Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Archive for the ‘World War Two’ Category

THE PHONEY WAR

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Being a student of history is particularly of interest in these troubled times. Late April, 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic to be specific. A parallel that struck me to our times was the Phoney War in 1939/1940. It was called this because after Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, while England and France declared war on Germany, there was no major fighting on the Germany/France border for months. The “Western Front” in World War One, where millions had died. There was one minor inconsequential action, and there was fighting in other parts, but for the most part the war hadn’t really begun yet. I’m sure a lot of people were like, phew, maybe this won’t be so bad. Do I need to even carry my gas mask to the grocery store? The horrors of World War One, millions dead, were still fresh on people’s minds, no one wanted to see that again. Calling it The Phoney War was in some ways reassuring to people I am sure.

Then in May 1940 Germany attacked on the Western front, defeating the French and English armies in ten days. By June victorious German armies were marching through Paris, photograph above. The Germans had accomplished in weeks what they couldn’t do in four years of bloody trench warfare in World War One. And yeah, it was no longer a phoney war; The Blitz, the German conquest of the Balkans, invasion of Russia, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor all followed apace.

Wait, the discerning reader may be thinking, why did France and England just sit and do nothing for half a year while Germany was busy invading Poland? Didn’t they have large armies, while Germany had only been hastily constructing its new army for a few years? Yes, yes they did. The Allies had more troops and tanks than Germany. And not only did they have more tanks than Germany, they were better tanks than the German tanks? German tanks couldn’t even penetrate the armor on the heavy British tanks!

Why not indeed invade Germany indeed? It’s a good question, and no doubt historians will be debating the finer points of it so long as there are historians. The main reason though was that an attack on Germany wasn’t part of the plan. In World War One Germany had marched through Belgium and invaded Northern France, causing death and devastation of almost unthinkable magnitude. No matter what happened, France wanted to avoid a repeat of that. So they had prepared for that scenario only. France built a huge and expensive fortified line along their border with Germany, the Maginot Line. And massed their armies to pour into Belgium to meet the invading Germans there. It was a good plan, they were well prepared for it, and by God they were sticking to it.

Unfortunately, preparing to refight the last war is generally, well, not the best idea. Normal human thinking though. We do have a hankering for the safe and familiar. I mean, the Allies “won” World War One, why would being even better prepared to fight it again be a bad idea? Well, and again the discerning (or historically informed) reader might know the answer, because the Germans decided that they were going with a new plan, since the World War One plan had been such a bloody failure. Between the Maginot Line and the open fields of Belgium was a huge rough forested region known as the Ardennes. The roads through it were few and poor, so it was only lightly defended by the Allies. Even if the Germans did attack there for some reason, the terrain would slow them down and the Allies could rush troops there to stop them.

So in May 1940 Germany attacked into Belgium, quickly breaching the fortified defenses Belgium thought would slow the Germans. (By using the world’s first parachute troops.) The French and British armies marched north into Belgium to meet them. The Germans, while attacking through Belgium in the north, mainly attacked through the Ardennes in the middle, north of the Maginot Line. And moving far faster than the Allies expected, for unlike them the Germans had concentrated their tanks into large formations that could move quickly and easily go around or through what troops could be mustered to stop them. In ten days the German tanks had reached the English Channel and the huge French and British armies in Belgium were surrounded. And cut off from supply, which is a death knell for modern armies. And the rest is history, as John Wade said in 1839.

Why do I compare The Phoney War to today? Because we’re kind of in a similar global situation. The declaration of a global pandemic in March was Germany invading Poland. And the Battle of France is yet to begin. People at the time knew things could get very ugly, though no one expected the horrors of the holocaust etc. Here in rural Iowa, some days I can almost hear it, a rising wind, the coming storm. Life superficially goes on as “normal,” but it’s not the same as the old normal. Like waking up one day and realizing the sky is still blue, but not the same blue one knew all their life. I digress. Some bad things are happening, now as then, but the big horrors, not yet.

I walked to the grocery store for the first time in months today, I may yet get some return to physical mobility, God* and physical therapy willing. It was really nice. Yet when I got to the store, I stopped in the parking lot to don my mask and deploy an alcohol wipe to treat my shopping cart. Sadly few people in the store were wearing masks, of the staff just the pharmacist, and he looked frustrated. Not normal, not happy. I bought beer though, I wonder how long I will be able to just walk a bit and buy beer?

We’ll see. History in the making, and it’s just begun. Stay safe and sane everyone. Comments and shares appreciated. #StaytheFHome

Copyright © 2020 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: German soldiers parade on the Champs Élysées in Paris, France, on 14 June 1940. Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1994-036-09A / CC-BY-SA Used legally: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license.)

Written by unitedcats

April 29, 2020 at 8:36 pm

THROUGH THICK AND THIN: FEBRUARY 24

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This is a rather disturbing article about America’s lack of readiness in the event of a pandemic. And at this point seems pretty damn likely that COVID-19 is on the way. It’s spread to too many countries, some of which simply don’t have the resources to deal with a pandemic. Add to that there are always going to be people or organizations who ignore attempts to control the disease’s spread for one reason or another. And “winging it” isn’t going to be an effective approach. There are things where having trained experts is the only sensible approach. If one’s house catches fire, a fully equipped and trained firefighting crew is the best response. Right?

