Civil war fact

By the end of the Civil War, a quarter of the white Southern men of military age were dead.

I’m a little bit of a Lincoln/Civil War buff (with more interest in the politics than in the military history), but here’s a fact I didn’t know until reading James McPherson’s collection of essays, Lincoln and the Second American Revolution: the Civil War took the lives of one-quarter of the Southern white men of military age. That’s a higher death toll than WWI imposed on any of the combatant nations. It seems like a pretty basic statistic, and helps make sense of the revanchisme that has actuated so much of Southern white politics ever since.

Saki’s Easter egg

Gavrilo Princip and Saki’s easter egg.

The reports about the bomb plot foiled by German cops using the rule of law

include the tidbit that the cell stored their materials in a house in Freudenstadt in the Black Forest.

I know Freudenstadt; it’s a cute resort town, where after you’ve bought your hand-carved ornaments in the Christmas market and sipped your Glühwein, there’s not really much else to do.


I was reminded of the chilling short story by Saki (the English writer H.H. Munro), set in a Central European town like Freudenstadt, The Easter Egg.

(Continuation gives away the punch line, so I suggest you read it first).

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Upmarket Friday cat blogging

Kipling’s fable of the domestication of cats has been partly confirmed.

All cat owners (as we uncertainly style ourselves) recognise the psychological truth of Rudyard Kipling’s great fable of domestication, The Cat that Walked by Himself: cats are our commensals, but they do not submit to us as pack leaders like dogs or sheep. But Kipling’s chronology is out. Dogs were domesticated all over the world by Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers at least 15,000 years ago, and possibly starting as much as 100,000 years ago – about the age of our species. It’s fanciful to think the Woman in the cave had anything to do with it – the ancestral dog packs would have followed hunting parties of men, and learned to cooperate with them. Cats make their appearance much later in the fossil record in early Neolithic tombs in Cyprus; the current estimated domestication date for cats is around 8,500 BCE, 1,500 years before the domestication of First Cow, a large and dangerous aurochs. But a saucer of the First Goat’s milk could have been available.

It has taken twelve cat-loving geneticists to prove that the domestic cat descends exclusively from the Near Eastern strain of the Eurasian wild cat, felis silvestris. The date and regional specificity can’t just be a coincidence. It’s exactly when and where Eve invented agriculture, the source of all our woes and glories. (The “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” was a wild grass.) Agriculture meant stores of grain; stores of grain meant mice and rats; mice and rats drew in cats, who to their surprise would have found themselves rewarded. Kipling was therefore right to put both Woman and Mouse centrally into the story.

Update: reader cgoffii objects to my male-hunter story of dog domestication, “since women most likely cooked, they were most likely the ones who threw out the scraps”, which proto-dogs scavenged and gradually became less fearful. Both of us may be right. But who cares about dogs anyway?

The shades of generals

How will General Petraeus be remembered?

General Sir John Moore, British Army, commander of British forces in Spain November 1808 – January 1809

General Robert E. Lee, US Army and Army of the Confederacy, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. June 1862 – April 1865

Generalquartiermeister Erich Ludendorff, German Reichswehr, deputy to Hindenburg and commander Western Front, July 1916 – September 1918

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A half-intelligent design

Should ID be taught as part of the history of science? Yes and no.

British news item:

The Church of England’s new head of education, the Rev Jan Ainsworth, who is responsible for more than 4,600 C of E schools, said intelligent design could form part of discussions in science lessons under the heading of history of science.

She was swiftly disowned by her bosses, but that may just be prudence or cowardice. Anyway the suggestion is interesting. Would it offer a solution to the war on evolution in schools being waged between American scientists and religious fundamentalists?

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Jeffreys Derangement Syndrome

Macaulay on Judge Jeffreys: The hatred which that bad man inspired had more affinity with humanity than with cruelty.

Macaulay’s history of the brutal, fanatical, and incompetent tyranny of James II is full of lessons for our time. For example, this remark about Judge Jeffreys has current application:

The hatred which that bad man inspired had more affinity with humanity than with cruelty.

Lessons from Vietnam

Bush has been reflecting on lessons the war in Vietnam could offer, apparently an analogy so obscure and arcane that he couldn’t see it until he actually went to Vietnam. The result of this reflection is giving me a headache:

“We tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take a while. It’s just going to take a long period of time for the ideology that is hopeful – and that is an ideology of freedom – to overcome an ideology of hate.

“We’ll succeed unless we quit”

In Vietnam, we failed for a long time fighting the war and not quitting, until we quit, having conclusively failed to win. Then after a long time, Vietnam became united, and less Marxist and oppressive in practice than North Vietnam, which were two successes we were seeking. Another success that seems to have had nothing to with fighting or not fighting there was the non-falling of Asian dominoes, and the non-repelling of Communist hordes from the beach in San Diego. They didn’t fall when we weren’t quitting, and then they went on not falling when we did quit. Are we to think that if we had left Vietnam early, with less Agent Orange, less unexploded munitions, and fewer dead Vietnamese and Americans strewn about, things would have unfolded much worse, with dominos falling and no trade visits now? That Vietnam now is actually a failure, which we could have avoided by continuing to fail at war but not quit, perhaps until now?

What this means for Iraq is Delphic, Gnostic, cryptic, and too deep for me. To assure a good future for Iraq, we need to go on failing at fighting for a long time, maybe a few more years, and then quit? Never quit, so things take a really long time, because that will make them better?

He also, according to the BBC, “denied that the rising number of Iraqi and US military deaths meant the Iraq campaign was failing.” It’s absurd to infer that he would think fewer deaths a sign of failure, so I guess he’s privy to some completely different indicator of success, one that trumps people getting blown up and assassinated and similar irrelevant stuff that deceives the naive. Is this other indicator in the news, and did I miss it? Hours of electricity on, oil exports? The only think I know that’s up nicely in Iraq that he might be thinking about is cumulative looting by contractors…but even that one is down on a monthly basis lately.

Vietnam: failed until we quit, then we succeeded. Lesson for Iraq: fail if we do quit, so don’t quit. If you get confused, just surf back to this page and review this.

Read this blog, folks, for incisive clarifying analysis that helps you understand the world better. Except, of course, those times when you just get to watch one of us wander cluelessly around in the fog.

None else of name

Armistice Day and the names of soldiers.

November 11, Armistice day, and Brits and Canucks are wearing poppies. There’s no similar semi-religious observance in France or Germany; the brilliant symbolism of the poppy has a lot to do with this.

Last month I visited the colossal British WWI memorial at Thiépval on the Somme, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. The inspiration for the Vietnam memorial wall in Washington, it carries the names of 72,000 British and colonial soldiers killed in the pointless and incompetent 1916 offensive. These were just the missing, whose bodies were buried anonymously or never found.

Continue reading “None else of name”