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Shaken, not stirred

I was driving north on I-5 through Portland just before Christmas when I tried to point out the famous "Martini Glass" light display to my kiddos (whose only experience with that cocktail is the knowledge that it "tastes yucky!" according to the Boy).

But I couldn't spot it.

In my biased and cynical opinion this thing is something of a treasure. The story is that the big martini glass was originally constructed by a homeowner's kid in the West Hills some time in the Seventies, when getting plowed on Christmas Eve was still looked on as a risque Rat-Packesque sort of jest.

At some point in the Nineties (I think) the owner placed the red-ring-and-slash around it either as a reaction to criticism or a personal statement of anti-drinking sanctimony I blame on that MADD-infested era.

But I liked the whole magilla as a deliciously juniper-scented antidote to the usual Christmas kitsch and was a trifle disappointed that it seemed to be gone this year. Like so much adult and iconoclastic (as opposed to simply adult and rude; the difference between the respective works of Ambrose Bierce or Mark Twain, say, and Adam Sandler) it seemed to be just another victim of our general incomplexity.

And it was especially disappointing given that our West Hills are to Portland what Grosse Pointe is to Detroit or Scarsdale is to New York; a rookery for our plutocratic overlords. From there they may literally look down upon the rest of us. Old Portland tales claim that in the early years these aristos would even use their position to toss their garbage down upon their lessers dwelling below them (although I lend no credence to the claim that what reached the valley floor was not further discarded but eaten).

If anyone had a Reason to Toast the Season it would seem to be our own local oligarchs; if the 1% can't sip a martini and advertise that fact then perhaps the Great Recession is indeed bleaker than even I took it for.

No fear; it turns out that the glass isn't gone; it is merely taking a year off whilst the homeowner retools his pricey hillside pied-a-terre.
"The glass's huge metal frame remains firmly in place, and Hall said he plans to keep it that way by requiring in the deed that the glass be lighted at the holidays."
Calloo, callay, oh frabjous day! Let our gin-infused joy be unconfined!

It's good to hear that at least one of our elites is still fighting the good fight against the War on Christmas. Prosit!

Disappearing up our own ass

There are, seriously, there are times when I fucking despair for my country:
"We have so contorted ourselves that earlier this month a military judge ruled that the man whose real-life torture is described in the movie, Mohammed's nephew Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, will not be allowed to describe his torture at trial. The methods used to extract information from captives is a state secret, the judge said, as are the victim's recollections of it."
So not only are these despicable acts so critical to the very survival of our Republic that they may not be revealed to We, the People, the putative sovereigns of that Republic but the very memory of being tortured by those acts is no longer the property of the victim of our crimes but of the state, our state, which tortured him.

I cannot fathom how to describe the Kafka-like quality of this nonsense. But if there is any sort of justice other than vae victus we will surely see this come back upon us in ways that we cannot but rue.

Rise of the Machines

Interesting Krugman column here.

Since it is behind the paywall let me summarize: Krugman starts out with Bob Gordon's summary of the "industrial revolutions" of the last 300 years. In Gordon's (and Krugman's) view these were and are:

1 - (steam, railroads) from 1750 to 1830;
2 - (electricity, internal combustion engine, running water, indoor toilets, communications, entertainment, chemicals, petroleum) from 1870 to 1900; and
3 - (computers, the web, mobile phones) from 1960 to present.

Krugman then goes on to discuss his disagreement with Gordon that IR#3 - the digital revolution - has substantially run its course and will (or is already) yielding lesser and lesser economic gains. Krugman's primary issue with this is his conviction that the IT revolution has really not fulfilled its potential. He observes that
" turns out that there are other ways of producing very smart machines (and then details some of those ways) And this means that in a sense we are moving toward something like my intelligent-robots world; many, many tasks are becoming machine-friendly. This in turn means that Gordon is probably wrong about diminishing returns to technology."
I do not pretend to be especially tech-savvy so I am not sure of the actual practicalities of this. But I will defer to Krugman on the issue and assume that there is, in fact, a continued economic benefit to come. BUT...then he comes to what I consider the crux of the biscuit:
"Ah, you ask, but what about the people? Very good question. Smart machines may make higher GDP possible, but also reduce the demand for people — including smart people. So we could be looking at a society that grows ever richer, but in which all the gains in wealth accrue to whoever owns the robots.
And then eventually Skynet decides to kill us all, but that’s another story."
But I would go further than this.

General prosperity in such a society would actually depend on there being fewer people.

In such a society the remaining human work would fall on the top and bottom ends of the labor spectrum; the truly "creative" sorts of work - art, architecture, medicine, engineering - which require an inductive leap not programmable in a machine, and the physically-demanding-but-inductive sorts of work, like sorting trash from recyclables, performing bed-baths (and other medical dog-work), and waiting tables.

The latter sort would, as they always have been, be low-paid and low-esteemed. But that's the subject of another post.

But the point is that this world of Krugman's presumes that a huge volume of the work now done by humans - the "middle" sort, the kind requiring human muscles but not especially skilled human brains - will be done by machines.