This is always what has scared me about Trump. He’s one of those people who think there’s simple solutions to all of reality’s issues. “Just build a wall” or “Just say no!” are examples of simplistic solutions to complex social issues. Worse, if COVID-19 does spread to the USA and turn into a pandemic, pretty sure Trump and his supporters will blame everyone but Trump for our inadequate response. Trump can’t even bring himself to admit he made minor mistakes, sharpiegate comes to mind, so he’s certainly not going to admit his administration wasn’t prepared for a pandemic. And God only knows, I can see COVID-19 turning into an excuse to cancel the election, especially if it looks like Bernie might win the election.

Speaking of Bernie, looks like he is the front runner now after handily winning the Nevada caucuses. Which has caused major freakouts in the establishment media. MSNBCs Chris Matthws compared Bernie’s win to “the Nazis conquering France.” He’s also the guy who suggested if Bernie won, he’d have people executed in Central Park. There’s example after example of mainstream outlets doing what they can to belittle his win. For example this headline: “Nevada caucuses win would make Bernie Sanders a weak front-runner.” Or MSNBC host Nicole Wallace saying Democratic enthusiasm for Sanders as “political suicide,” and also said the supporters of the night’s runaway victor constitute only “a squeaky, angry minority.” Or this gem. So if Bernie wins the election the day after the inauguration will we see headlines like “Apparent Front Runner Sworn In,” “Is Bernie Re-electable? Experts Say No,” and “GOP Starts Impeachment Hearings.” Sigh.

The image is of the ‘Battle of Los Angeles.’ It was the evening of February 24th 1942 until 4am or so the 25th. Basically anti-aircraft gun crews thought a Japanese air raid was underway, and opened fire for hours. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a few months earlier, so nerves on the American West Coast were at a fever pitch. Exacerbated by Japanese submarines sinking American ships off the coast, and one even shelling Santa Barbara. One Congressman even proposed abandoning the west coast and setting up a defensive line in the Rocky Mountains. Which was a ridiculous over-reaction. Yes gentle reader, electing idiots to Congress is a long standing tradition in America. When all was said and done, the ‘battle’ was one big panic attack. Sadly 5 people died in auto accidents or heart attacks related to it.

Monday morning now, speaking of mass panic, the Coronavirus thing continues to spread, with all sorts of wild accusations being thrown around. I’m more than a little concerned, because while our government should deal with this outbreak sanely and effectively, neither characterises contemporary Washington, where the watchword is “How can we use this crisis to benefit our faction?” Washington has been for decades really, though it’s gone off the rails since 9/11. That being said, planetary economic disruption also looks like it’s inevitable at this point too. This might be the one the mormons and preppers were waiting for. I think I’ll go to the grocery store and stock up before the hoarders get there.

Have a great week everyone, remember, wash your hands frequently and don’t touch your face when you’re out and about.

Copyright © 2020 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: Battle of Los Angeles. Credit: Los Angeles Times. This work is in the public domain because it was published in the United States between 1925 and 1963 and although there may or may not have been a copyright notice, the copyright was not renewed.)

Written by unitedcats

February 24, 2020 at 6:39 am

THINGS THAT GO POOF IN THE NIGHT

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Another week gone, poof. And another theory of planetary formation gone, poof. Actually, theories don’t go poof very often, and when they do it’s generally because a theory that better explains the evidence comes along. In this case, the original theory of planetary formation posited that planets were formed by violent collisions between clumps of matter in the disk of dust surrounding the Sun after it formed. It was never a super strong theory, because other star systems where planets are now forming are way too far away to get a good look at. The theory was largely based on computer modelling.

Well, about 15 years ago an astronomer came up with a new theory, that the collisions that formed planets during the Solar System’s formation were gentle, not violent. Computer modelling suggested this. Until recently we had no solid evidence one way or t’other, until January 2019. That’s when the New Horizons probe flew by Arrokoth, a trans-Neptunian object in the Kuiper Belt. Arrokoth is the furthest object yet visited by a probe, it’s basically leftover junk from the formation of the Solar System. And after a year of study, some scientists say it’s clear that Arrokoth supports the gentle collision theory of planetary formation.

Granted I suspect the issue isn’t fully settled, since we’ve only examined one object like Arrokoth. Still, this is how science works, it changes as evidence and understanding evolve. It’s just annoying now how Religious Right in their anti-science crusade always uses stuff like this to claim all sorts of science is unsettled, and if scientists were wrong about this, they could be wrong about anything! As if improving our understanding of the Universe is some sort of flaw in science. It’s the opposite, that science can and does correct our understanding of the Universe is one of science’s great strengths.

Speaking of things that go poof, 75 years ago today the Allied revenge bombing of the German city of Dresden was under way. The city of Dresden wasn’t a military target, and about 25,000 civilians were killed. Though at the time much higher estimates were floating around, encouraged by German propaganda. It was the first time there was serious criticism of the war effort against Germany, I mean, the Allies were claiming to be the good guys. How does one justify such an action? In February 1945 the war was over, organized German resistance was collapsing, the bombing of Dresden didn’t bring the end of the war any closer.

I say revenge bombing because if anything it was vengeance for the Nazi bombing of Coventry early in the war. Plenty of German cities had been carpet bombed already, seriously hampering Germany’s war effort. So it wasn’t a unique event, but the timing and the fact that Dresden was mostly known for its cultural heritage made it tricky to explain. And since war is the gift that keeps on giving for generations, today’s Nazis and Hitler apologists have seized on Dresden as a cause celebre for their efforts to demonize the Allies and make out Hitler and the Nazis as victims. History may be written by the winners, but the losers often manage to rewrite it anyhow. Like a certain nineteenth century armed rebellion in the US that is still glorified in some quarters.

