Archive for the ‘kings and dates and battles’ Category

Yes, we did. Now fuck off.

November 6, 2012 - 9:56 pm 13 Comments

I just voted and nothing you can say will make me feel any better, so just fuck off. I voted for assholes, and if you voted, so did you, and I’m so completely sick of the goddamn media orgasm over this non-decision over which way we get fucked for the next few years, I’m about up to spreading the mayo on my sandwich to take up in the clock tower for the afternoon, so here’s the deal:

We’ll find out tomorrow which asshole we’re stuck with. If you’ve been one of those poll-sniffing borderline gambling addicts, you are formally instructed to fuck right the fuck off. This goes for friends, too. If you’re naive enough to be wound up and excited for the outcome, I will flat out tell you to fuck off, and end the conversation right there. God help you if you’re some excitable dumb fuck working a phone bank calling to ask which asshole I voted for.

With regards to politics, for the next 48 hours you can either bring me whiskey, or fuck off.

Pesky Reruns

August 28, 2012 - 1:49 pm 11 Comments

May be recycled content, but saying I’m glad of the chance to do so is like saying a man struck by lightning is feeling a little under the weather. It doesn’t really do the situation justice, now does it? At any rate:

Writing On The Wall

July 26, 2012 - 2:34 pm 6 Comments

Without further elaboration, an argument for the constancy of human nature. I’m pretty sure I read several of these, with modernized language, in various comment sections today.

NRA Convention Already?

April 13, 2012 - 11:21 am Comments Off on NRA Convention Already?

Well this one just managed to sneak right up on me, but apparently it’s time for the annual NRA Convention again. And while I’m not going, those of you who are, might I make a request?

Drop by the HS Precision booth, and ask about their choice of “celebrity” endorsements. I mean for fuck’s sake, even if you’re a “Yay government they do no wrong!” jackboot cheerleader, and you don’t consider Lon Horiuchi a murderer excused by federal fiat when justice came looking for him, then at the very least he’s a spectacularly bad shot.

What sane company would use either of those options to endorse their product?

Oh wait. HS Precision isn’t sane.

So yeah, if you’re going to the NRA Convention, please drop by the HS Precision booth and find out if they’ve perchance seen the error of their ways. But I wouldn’t bet on a friendly response.

Difference-Caused Historical Myopia

March 10, 2010 - 5:52 pm Comments Off on Difference-Caused Historical Myopia

So, it seems that those who were hoping the Pacific war followup to the wonderful HBO series Band of Brothers would be more of the same are in for disappointment. From an interview with Tom Hanks regarding the series:

But the context for Hanks’ history lessons has changed. Band of Brothers, HBO’s best-selling DVD to date, began airing two days before 9/11; The Pacific, his new 10-hour epic about the Pacific theater in World War II, plays out against a very different backdrop, when the country is weary of war and American exceptionalism is a much tougher sell. World War II in the European theater was a case of massive armies arrayed against an unambiguous evil. The Pacific war was mainly fought by isolated groups of men and was overlaid by a sense that our foes were fundamentally different from us. In that sense, the war in the Pacific bears a closer relation to the complex war on terrorism the U.S. is waging now, making the new series a trickier prospect but one with potential for more depth and resonance. “Certainly, we wanted to honor U.S. bravery in The Pacific,” Hanks says. “But we also wanted to have people say, ‘We didn’t know our troops did that to Japanese people.’ “

Others more well-versed in history than I have already dispensed with the very obvious historical problems here; the Pacific front was very much more like the European front than it was like the War on Terrorism. Japan had ambitions of empire in Asia and the Pacific, so they invaded Korea and China. Japan was a small and resource-starved island with a chronic lack of the metal and oil it needed to conduct a campaign on that scale. The US was nervous about its own holdings in the Pacific and about those of its allies- apprehension that turned out to be entirely rational- so it put up an embargo of its own abundant resources. Japan asked the US to lift the embargo and let them continue conquering Eastern Asia and the Pacific unimpeded. The US refused. Japan reasoned that if they wanted to press their ambitions further, they needed to neutralize US naval power as a threat, so they attacked the fleet at Pearl Harbor.