But in that case...what the hell do you DO with those leftover humans, the ones too handless to be artists but too ambitious to be street-cleaners?

My point is and has been for some time that we in the First World are moving into an economy where we have too many people for too few jobs; that the sorts of massively labor-intensive industrial work of the 20th Century (riveting steamships, assembling buildings, constructing highways) have effectively vanished, replaced by the same work done largely by machinery.

But the human faculty for reproduction has not been similarly upgraded; we're still littering the Earth with our spawn. And, given that so many of said spawn will not or can not be trained to do those top-end creative jobs (high school graduation still lingers around the 70% range, tops, and college graduation is far lower), that many of these progeny look towards a fairly bleak employment future, even assuming that the most optimistic of Krugman's predictions comes true.
The bleak possibility that follows from this is the development of a sizeable group of unemployed and unemployable people who, at best, are pacified by televised entertainment and a dole but who, at worst, represent a constant threat to the society around them, a lumpenproletariat liable to be swayed by political rhetoric and shaped into a mob by unscrupulous politicians.

That, or exterminated by the machines.
But that is, indeed, another story.

Still, a rather dampening thought for a damp Boxing Day.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Maybe Christmas, he thought, DID come from a store...

So the morning was full of the most delightful greed; of the Kiddos for their prezzies and the parents for the the delight the Kiddos got from their prezzies.

The morning actually started before dawn; I had to get up to take more cold medicine (for a particularly nasty head cold that has been bugging me since last week...) and woke the Girl, who came out to dance an antic hay because Santa had arrived.

After the medicine began to kick in, though, we both went back to sleep for a couple of hours, until the late-waking half of our family arose and we could get down to the hard graft of piling into the loot.

As you can see, even the Little Cat waded in with frantic dreams of treasure.
New fry pans - sweet! Score.
Perhaps the most bizarre present we have ever received. WTF? I mean, I know that Oregon wine is supposed to be a big deal...but we don't really drink much wine and even if we did, the "extra work" of using a manual corkscrew? NOT a real issue...

So...ummmm...gee, thanks, guys. In this case it really IS the thought that counted.
Here's the Girl with one of the little stuffed friends she received as presents - in this case, Jordan/"Cammie" the Camel. Hard to tell which one is cuter.
Mojo is a delicious Holiday Treat; oooh, yes...
Nice little family picture, neh? UNwrapping prezzies is certainly more fun the wrapping the damn things.
The Girl and her mom jumping into a cutthroat game of "Go Fish"...
...whilst the Boy fired up his new XBOX360 and began to slay digital aliens, since, after all, nothing says "Peace on Earth Goodwill Towards Men" like an MA5B Individual Combat Weapons System.
Hope you and yours enjoyed a peaceful and pleasant Christmas Day...

Christmas Day 2012

But Mary kept all these things,
and pondered them in her heart.
(Luke 2:19)
Silence in the night, no mate, no
skin touching skin. She is alone

and yet her heart sparks to learn
what she has learned. The truth

has wings. It arrives on a morning
when she is busy with morning

things. She is not expecting
to lose herself to the wind of what

is coming. It comes and she falls
to the ponderous weight of change,

which strikes her soul wide open,
which is how the light gets in.

~ Linda Dove

On the God's putative birthday from my godless heart to all of you, my friends, spread out across not just my country but the world; may this day that is supposed to be about the advent of love and peace find you at peace, with those you love around you. May you find at least one day of tranquility, of silence amid the noise and haste, of lovingkindness, of hope, of joy.

May you feel the vibration of the bells of Christmas Day passing though you like the motions of the spheres.

Monday, December 24, 2012

LP on Christmas Eve

Enfant Perdu

Verlorner Posten in dem Freiheitskriege,
Hielt ich seit dreißig Jahren treulich aus.
Ich kämpfte ohne Hoffnung, daß ich siege,
Ich wußte, nie komm' ich gesund nach Haus.

Ich wachte Tag und Nacht - Ich konnt' nicht schlafen,
Wie in dem Lagerzelt der Freunde Schar -
(Auch hielt das laute Schnarchen dieser Braven
Mich wach, wenn ich ein bißchen schlummrig war).

In jenen Nächten hat Langweil' ergriffen
Mich oft, auch Furcht - (nur Narren fürchten nichts) -
Sie zu verscheuchen, hab' ich dann gepfiffen
Die frechen Reime eines Spottgedichts.

Ja, wachsam stand ich, das Gewehr im Arme,
Und nahte irgendein verdächt'ger Gauch,
So schoß ich gut und jagt' ihm eine warme,
Brühwarme Kugel in den schnöden Bauch.

Mitunter freilich mocht' es sich ereignen,
Daß solch ein schlechter Gauch gleichfalls sehr gut
Zu schießen wußte - ach, ich kann's nicht leugnen -
Die Wunden klaffen - es verströmt mein Blut.

Ein Posten ist vakant! - Die Wunden klaffen -
Der eine fällt, die andern rücken nach -
Doch fall' ich unbesiegt, und meine Waffen
Sind nicht gebrochen - nur mein Herze brach.