Lastly, no going poof, but definitely in the night. On this day in 1990 the Voyager 1 probe took the famous “pale blue dot” photograph of Earth. Earth is a single pale blue pixel in the photo. It was taken from beyond the orbit of Neptune, part of a series of photos taken of the Solar System that day, the Family Portrait photos. There was no scientific reason for these photos, they were taken after Carl Sagan proposed the idea and campaigned for it for years. I agree with him, it was a great idea to inspire wonder at our place in the Universe, and to highlight the amazing progress science has made.

In an era of growing and increasingly sophisticated science denial, looking back at the 70s is sad. I never suspected Americans would go backwards and celebrate ignorance in my lifetime. At least not without a nuclear war or some such. Yet here we are, one of the loudest voices driving us back into superstition gets the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Go figure.

Have a great weekend everyone. Shares and comments appreciated.

Copyright © 2020 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: “Dresden, partial view of the destroyed city center on the Elbe to the new town. In the center of Neumarkt and the ruins of the Frauenkirche.” Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1994-041-07 / Unknown / CC-BY-SA 3.0 This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license. You are free:

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Under the following conditions:

  • attribution – You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.
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Written by unitedcats

February 14, 2020 at 2:44 pm

THROUGH THICK AND THIN: FEBRUARY 8TH

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I have been busy helping a friend who is recuperating from an operation. As well, I have been working on a post I really want to get right. Life, always something. OK, February 8 in history. On this day in 1904 Japan launched a surprise attack against the Russian Pacific Fleet anchored in Port Arthur, Siberia. It was more or less a big fail, with a number of ships moderately damaged or either side. No Russian ships sunk, despite what is shown on the Japanese poster above. The world outlawed such attacks in 1907, and since then no nation has ever launched a surprise attack on another nation. Whew. After the battle above, the Japanese were able to repair their ships, while the Russian repair facilities in Port Arthur were very limited. Japan went on to decisively win the war.

In a more positive event on this day in 1945, ten Russians in a German concentration camp escaped to freedom by stealing the camp commandant’s He-111 and flying it to freedom behind Soviet lines. The Germans failed to intercept the plane, and they were hit by Russian anti-aircraft fire, but they all made it. The escape was organized by Russian fighter pilot Mikhail Devyatayev. I’d never heard of this, but it was a big deal in Russia. Sadly Stalin’s Russia was not a happy place, the seven enlisted men were promptly reassigned to a rifle company, where five of them died before the war’s end later than year. And even though the three officers provided valuable information about Germany’s rocket program, they lived under a cloud of criminal suspicion until after Stalin’s death. In 1957 though, their heroics were recognized, and Mikhail Devyatayev was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union medal. He lived happily ever after, and wrote his memoirs recounting their escape.

I’m surprised no one has made a movie about this escape,  though sooner or later I am sure. We’re on the cusp of an age where computers are going to be able to make realistic movies about anyone or anything in history, dispensing entirely with such expensive extras as actors, cameras, sets, etc. Granted this might still be a few decades away, but just a few. Human creativity will still come into play, this will just mean anyone who wants to write and direct a movie will be able to do so on a level playing field. At some point even the creative aspects will be generated by computer, though I make no predictions about when that will happen. Think of it though, infinite episodes of any TV show in history could be produced, indistinguishable for all intents and purposes from the original. It’s gonna be wild.

In other words, if the fans don’t like the last couple of seasons of a crazy popular show, they can just change it any way they like. <cough> thrones <cough> Think about it. One rents a popular movie, and before watching it one just tells the dvd player to make all the characters black. Or female. Or cats. Or nude. That will probably be at the top of the menu bar, given my understanding of human nature. Anything about the movie will be changeable. Or one will be able to insert themselves into any movie or show and experience it first hand in virtual reality. And this line of thought inevitably leads to … maybe we’re already in such a simulation? Beats me.

And on February 8 1963 President Kennedy made it illegal for Americans to travel to or conduct business with Cuba. This was on top of increasing sanctions. It rankles me to this day that our government claims to be defending our freedom, but then prohibits us from, say, travelling to certain countries. I mean, if America were at war with a nation or some such, maybe. We aren’t at war with Cuba, this was almost entirely because Cuba nationalized property owned by American corporations in Cuba. Overlooking the fact that how American corporations acquired large amounts of property in Cuba is shady at best, this is something to be dealt with under international law, not unilateral sanctions that only hurt the people of Cuba. Things were looking up under Obama, but Trump backtracked on that Obama policy too. Claiming that relieving Cuban sanctions was a “one sided deal.” Pretty much like someone who is repeatedly punching someone in the face claiming they won’t stop because “there’s nothing in it for them.” As if that justifies the punching, sigh.

Well, I had intended to cover a few “today in history” tidbits and then comment on current events. Got carried away with history. Let’s see, now that Trump has been acquitted by the GOP, he’s purging his administration of “enemies.” One of the biggest controversies over his SOTU address was that Nancy Pelosi ripped up her copy of it right afterwards. In other words, ‘all style, no substance’ still rules in Washington. The coronavirus is still spreading, but hopefully it won’t be the end of the world.

And on a personal note, plans for a podcast or two are underway. Someday I might even get a smartphone. Have a great weekend everyone, comments and shares appreciated.

Copyright © 2020 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: Print, 1904, Japanese battleships exchange fire with Russian battleships in the Battle of Port Arthur. Credit: Torajirō Kasai. Public domain in the United States. It varies in other countries but as the creator and year are listed, so it’s use is apparently legal. It’s in the Library of Congress and on Wikipedia.)

Written by unitedcats

February 8, 2020 at 11:37 am

“IT IS WITH MUCH EMBARRASSMENT THAT I RETURN.”