As it turned out their gamble went sour and the rest is history; the United States and Japan were indeed two very different cultures, but in terms of a war for resources and territory you just don’t get much more straightforward than the Pacific campaign. Indeed, at the time the European campaign was every bit as straightforward a territory issue- we had no idea how evil the Nazis actually were until we were already winning, having long ago committed fully to the war. At the time we saw Nazi Germany as just another problematic world power, much the way the majority of the public viewed the Soviet Union during the Cold War- and people were just as reluctant to commit to the loss of blood and treasure at the time for the exact same reasons. If anything we had less reason to involve ourselves on the European front as the territory in question was our allies’ rather than ours, but Hitler solved that issue by declaring war himself. We had nothing to gain from deciding to fight a great big naval war with Japan, no matter how “different”- except self-defense.

He hopes it offers Americans a chance to ponder the sacrifices of our current soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. “From the outset, we wanted to make people wonder how our troops can re-enter society in the first place,” Hanks says. “How could they just pick up their lives and get on with the rest of us? Back in World War II, we viewed the Japanese as ‘yellow, slant-eyed dogs’ that believed in different gods. They were out to kill us because our way of living was different. We, in turn, wanted to annihilate them because they were different. Does that sound familiar, by any chance, to what’s going on today?”

As the end of the article makes clear, Hanks has no grasp whatsoever of 1940s geopolitics, he’s just overlaying his current take on our current wars on it. It’s true there was no small amount of racism toward the Japanese at the time and among our forces, but that doesn’t make it the cause of the war or the motivation to keep fighting it. If that had been true we would have gone on a worldwide military tour and obliterated most of Africa and the rest of Asia, rather than fighting the Japanese in mainland Asia as well as in our own territories. And Japan by no means attacked us because WE were “different”- the motivation was very explicitly securing resources to continue expanding and fortifying the “East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”. Which the rest of East Asia would have more accurately termed the “bloody and ruthless Japanese empire”.

Ultimately though, aside from the historical ignorance*, what’s really interesting to me here is that Hanks is inadvertently indulging in the same kind of racism that he’s accusing the entire 1940s US of. I’ve written before on how empathy also serves the function of letting us distinguish the monstrous from the harmless as well as letting us understand others more sympathetically, and this is an excellent example of the phenomenon. Hanks can easily understand the German Nazis as evil because they were a Western culture similar enough to us to be easily understood; same race, same basic religious structure, lots of shared cultural history even if most of it was a history of warring with each other. The Japanese are different- and he stops seeing at “different” rather than understanding their actions as the actions of people much like ourselves.

What the Japanese did to the Chinese, Koreans, and everyone else they got their hands on that wasn’t Japanese during World War II was every bit as monstrous as what the Nazis did to the Jewish and pretty much everyone else they got their hands on that wasn’t “Aryan”, they just didn’t keep as meticulous records- and we didn’t bother to prosecute them as we did the Nazis at Nuremburg. Unlike the Germans, they weren’t part of “our” world community, so we were fundamentally less interested in finding out. There were pointless mass slaughters, horrific abuse of prisoners, and even medical experimentation just as bad as Mengele’s dark dreams- it’s just lesser known history because it isn’t European history. Japan as a nation is only just beginning, in recent decades, to admit it and to begin to try and confront it rather than denying all. (Which was, in fairness to them, as much a matter of intolerable shame as their own racist tendencies.)

When we see someone as like ourselves and therefore understandable, we don’t just give them implicit credit for having the capacity to do good and behave morally- we give them that same credit for having the capacity to do evil. Writing off the bloody excesses of other cultures as just “difference” is only the other side of the paternalistic coin, with the first being writing off what they do as them just being “savages”. Whether it’s African tribes genociding each other or Japanese scientists poisoning Chinese prisoners on the “let’s see what happens” principle, genuine racists unable to empathize with the different don’t care because it all reads as “the children are fighting” to them. Tom Hanks can condemn American conduct in the Pacific theater- some of it worthy of condemnation- because he knows us. When he comes to know “different” cultures well enough to condemn them for their rationally and consciously chosen actions rather than writing a book report on Shinto, then he will have actually grown beyond what he’s tut-tutting at.

One last thing from the above quote, another historical quibble:

We, in turn, wanted to annihilate them because they were different.

Hanks still needs to read his history books. We dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki because we wanted to avoid invading mainland Japan. Part of that was to save our own soldiers, but part of it was because we recognized that what we’d be fighting weren’t soldiers, but the very tired and underfed elderly, women, and children of Japan- because most of their young men were already in uniform and dying during our campaign on the way to mainland Japan. They were under orders to fight the invaders using bamboo spears if that was their only recourse- and we knew this. We were already firebombing the living shit out of mainland Japan (funny how no one seems to care about those deaths), and the population was near starvation. If we had wanted to annihilate them, we would have. Instead we forced a surrender with far lesser civilian sacrifice- then MOVED IN AND HELPED. The Japanese expected us to crush or enslave them; we expected them to resist with terrorist violence. (Or geurilla warfare as we would have referred to it then.) Instead we each saw the better of that different.

