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Category archive: War

Monday April 14 2014

This evening I visited New Zealand House, for an ASI do.  On the way out, I passed this bust, with “FREYBERG V.C.” on its plinth:


Inevitably, when you stick up a photo of such a notable, you do some googling.  Not only was Freyberg awarded the VC.  He also scored four DSOs.  My Uncle Jack got three of these, but this is the first time I ever heard of anyone getting four.  It seems that sixteen men have won four DSOs, with just two of these (Freyberg and Frederick Lumsden (who died towards the end of WW1)) getting four DSOs and a VC.

Blog and learn.

I see that another of the DSO four-timers - but no VC, although he was recommended for one - was Group Captain Tait, who succeeded Cheshire (VC) as commander of 617 Squadron (aka the Dam Busters).  Tait lead them when they flew from Lossiemouth to Norway and sank the Tirpitz.  I remember reading about Tait when I was a kid, because the book I read about the Dambusters wasn’t just about the dams raid but recounted their whole war.

Tuesday April 01 2014

Two photos of signs, taken on the south side of the river between Lambeth Bridge and Westminster Bridge, about a fortnight ago.

On the left, some of the verbiage on this statue.  My reason for showing it here is simply that I think this writing photographs so very well:

image image

And on the right, snapped moments later, another sign, on the side of a coffee stall.  It must be a very old joke indeed, but I was encountering it for the first time.

In general, signs make very good photos, I think.

Friday March 07 2014

Incoming from 6000, aware of my Feline Friday habit, about a 16th century plan to use cats and doves as weapons of war:


Asking for trouble, I’d say.

Thus encouraged on the cat front, I went looking for other weird stuff, in the cat category.

I found this, which is a camera decorated with a logo that is part Hello Kitty and part Playboy Bunny.  Weird:


I guess the Kitty is wearing those big pretend rabbit ears.

And weirdest of all, beauty bloggers are decorating cat claws:


It seems that doing crazy things with cats is a permanent part of the human condition.  Although to be fair, the excuse for the pink claws above is that they stop your cat from scratching the furniture.  And I suppose making them brightly coloured means you can see at once if the cat is wearing them, or has managed to get rid of some of them.

In the latest manifestation of the original Friday ephemera, there are no cats.  Not this time.  But 6000 included the weaponised cat notion in an ephemeral collection of his own.  His final ephemeron was an octopus photo.  That also just about qualifies as feline, if you focus on the final three letters.

Saturday February 22 2014

One of the things I did today was copy, from one TV hard disc to another, a documentary (fronted by Richard Hammond) about the D-Day fighting that took place on Omaha Beach.

One of the shots at the end of the programme looked a lot like this:


That is one of the photos at the bottom of this page.

I recall flying over the Normandy Beaches, on the way to the South of France.  Later in the journey, I took snaps like this one, of the Millau Viaduct, but I don’t recall seeing anything like that cemetery.

Wednesday January 08 2014

I just watched a tv show about hydrogen bombs.  One of the things I never, until now, got around to finding out about was how hydrogen bombs work.  What I had not realised was that hydrogen bombs include atom bombs inside them, to trigger the “hydrogen” bit.

Basically, they sick a stash of other stuff next to an atom bomb.  When the atom bomb goes off, it turns the other stuff into an explosion that is even more spectacular than the original atom bomb explosion.  I did not know this.  Now I do.  Tremble, world.  Well no, I still couldn’t make a hydrogen bomb.  But I now understand a bit better how others make them.

The funniest moment was when a bloke said that there comes a time when shoving more and more stuff next to the atom bomb to make a bigger and bigger hydrogen bomb stops being worth doing, because the blast is just so huge it disappears out of the earth’s atmosphere.  This means, he said, that a bomb this big, when compared to a slightly smaller one, “does no good”.

You can just hear those bomber pilots, setting out for Dresden in 1945, saying: “Come on guys, let’s go do some more good.”