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24 January, 41 AD. Roman Emperor Caligula is walking through Rome with his friends and cohorts, guarded by the Praetorian Guard, the Secret Service of their day. They come to a pedestrian tunnel, and the guard insists on separating Caligula from his cohorts while walking through the tunnel, for security of course. Then in the middle of the tunnel, the guard drew their swords and killed Caligula. Let’s just say Caligula wasn’t very popular. He had a nightmarish upbringing, so no surprise he turned into a monster. He only reigned for about four years, and was 28 when he died. The Praetorian Guard then proclaimed Claudius the new emperor, not the last time they would kill a caesar and appoint a new one.

I went and saw the latest Jumanji movie. It was what I call a parts movie. IE it had all sorts of good parts, good actors, good special effects, decent writing, all fun to watch. But it didn’t add up to anything, it was all basically formula. They took the previous movie, jazzed it up a bit, and ran with it. Modern sequels all just kind of blur together. If one likes Dwayne Johnson movies, or the previous Jumanji movie, lots of fun. Note it’s not a kids movie, at least little kids.

January 24th 1900, the Battle of Scion Kop. Part of the Boer Wars. One European colonial army conquering another European colony. The British of course. They got a lot of their empire by conquering other empires’ colonies. Hyenas feeding on jackals, colonialism is really ugly if one thinks about it, but so fully normalized in western society that the ugly bits are overlooked. Anyhow, yeah, bad day for the Redcoats. I don’t think they were wearing red in 1900 though, but I could be wrong. The British climbed to the top of a hill at night, made a disorganized and poorly planned attempt to dig in, and in the morning found themselves in a very exposed position. Which the Boers were happy to exploit, eventually driving the Brits off the hill with heavy losses. Speaking of Redcoats, the French went into World War One with their soldiers wearing bright red trousers, because, you know, that’s what Napoleon would have wanted. Turned out to be a bad idea on a modern battlefield.

Speaking of colonialism, here’s a wonderful example of the colonial mindset in action. Greta Thurnberg suggested maybe people shouldn’t invest in the fossil fuel industries that are knowingly destroying the climate for profit. A suggestion up there with saying maybe don’t invest in industries that use slave labor, IE one of those no-brainer suggestions. So the US treasury secretary suggested she go study economics before offering her advice. No need, letting the fossil fuel industry destroy the planet’s climate is going to be very bad for the economy. No economics degree required. Here’s a tip. Any time someone says “It’s going to be bad for the economy” what they mean is “It’s going to mean slightly less obscene profits for the rich.” Can’t have that.

“It is with much embarrassment that I return.” 24 January 1972, Shoichi Yokoi is discovered hiding in the jungles on Guam. He was a Japanese soldier in hiding since 1944 when the US recaptured Guam during World War Two in the Pacific. Mr Yokoi was among the last three such holdouts to be discovered. Guam is only like 10 by 20 miles, so hiding for 28 years is impressive. A replica of the cave he hid in is a tourist attraction to this day. The quote is something he said upon his return to Japan, it apparently gained some popularity there.

There were a number of Japanese holdouts after World War Two. A subcategory of “people hiding from civilization.” One could write a book I suppose. A family of Old Believers discovered in remote Siberia. The Bounty mutineers. The Australian aborigines I blogged about. A handful of stone age tribes. The guy who hid in the woods in Maine for decades. I’m debating it myself. I have no family, and my friends hate me. And I have lived in a cave before. On the plus side, I’m a moderately successful blogger. Life, always full of decisions. I guess when you’re dead, no more decisions. The appeal of suicide suddenly becomes clearer.

But no. As a friend once said, you’re gonna be dead a lot longer than you’re alive. Have a great weekend everyone.

(Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: An 1887 painting of a famous Old Believer being arrested. Credit: Vasily Ivanovich Surikov 1848-1916. Public Domain under US copyright law.)

Written by unitedcats

January 24, 2020 at 10:19 am

IRAN, UPDATES, TRUMP, LIFE, SHEESH

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OK, Sunday night, Iran admitted their people accidentally shot down the airliner from Ukraine. Sadly not the first airliner accidentally shot down in a war zone, almost certainly not the last. The first was a Chinese DC-2 airliner shot down by Japan over China in 1938. (Image above, the Kweilin Incident.) The plane made a safe water landing in an attempt to escape, but the Japanese planes strafed it for an hour, so Japanese claims that the plane had “acted suspiciously” were not terribly credible. Big deal at the time, Japan’s image in the US suffered. The shoot down was likely an attempt to kill the Chinese president’s only son, but he had flown on another flight.

I literally just stumbled on Kweilin searching for the world’s first airliner shoot down. There are clear parallels to Trump’s recent targeted killing of an Iranian general. Japan was at least at war with China, Trump’s assasination, not so much. In any case, both were attacks on civilian targets under pretense of military necessity. Both were BS state extrajudicial killings. Maybe nothing will come of this, and it’s just another of America’s endless war scares with Iran. At the very least, it’s made me think.

Especially since I just read a great book about the Battle of Stalingrad, the largest battle in Earth’s history. The book made me realize the one great parallel between Trump and Hitler, the parallel from which all other parallels flow. In both cases, their rise to greatness was largely due to a happy combination of faith and circumstance. IE they were people whom history paved the way for, and they brilliantly took advantage of the opportunity. Neither of them was born to power, but they achieved it nonetheless. If one can’t give credit for that, you’re probably not a reader of my blog.