Funny how the accurate history is also the more multiculturally hopeful history.

*Read the beginning of the article for extra ironysauce. Hanks had no interest in history as a child or young man, and Time is setting him up as some kind of media professor of it- with no apparent idea that he’s merely continued to reveal how shallow his knowledge and understanding actually are on a big screen.


December 7, 2009 - 7:36 pm Comments Off on Remember

On this date, a good many good people died and heralded the beginning of a whole hell of a lot more Americans dying for various causes that just about everybody agreed were a good idea after a sufficient number of years had passed. At the time, usually not so much, something that we tend to forget easily whenever comparing our current overseas adventures to the one we supposedly all agreed on.

As always it is a good idea to take lessons from past tragedies. In this one, we can learn that crazily ambitious imperialists with no natural resources of their own have interesting to reactions to resource embargoes, and that it is a very bad idea in the long run to drop flaming objects on massive industrial powers with otherwise isolationist inclinations that have a cultural tradition of taking such things extremely personally. It may lead to being the testing ground for science projects and having Americans camped in your back yard for the next seventy years.

Public Service Announcement

August 6, 2009 - 11:39 am Comments Off on Public Service Announcement

Your friendly nuclear weapons lab wishes to remind you today that bombing Pearl Harbor may result in adverse side effects, such as excessive rubble, lingering sickness, and a national simultaneous expression of “Holy shit, what the hell was that?”

Please remember, for your safety and ours, do not bomb Pearl Harbor.

Hugs, kisses, and fallout,
Los Alamos

Today in History

February 5, 2009 - 7:27 pm Comments Off on Today in History

The Indiana House of Representatives voted unanimously to redefine the method for calculating the area of a circle, effectively changing the value of pi. The Senate, responding to the overwhelming mockery coming from editorials and such, killed the bill quickly.

Y’know, I can’t really see that bill being defeated today if introduced at a federal level. A nice round number for pi would boost esteem among the mathematically challenged, and if on the off chance any problems arose down the line, they would simply be an artifact of poor decisions regarding construction standards in the Bush administration.

Don't Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before…

November 11, 2008 - 4:36 pm Comments Off on Don't Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before…

We love our Kipling, the blogosphere does, yes we do. While I’ve seen endless iterations on his chart-toppers “If” and “The Gods Of The Copybook Headings”, I only recall having seen this one around once before, and it does ring as a appropriate today, in that black-humor way that tends to attend anyone in, around, or near the military…


I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;
But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,
The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.

Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,
But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind,
There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind.

You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!

Today is Veteran’s Day. While Memorial Day is the day set aside to honor the dead, Veterans’ Day is for the living, for the people who provide for the continued existence of civilization by agreeing to put their lives themselves on the line for it. Frequently, they are used as tools, for good and for ill. Sometimes they are asked to do impossible things, like go somewhere impossibly rent by decades-old civil war and “keep the peace”- the standard joke being that they will just as soon as they find any. Sometimes they are asked to do blatantly silly things- actually, scratch the sometimes, the nature of the gargantuan bureaucracy involved means that this is a fairly constant experience. Sometimes they are heroes despite of their orders, their leaders, and even occasionally themselves.

It is a bit strange to so many of us that someone would actually agree to put up with all this epic and quite truly dangerous nonsense and devote years or even their entire lives to it. So, they have a hard time “treatin’ us rational”, as the poem laments- depending on the temperament of the individuals involved, Tommy gets to be the demonized baby-killer (he agreed to do this because he wants to kill foreigners, there’s no other reason anyone would want to), or the “plaster saint”- the selfless hero who does this because his nature is so inherently noble and protective that we’re fortunate enough to have him born to us to serve. Given that the only place to go from a pedestal is straight down, the only way to avoid crashing down to “baby-killer” when soldiers go on to act like the same fallible humans as the rest of us is usually to die in the line of duty. Nobody is better-behaved than the dead.

Nonetheless, today’s the day for bands and thank you Mister Atkins, and I’m glad for it. Thus far I’ve seen nothing but respect and gratitude and honor for our serving men, even from people I know for a fact believe this current war is a grotesque exercise in ham-handed American imperialism. It’s gone out of fashion to blatantly spit on our soldiers as it was during our last deeply unpopular war, and that’s a damned good sign.