~ Heinrich Heine

Forgotten outpost in the Freedom War
I have held faithfully these thirty years.
I fought without hope that I would win,
I knew that I wouldn't get home safely.

I watched both day and night; I could not sleep
as my buddies did in the hootch nearby;
though the loud snoring of these heroes
made sure I couldn't nod off even had I wanted to.

In the night weariness would grab me -
or fear - for only idiots have no fear -
and I would pipe up my rhymes and rouse myself
and them, taking my revenge.

So...there I was, my weapon in my hands
when some sneaking rascal showed his head,
and I shot him good and proper and gave his brain
a good warm dose of hot lead.

But war and justice have far different laws,
and worthless acts are often done right well;
The fuckers' shots were better than their cause,
And I was hit and fell bleeding.

The LP is overrun! With his wound undressed
the sentry's down and the other guys grab a hat -
So I died unconquered, my rifle still combat-ready;
Only my heart was broken.

When I was on active service the tradition was that the single guys pulled holiday duty. So I'll bet there are a lot of guys without wives and kiddies in the TOC, on Staff Duty, on CQ, and tower guard tonight.

Whoever else is thinking of you tonight, guys, I hope you will come off your shift whole and sane, and that you will return gesund nach Haus; safely home.

Merry Hanukkah

I got a chuckle out of this since we're planning to go out for Chinese tomorrow. That, and as a tribute for all my friends who are celebrating the holiday without cherishing the Reason for the Season. I have to say I consider that particularly American; we love the external flourishes, we celebrate the trivial while conveniently ignoring the beating heart of the thing.

Jews on Christmas

There isn’t enough soy sauce in the world to feed
Jews on Christmas
Huddled around steaming plates of dumplings
Discussing cinematography
Who has lived and who has died
Shocked to hear that the hot new Hollywood star is actually half-Jewish
(and not arguing which half)
I don’t see what all the fuss is about Nathan Englander.
Yes, it’s like The Wire, but different,
Costco is a mixed blessing,
Do you trust Yelp?
On our smartphones we subtract the Chinese year from the Jewish year to see how long the Jews had to wait to try egg drop soup.
The laughter of Jews on Christmas
shakes the jade Buddha under the faux waterfall from his
sleepy serenity
And for a moment, the enlightened one opens his eyes,
smiling contently as he joins us to look at pictures of relatives at Harry Potter world.
Now he’s Jewish too.
The Moo Shu comes with little tortillas, pancakes, wraps,
whatever you want to call them.
And we wrap up the mush of last year, with all of it’s regrets and tzuris,
And immerse into soy sauce,
a ritual bath,
three times dipped,
and we say – this is not bad.
Our highest compliment.

~ David Brenner

As a thorough agnostic, I enjoy the unChristmasness of Hanukkah; the trivial little Festival of Lights that our Bible-walloping brethern have tried to make into "Jewish Christmas". So a vigorous spin of the dreidel to my Jewish friends for their contribution to Everything Not Christmas. That, and the fact that cinematic Judaism has not produced anything - not a damn thing - as eye-gougingly horrible as any of the Rankin-Bass Christmas specials, "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer", or nativity scenes with the parties portrayed as chickens, Muppets, or Disney characters.

Although you guys DO have to own up to Eight Crazy Nights; holy fucking Baby Jesus on a stick was that awful.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


To Juan at the Winter Solstice

There is one story and one story only
That will prove worth your telling,
Whether are learned bard or gifted child;
To it all lines or lesser gauds belong
That startle with their shining
Such common stories as they stray into.

Is it of trees you tell, their months and virtues,
Or strange beasts that beset you,
Of birds that croak at you the Triple will?
Or of the Zodiac and how slow it turns
Below the Boreal Crown,
Prison of all true kings that ever reigned?

Water to water, ark again to ark,
From woman back to woman:
So each new victim treads unfalteringly
The never altered circuit of his fate,
Bringing twelve peers as witness
Both to his starry rise and starry fall.

Or is it of the Virgin's silver beauty,
All fish below the thighs?
She in her left hand bears a leafy quince;
When, with her right she crooks a finger smiling,
How may the King hold back?
Royally then he barters life for love.

Or of the undying snake from chaos hatched,
Whose coils contain the ocean,
Into whose chops with naked sword he springs,
Then in black water, tangled by the reeds,
Battles three days and nights,
To be spewed up beside her scalloped shore?

Much snow is falling, winds roar hollowly,
The owl hoots from the elder,
Fear in your heart cries to the loving-cup:
Sorrow to sorrow as the sparks fly upward.
The log groans and confesses
There is one story and one story only.

Dwell on her graciousness, dwell on her smiling,
Do not forget what flowers
The great boar trampled down in ivy time.
Her brow was creamy as the crested wave,
Her sea-blue eyes were wild
But nothing promised that is not performed.

~ Robert Graves

(Thanks to my friend mike, who posted this beautiful poem to Facebook)