Moving on, when the German Sixth Army was surrounded and trapped at Stalingrad, Hitler was still a God to most Germans, including Germans who should have known better. And they just blithely assumed Hitler knew what he was doing, since so far his results had been spectacular. By the end of 1942 Hitler’s Nazi Empire stretched from France to North Africa to Stalingrad, deep in the heart of Russia. He was the greatest military genius of all time, what could go wrong?

The ugly truth was that Hitler had no freaking clue what to do, since the Russians hadn’t followed his playbook and collapsed. And the whole story and its ultimate horror for the German Sixth Army is a post or two for another day. Today, the parallel I’m pointing at is that Trump’s missile strike really does signal that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. I don’t think the repercussions will be as ugly as Stalingrad, but I don’t see any good coming out of it.

So, here is what I wrote before Iran admitted their forces shot down the airliner:

“At least Trump isn’t a warmonger!” Technically true, and a wonderful example of damning someone with faint praise I suppose. So yeah, whole Iran thing is still a mess. An airliner from Ukraine possibly shot down a few hours after Iran’s missile strike on US bases. Trump is now claiming the Iranian general he killed was going to attack four US embassies. And killing him prevented these attacks. The scary thing is that lots of people will believe it, even though it makes no sense on multiple levels. Sigh.

So the airliner, likely shot down by accident by an over alert AA military unit. That’s easily the most likely event. There are other possibilities, all unlikely and all scary. Scary because anyone who would kill a plane full of innocent people on purpose is scary. Governments tend not to do that. There have been shoot downs of commercial airliners before. The one over Ukraine a few years back, and the USS Vincennex shot down an Iranian airliner by mistake over the Persian Gulf in 1998. The later incident seems fairly straightforward, the Ukraine one less so.

Kind of odd that this shoot down involved a Ukrainian airliner. I suspect clarity for us worms will be hard to get on this one. Iran is paranoid and secretive, with every reason to  be so, and the Trump administration plays fast and loose with the truth. Let’s hope things calm down, way too many people dead for wa war scare, God rest their souls. 

Back to the topic on hand, Trump isn’t a warmonger, but that’s not saying much. He’s certainly appointed plenty, given the Pentagon free rein, and his cancellation of the Iran nuclear deal and subsequent pressure on Iran got this all rolling. You talk to Trump though, the Iran deal was a bad deal, and Iran was going to use it as cover to acquire nuclear weapons. All of the other major powers on Earth were fine with it, including our allies. American exceptionalism on steroids.

So I finished this book about the Battle of Stalingrad. Fascinating on so many levels. One of which is one of the parallels between Trump and Hitler. One of the parallels with most (all?) leaders who make it big time into the history books. A lot of their early, if not all, of their success is too to a combination of fate and circumstance. And if that gets one too far, the clash with reality can be painful.  

And we’re back to Trump and Stalingrad parallels. 2019 was a hell of a year, both personally and globally. 80 years since 1939, the year Hitler’s invasion of Poland set the world on fire for the second time in a century. The few people alive today who still remember 1939 were children at the time.

What a time to be alive. Of course, that pretty much always goes with the “I’m freaking alive!” thing, but still. Many of the humans since the invention of civilization have lived gruelling lives of backbreaking labor on an inadequate diet. I’ve managed to avoid that for the most part due to a combination of smarts and privilege. Which is why I am able to write this nonsense. And because I didn’t toil harder, I’m a failure in some eyes.Go figure. Writing is hard work too, as is all art. Another blog for another day.

Have a great week everyone. God bless.

I wrote the above a few days ago. Then life intervened. I still think we may be on the run up to an ugly war, stuff is still happening. A lot of it absurd

(Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: DC-2 being salvaged after the Kweilin incident. Credit:No idea, got it from this fascinating site. Because of its age and origin, going with Public Domain under US copyright law. )

Written by unitedcats

January 14, 2020 at 8:06 pm

SICK AGAIN, CYBERTRUCKS, DEAD POP STARS, POOR OLD PEOPLE, AND EXPLODING BATTLESHIPS

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Friday morning I woke up sick again. Seems like the same sickness I had a few weeks back. An encore performance? Can germs do that? I managed to get Friday’s blog up, but then pretty much lost it afterwards. So my plans for Monday’s blog dissolved like so many overused tissues. Instead, random ramblings. It’s Sunday now and I feel a bit better today. It could pass though, isn’t that a famous tombstone epitaph? “But I was feeling better today!” On the plus side, no one I know has died in nearly a week.

Tesla announced a new cybertruck with less than stellar success. While demonstrating its ‘bulletproof’ windows … the windows broke. Oops. One would think that it would have been a simple matter for the staff to get that right, how hard could it be to test the vehicle’s windows repeatedly beforehand? It’s stuff like this that makes me chuckle when people believe that thousands of people could secretly work together for decades to do things like say, flawlessly hoax the Moon landings. The cybertruck also got a lot of criticism for its styling, which is unconventional at best. Not surprising, America is one of the most conformist societies on Earth, and American car styles generally reflect that. Hell, even our car colours are insanely conformist. I kinda like the cybertruck though, and if advance orders are any indication, plenty of other people do too. Order one here.

A Korean pop star, Goo Hara, has been found dead in her home, 28 years old. RIP. Suicide, drugs, likely a little of both. One certainly hears a lot of stories like this, I’m about as far from plugged into popular culture as it gets, and I can think of a number of stars who died before their time. Before going into a rant, I thought, better see how real this is. Do stars often die young?