Give Tommy his band, and his thank you, and a few good solid war movies where the soldier is the hero and not the villain wouldn’t hurt- and then treat him rational- he’s like every other schlub in this country, except for the part where, no matter what else he does, he and the rest of those who make that strange choice really are protecting civilization, if not always civility.

Lessons of History

September 2, 2008 - 5:20 pm Comments Off on Lessons of History

Happy V-J day! 63 years ago today, the formal ceremony of Japanese surrender to the Allies in World War II was made in Tokyo.

However, instead of talking about that, and the powerful role a certain invention had in convincing the Japanese that holding out and dying to the last man in a bloody invasion they were sure to lose was NOT the only honorable and fitting path, I’d like to introduce you to three men who represent a lesson that all nations with aspirations to power should take heed of.


You’re probably already familiar with this fellow, as this particular image adorns a disproportionate number of the dorm rooms of science majors. As it so happens, his name has also entered popular slang as interchangeable with any Very Smart Person.

Albert Einstein was born into a Jewish (but not particularly observant) family in Germany. His family and he moved around a bit, first to Italy and then to Switzerland where, while working as a patent clerk, in 1905 he published four groundbreaking papers in a leading German physics journal, which have since become popularly known as the “Anuus Mirabilis” papers. His reputation made- and his productive output prodigious since then- he went on to gain more than a little fame for his genius within physics circles- and, after winning a Nobel, he became high-profile as a genius in general and was often asked to opine on nonscientific matters. Not being shy or naive, he did, and was both an outspoken Zionist and an outspoken critic of the rising tide of Naziism.

Reading the writing on the wall with Hitler’s growing popularity and eventual election to the German chancellorship, Einstein prudently fled Europe for the United states in 1932, where he did his best to get as many Jews fleeing persecution American visas as he could. Meanwhile in Germany, his work was declared unacceptable “Jewish physics”.


Here, proving that everyone looks a little insane on an official ID badge, is a man of slightly lesser fame, Enrico Fermi. Fermi is certainly well-known in physics and chemistry circles, however, for his role as one of the fathers of quantum theory and of nuclear physics. He won a Nobel of his own, and (again like Einstein) has an element on the periodic table named after him.

Fermi was born in Rome, and worked and published primarily in German and Italian. During this earlier period of his career, he primarily worked in atomic physics and the study of nuclear reactions, and quite narrowly missed being the first to observe fission in the lab. In 1938, he won his Nobel- and promptly departed for the United States, as the rise of Benito Mussolini meant serious danger for his Jewish wife, and the new anti-Jew laws had lost him most of his research assistants anyway.

Leo Szilard

This is Leo Szilard. He was born in Hungary during the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and, despite his record of military service, fled the rising anti-semitic tide in Hungary (in 1919)- in what was in retrospect an unfortunate choice- to continue his education in Berlin, where he would be instructed by Einstein, among others. Handy with practical applications for theory- which was why he was in engineering before switching to physics- he submitted patents for several inventions, including the linear accelerator and the cyclotron. In 1933 he presumably heaved a sigh of “What, again?” and fled to London to avoid Nazi persecution, where he started chewing over the idea of the nuclear chain reaction. Leaving a trail of patent applications for reactions and reactors in his wake, he accepted a job at Columbia university to study the idea there.

In 1939, Szilard got together with Albert Einstein and convinced him to sign a letter he had written to Roosevelt, warning of German work on the concept of an atomic bomb and urging him to take action on US research in defense. The government felt this was a fine idea, and the creation of the Manhattan Engineer District- later to lead to the creation of a secret city in a remote location in the mountains of New Mexico- were quick to follow. Fermi, as one of the leading experts in the field, quickly joined the project. (Along with Edward Teller and Hans Bethe, other refugees from the Axis- among even more!)

The lesson of history is this: If you are attempting to create the most elite military in the world, with the purpose of taking over large chunks of it- or even if you merely propose to become and remain a cutting-edge military power- don’t persecute your intellectuals. No matter which ethnic group you hate may be overrepresented within those ranks, you’d be prudent to leave the scientists, at least, well enough alone.

If you don’t, they might just take their big veiny brains, emigrate to a rival power, and get their leader to help them build their science fair project. And you, ambitious nation, could come to very much regret that.