Thursday December 19 2013

I am, as noted in the previous posting, reading Deidre McCloskey’s Bourgeois Dignity.  At the join between page 350 and page 351, I learn this:

The second sons of British aristocrats, such as Richard Howe, had long joined even the technically demanding and bourgeois navy.  They stood on the quarterdecks facing enemy fire, as aristocrats should, but their fellow offers were the sons of lawyers or of clergymen (such as Sir Frances William Austen, Admiral of the Fleet in 1863 and Jane Austen’s brother; and Sir Charles Austen, another brother and another admiral).

I did not know this, that is to say, I did not know (in particular) the bit in the brackets.  That explains a great deal about the novel Persuasion, in which the best men are navy men, and the biggest arse is an aristocrat.

Jane Austen’s books are popular because, despite the way they look on television, they are precisely not unthinking celebrations of aristocratic privilege and excellence.  Upwardly mobile traders are accorded dignity, and aristocrats who despise tradesmen for trading are in their turn despised by Jane Austen.  Yes, Mr Darcy owns half a county, and Elizabeth Bennet falls for him when she first sets eyes on his gigantic stately home.  But his aunt, Lady Catherine de Burgh, who despises Elizabeth for being related to tradespeople, is another pompous aristocratic arse (of the female sort), bested at the end by bourgeois Elizabeth Bennet.

By the way, McCloskey is a cricket fan.

Sunday November 10 2013

Today being Remembrance Sunday, but not having got out and about during it, I instead looked for Remembrance photos past, and came across the archive containing these.

imageI was struck by one in particular, in which we see the phrase “To All Our Heroes” inscribed on a cross with a poppy on it.  That word “heroes” makes me slightly uneasy, especially in the plural.  Were they all heroes?  Similarly, the way all these dead are so often described as having “given” their lives for freedom, or for their country, or whatever.  It must surely be more accurate to say that many of these men were victims, and that their lives were taken from them.  It might be rather insulting to describe them thus in public displays honouring their memory, but maybe more accurate.

The cross on which the word “heroes” is inscribed is surely rather more accurate, as a description of what really happened, to most of these dead.  I do not deny that there were indeed many heroes, in all these wars.  But surely, for most, war, and death in war, were things they endured.  That is a kind of heroism, of course, but is not quite what is usually meant by the word.

I lost an uncle in World War 2, although it happened before I was born.  He was the victim of a training accident.  I respectfully mourned him from time to time throughout my childhood and have gone on doing so ever since.  But there was nothing especially heroic about his death, and that has just seemed to me to be yet further cause for sadness.  Many times I wished that Uncle John had died heroically, if he had to die at all.  But, he did not die heroically.  War is like that.

The cross seems to me to be a somewhat more accurate representation of what happened to these countless men than does the word “hero”.  This was surely more like a catastrophe which swallowed people up, in the manner of a natural disaster such as an earthquake or a flood or a fire.  Some who suffer or die in the course of events like that are very properly called heroes, because they did indeed behave, and perhaps die, heroically.  Most, however, are merely described as victims.  No disrespect is intended with that label, and I intend no disrespect in suggesting that many of these war heroes were really just war victims.  Their deaths are no less worthy of being remembered and reflected upon, merely because we describe their deaths that bit more accurately.

A lot hinges on whether you consider the fights and wars that all these dead people died in were worth it.  There is something inherently somewhat unheroic about dying in a fight that could not accomplish anything good.  Part of being a true hero is that you choose the fight in which you will risk and perhaps lose your life, and that you choose it well.

If anything in the above angers you in any way, the chances are that this is because I didn’t say it right.  I’m trying to say something that is somewhat hard to pin down, and maybe said it wrongly.  I am not trying to say anything demeaning or disrespectful, either towards the dead themselves, or towards the feelings of those who still, like me, mourn them.