Yes. Pop stars are twice as likely to die young, especially in the years following fame. Not too surprising, instant fame and fortune must be mind-numbingly stressful. Just for starters, one can’t go out in public anymore. And virtually everyone one meets will have expectations, not to mention there are a whole coterie of people expert at taking advantage of the newly rich and famous. Add to that the insane amount of cyber stalking and harassment one would get, one couldn’t even be on Facebook. It would be tough for most people I expect.

The rant is actually pretty short. More of an observation. If becoming rich and famous dramatically increases one’s chances of dying young … maybe we as a people are doing something wrong? It certainly doesn’t seem like a sign of a healthy culture. Or this that I just stumbled upon, about a fifth of Americans over 65 live in poverty. A rate that compares very unfavorably with the rest of the developed world. It’s somewhere between embarrassing and shameful, since the USA is the richest damn country the world has ever seen. It’s a safe bet that most of those people worked their entire lives, yet somehow the rich have all the money? I know, I know, I’m not supposed to complain if I don’t have a solution. That’s called deflection, one of the many tactics the rich use to avoid even discussing the problem. That’s the whole point of pointing out and acknowledging a problem, to come up with better ways of doing things. Not pretend it will go away or simply defending the status quo.

Another day though. I will be spending three days a week writing from now on. ‘Content is King’ as a friend recently said. We’ll end today with a depressing ‘on this date’ story. 25 November, 1941. The HMS Barham, a World War One era British battleship was sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Egypt. I believe it was the only battleship sunk in the open sea by a submarine during World War Two. Basically the U-boat got lucky as an escort destroyer misread a sonar contact, and it was able to fire four torpedoes at point blank range. Three of them struck amidships, the Barham was mortally damaged, rolled over on her side, and four minutes later a magazine exploded and she sank. Amazingly enough, a cameraman on a nearby ship was able to capture it on film. More than 800 people died, one can see many of them in the footage. God rest their souls. Watch at one’s own recognizance.

I think that’s the first time I ever used the word recognizance in a sentence. Have a great week everyone.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: The new Tesla cybertruck. Credit: Tesla, used without permission. However since it’s a publicity shot and I’m plugging their vehicle, I hope I can be forgiven)

Written by unitedcats

November 25, 2019 at 5:44 am

Posted in History, World War Two

FRIDAY FOLLIES

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800px-Ardennes_Abbey_2Another week gone, who knows how many more to go. Where are we going anyhow? I was reminded this week of the English Joke Telling Society. They meet on Monday to tell each other jokes. They meet on Tuesday to laugh at them. Then on Friday they meet to explain them to each other. I’m guessing Englishmen aren’t renowned for their joke telling abilities. And in that vein, geeze, I sometimes wonder if anyone gets my jokes. Monday’s post, the one about mysterious disappearances. The Hanging Rock one was a joke, but if anyone noticed they said nothing. I mean, a picnic area where dozens of people vanish every year, how likely is that? And Wombat infested, that didn’t tweak anyone? Wombats are harmless herbivores, notable only for producing square turds. Hardly a danger to people. Oh well, I got a good laugh out of it. I crack myself up sometimes. I probably need help.

Reminds me of another joke. So this fellow gets invited to a fancy private club for supper with a friend. He goes, nice dining room, all sorts of people sitting around enjoying a good time. One odd thing though. Every once and awhile some stands up, shouts out a number, and then the whole room laughs. The guest is puzzled, so he asks his friend what’s the deal with the shouted number? His friend tells him the club members like to tell jokes, but the club has been around so long they’ve heard them all before, so they just assigned numbers to them to save time.

Well, the fellow thinks, that’s easy. He waits till a quiet moment, stands up, and shouts out “Nineteen!” Dead silence. OK, he tries again. “Forty Two!” Crickets. Desperate he tries again. “Seventy One!” Not a chuckle to be heard, though a lot of people are looking at him funny. Embarrassed, he sits back down. He asked his friend, what happened? His friend looked at him sadly and said “Some people just aren’t very good at telling jokes.” Speaking of jokes, most posts I write have at least one link just for laughs.

Speaking of laughs, this news story made me laugh. A huge kerfluffle was triggered when a black High School senior’s quote was accidentally included in a yearbook. Big deal, stickers provided to cover the offensive quote, charges of racism, and apologies all around. And what horribly racist quote got published in the yearbook? “Going to this school helped me discover my cracker allergy.” Oh dear, the mental anguish suffered by the poor people who read the quote. Will the horrors of reverse racism ever end?

OK, yes, the quote was inappropriate. Oh well, TTH*. It’s enclosure in the yearbook was an act of vandalism, not deliberate. The girl did submit it, but in jest, it would not normally have been approved. And if it had been deliberate, so what? Any white person getting their knickers in a twist about this needs to examine their white fragility. Cracker is not the same as the n word, because it’s not backed up by centuries of systematic racism. Especially since her comment was more a reflection of just how white her High School was than anything else.

In a last amusing note, someone posted this in one of my Facebook debate groups. I don’t recommend it, and even hate linking it, but this is it. An article claiming their is scientific evidence for dream telepathy. Fascinating on multiple levels. First, on the pure science level, no one has ever done a replicable study demonstrating telepathy. And no plausible mechanism has yet been proposed to allow telepathy. So right now, science says telepathy doesn’t exist. Secondly, the article itself is a masterpiece of how to construct false arguments. Almost every other line is one, it’s breathtaking really.

Lastly, boy, just google <dream telepathy> and page after page of similar articles pop up. Woo illustrated. A huge number of folks see this as gospel. I sometimes wonder if the rise in modern conspiracy thinking is just human predilection for religion taking on new forms. Fodder for a future blog. Or not.

OK then, ending with some  serious stuff. I thought about a D-Day post, but I think I’ve done enough of them. There have been lots of other battles in history, a few even more important than D-Day. Still, researching the topic came across the sad story of the Canadians massacred in the days after D-Day. That’s what the cover pic is about. Basically the 12th SS Panzer was manned and led by Nazi fanatics, and the order was given not to take prisoners. The leader of the unit served only nine years for his crimes. Sheesh. God rest the souls of all those who were murdered in the Battle of Normandy.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: Memorial to Canadian prisoners of war executed in the garden of the Ardenne Abbey, in the Calvados region of Normandy in France. Credit: Wikipedia, permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.)

Written by unitedcats

June 7, 2019 at 8:06 am

Posted in Personal, World War Two

78 YEARS AGO TODAY, THE BATTLE OF THE DENMARK STRAIT

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hood

24 May 1941. Big event today in history, so I will write about it instead of ranting about nonsense in the news. On this day in 1941 was The Battle of the Denmark Strait. This was the only daytime engagement between battleships during World War Two. Shows just how important and deadly air power had become even early in the war. And how modern war is global, this took place between Greenland and Iceland, about as remote as it gets.

So, the battle. This was in the first year of World War Two in Europe. Germany had already conquered Poland, Denmark, and Norway. And the German blitzkrieg was rapidly advancing through France and the low countries. In the North Atlantic the British were having a hard time of it, German submarines were sinking British ships left and right. And Britain had already lost two aircraft carriers. The Courageous, the first British warship sunk during World War Two, was sunk by a U-boat in the first few weeks of the war. After being torpedoed twice, she capsized and sank in 20 minutes, with the loss of over 500 crewmen and her captain. The Germans were elated and the crew of the U-boat were all decorated. And the British stopped using their fleet aircraft carriers in anti-submarine duties.

The second aircraft carrier loss was even uglier, the HMS Glorious was sunk in the North Sea by the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Wait, how did two German battlecruisers get close enough to an aircraft carrier to sink it? Where was the rest of the mighty British fleet? Good question. Short version, the captain of the Glorious was unbelievably incompetent, sailing in the North Sea with only two destroyers as escorts, he had no scout planes launched, no planes ready to launch, and no one even on watch in the carrier’s crow’s nest! So when the two German battlecruisers appeared on the horizon, the Glorious was essentially helpless. She and her two escorts were quickly sunk with the loss of over 1500 lives, for unknown reasons they didn’t get an SOS out. So the British didn’t even know the Glorious had been sunk until it was announced on German radio news!

So as above, this early in the war the Germans were still risking surface warships in an attempt to destroy British shipping. And in our battle the German battleship Bismarck along with the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen were trying to sneak into the North Atlantic, where they could have devastated British convoys. The Swedes spotted them though, and the British intercepted Swedish communications, so they knew they were coming. A pair of British cruisers spotted them trying to slip past Iceland. The cruisers shadowed them, and in the morning a British fleet consisting of two battleships and six destroyers intercepted them. The two battleships were the Hood and the Prince of Wales. Vs the German battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen.

The historically astute reader already knows how this ends. A little bit of background. The Prinz Eugen and the Bismarck were both modern warships built in the 1930s. The prince of Wales was also brand new, so new that construction crews were still aboard her during the battle. Then there was the Hood. The pride of the British fleet, and for much of her career the largest battleship in the world. The Hood however had been built during World War One. And as such was primarily armored  against shells fired directly towards it. What the Hood was not armored against was plunging fire, as such wasn’t yet a thing in World War One. This is long range fire that goes very high and then plunges downward hitting its target on the deck. The Hood only had very minor armor on her deck, just enough to stop shrapnel and shell splinters. There were plans to upgrade her deck armor, but she was rushed into service in the desperate early part of the war.

The plan was when the British spotted the Germans, they would head straight towards them until they were close enough that plunging fire wouldn’t be an issue. It meant they could only use their forward guns initially, but once they got close enough they would turn and be able to use their forward and aft guns. It wasn’t the best of plans, but the British had to work with what they had. And it almost worked. They had closed to about half a mile and were beginning their turn when a salvo from the Bismarck’s 15 inch guns bracketed the Hood. One of them must of hit dead center, because a huge column of explosive flame like a blowtorch shot up from the Hood. Moments later there was a huge explosion that basically destroyed the ship. It broke in half and sank in minutes, there were exactly 3 survivors.

At this, the captain of the Prince of Wales decided that cowardice was the better part of discretion, and he turned and fled. Some criticized his decision, but it was likely the right move. The Prince of Wales had already been hit twice by 15 inch shells from the Bismarck, but as luck would have it neither had detonated. So the Prince of Wales lived to fight another day. In fact lived for less than a year, and went on to be the second battleship to be sunk in the open sea by enemy aircraft. The Repulse being first, sunk less than an hour earlier by the waves of Japanese bombers that sank both ships.

The loss of the Hood was a huge blow to the British. And they wasted no time mustering every available ship and plane to hunt down the Bismarck. The Bismarck didn’t get to bask in glory long, three days later the British exacted their revenge and sank the Bismarck. The Prinz Eugen however made it to Brest in occupied France. Then in 1942, in the infamous Channel Dash, the Prinz Eugen and two German battleships fled occupied France through the English Channel right in front of the British and made it to safe waters in the Baltic Sea. Where the Prinz Eugen served until the end of the war, and was one of only two German heavy warships to survive the war. She was turned over to the Americans, who ingloriously used her as a target in atomic bomb tests in the Pacific.

78 years ago today. God rest the souls of those who died that day. The only other lesson here is that it’s been a long time since westerners had to cope with death tolls like this during wars. With over 5,000 crew on some modern ships, another good reason not to get into wars lightly. Video of the Bismarck firing can be seen here, one of those flashes killed over 1,500 British sailors. Ain’t technology grand? Have a great weekend everyone.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: The last known picture of the Hood before she blew up, taken from the Prince of Wales. Credit: IWM, which I am guessing means Imperial War Museum. It was from Wikipedia, so is being used legally.)

Written by unitedcats

May 24, 2019 at 7:53 am

Posted in History, War, World War Two

“ICH HABE DEUTSCHLAND AUCH SO GELIEBT”

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MFHMildred Harnak. Image is free to use according to Wikipedia:ticket #2008031210021854

Another extemporaneous post. Boy, getting even uglier on the Iran front, with ships being sabotaged. Trump blames Iran, predictable and silly. Effective though if he is looking for a reason to start a war. Typically the nation one wants to start a war with is blamed for some incident, whether or not it actually occurred is irrelevant. If necessary, incidents can and have been manufactured. As Hitler did before invading Poland. Iran is not Poland though, it’s not 1939, and Trump isn’t Hitler. If war breaks out, my prediction is that nothing good will come of it.

Speaking of Hitler, two other things I wanted to touch on came up in my readings. Revisiting the “Trump is Hitler” trope, I realize there’s a few more differences that make the comparison iffy at best. I may have mentioned that Hitler seized power at a time of social, political, and economic upheaval in Germany. Trump is a product of  relatively much more stable times. Hitler had huge numbers (millions) of organized paramilitary fighters that were loyal to Hitler, Trump has nothing of the kind.

Most importantly of all, within a year of seizing power, there was the Night of the Long Knives, where Hitler used his loyal followers to slaughter his political opponents. 85 to more than 1,000 killed. After which all political parties except the Nazis were outlawed. While Trump may fantasize about having Warren and Clinton seized and jailed/executed, I don’t see any realistic chance he is going to get that kind of personal power. Not that I’m defending the man of course, he’s a disaster on multiple levels. Just not one that involves all of us being forced to wear MAGA hats.

And speaking of Nazis and Germany’s slide into horror, I came across some nasty little Nazi business that I wanted to share. And yes, this post is not quite as extemporaneous as I led on, these various tidbits have been floating around in my head and I wanted to tie them all together somehow. Anyhow, the story of Dr Hermann Stieve. He was a German doctor, rose to prominence after World War One, became at age 35 the youngest doctor to chair a medical department at a German university. He was a researcher, particularly of the female reproductive system. In fact he was the first to scientifically show that the rhythm method is ineffective as a form of birth control. He wasn’t a Nazi, but he was certainly a Nationalist and not exactly uncomfortable with Nazi ideology.

Wait, a Nazi sympathizing doctor, Hitler’s Germany,  female reproductive system … this is going to get rather dark, isn’t it? Yes, yes it is. So, after World War One the good doctor had a problem. The Weimar Republic, Germany’s post World War One government, didn’t condone the death penalty. So bodies and organs for study were in short supply. Fortunately for the our doctor, this all changed in 1934. Hitler was now in power, and Nazi jails started executing people right and left. And in no time German teaching and research hospitals had all the fresh corpses they needed.

Few, if any, objected. So by the early thirties, it had to have been common knowledge that the Nazis were regularly murdering Germans under the thinnest of legal pretexts. I mean it got much worse later, but still, most if not all people were able to carry on with their lives and just accept it. Shows how normalized evil can percolate through society. Few objected when Jews were dismissed from all University positions either. Granted it also rapidly became actually dangerous to object, again, no comparison to our current Trump troubles.

Our Doctor Stieve, no objections at all. And once the war got underway, he made a deal with a nearby women’s prison, and got fresh bodies pretty much on order. And the prison’s record keeping on their prisoners even helped with his research. He claimed none of the bodies he used were political prisoners, which pretty much has to be a lie. On one occasion one of his assistants recognized a body as belonging to a dissident friend. She immediately quit Dr Stieve’s program, the only one of his students or assistants known to have quit for moral reasons. Silver linings?

There were worse allegations against the doctor, but they don’t seem to hold up to scrutiny. When the prison changed their execution time to midnight, Stieve did however have influence enough to get it changed to morning executions … so he got his specimens as fresh as possible. Speaking of which, a few years back among his effects his family found hundreds of slides with tissue sample from his experiments. They were recently buried in Berlin, which is how I stumbled upon this story. The doctor was of course executed after the war for his crimes. Snort. No, only doctors who actually worked in the death camps were prosecuted. If doctors like Sieve were prosecuted, which would have been a huge numbers  of doctors, it would have hurt the reputation of German medicine. Couldn’t have that. Where Stieve disposed of his subjects is also unknown, partly why the tissue samples above got a real burial.

One subject though, Mildred Harnak, her post experimental remains were given to a friend of hers for disposal. She was a member of Red Orchestra, a German antiwar group that was rounded up and executed. Mildred is the only Red Orchestra member whose burial site is known.  Mildred was originally from Wisconsin, and had married a German and moved to Germany. Her husband was also a member of Red Orchestra. She was originally sentenced to six years for espionage. Hitler ordered her execution though, so she has the dubious distinction of being the only American who Hitler personally ordered killed. Her last words on the guillotine were reportedly: “Ich habe Deutschland auch so geliebt” (“I loved Germany so much as well.”)

God rest her soul, and all those murdered by the Nazis.

(Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.)

Written by unitedcats

May 15, 2019 at 6:41 am