Monday September 23 2013

Today I did something I very rarely do these days.  I bought a newspaper:


It was The Times of May 24th 1940.  Originally it cost 2d, which means two old pennies, from the days of pounds, shillings and pence, which I remember very well, because they lasted into the sixties.  Today, I bought it in the local gay charity shop in Churton Street, for £1.  There were quite a few more copies of The Times from that time still on sale there, most of them from late in 1939.  £1 each.  How long they will last, who can say?

Patrick Crozier, do you want me to get more copies for you, if they are still there?

Patrick Crozier’s talk at my place last month, based on The Times in 1913, was superb.  He turned the talk into six Samizdata postings, which you can find by going to the last one, and following the links back.  Highly recommended if you’ve not read them yet.

LATER: Twenty more copies.

Thursday August 29 2013

I have another last Friday of the Month meeting tomorrow.  Patrick Crozier will speak about life in Britain in 1913.

In an email to Patrick, I asked him:

Were they libertarians?

And in the email to all those on my list for these evenings, I included that and other questions, together with Patrick’s responses about what else he’ll be talking aboutt.  (If you want to be on that, click where it says “Contact”, top left.)

In response to this email, Antoine Clarke emailed back thus:

I definitely intend to be there. …

Good.  And yes Antoine, bring some crisps.

And he continued:

For what it’s worth, my short guess would be: They weren’t libertarians, though they lived in a society that was largely libertarian (perhaps the problem was not getting the importance of [or caring about] the things that kept it libertarian).  Assumptions about what the state could and should do were more libertarian.

But racism, at least between Europeans and non-Europeans, was there. It might not be translated into “… therefore they must be destroyed ...” but only weird people would marry blacks.

I think that only started seriously changing half a century later.

Perhaps the most significant impression people had was that life was a lot better than it had been 50 or 100 years ago, in terms of money, quality of life and freedom. And they thought it would probably continue.

I’ll shortly be sending out a reminder email about tomorrow night, containing links to this posting here, and to this Samizdata posting.

I like how, when a topic of discussion is announced, the discussion can now get underway beforehand, and continue afterwards.  You do not have to show up at a meeting in order to be influenced by it, one way or another.  And nowadays that applies to many more people than to those who do show up.

Tuesday May 14 2013

Bookshops are doomed, if my behaviour is anything to go by.

I treat them not as shops, but as showrooms.  In them, I inspect potential purchases.  Then I go home and see what Amazon will charge for anything I see that looks interesting.

A bookshop is not the only place for me to look for books of interest, but it is definitely one such place.  The books in bookshops tend to be the more popular titles.  This appeals to me for two reasons.  First, popular titles tend to be quite good, and are seldom totally bad.  Second, popular titles plug me into what the rest of middlebrow England is reading.  I thus break out of the libertarian ghetto which I mostly inhabit when internetting.  Even if a book is total rubbish, it’s still total rubbish that many are reading, and in that sense worth me reading.

When in bookshops, I used to jot down titles of interest.  Now I merely take photos.  Digital cameras are not just for taking pictures.  They are also for taking notes.

Here are last Sunday evening’s notes, snapped in the big W. H. Smith at Victoria Station:





In each case, click on each picture to get to the Amazon spiel about it.

It may well be that, given Buy 1 Get 1 Half Price offers, one could, in this or that instance, get a better deal for this or that combination of books than one might on Amazon.  But Amazon is the way to bet.  You occasionally miss out on small savings with Amazon, but you quite often get larger savings, so you end up well ahead.  In this case, the big Amazon bargain turned out to be the Bryson book, which cost 1p plus postage (= £2.81).  All that is required is a little patience.

The most expensive of these books, even after Amazon had worked its price magic, was the one about 1216.  But I still ordered that one.  It sounds really interesting.

Great as the impact of Amazon has been on the new books market, I surmise that its impact on the not-so-new book market has been downright epoch-making.  (That Bryson book is not so new, having been released in 2011.) Indeed, I surmise that Amazon has created a huge second hand book market where no such market previously existed.

But this too impinges on the bookshop business, because the big cost of books these days is as much reading time as reading money.  If people spend time reading somewhat ancient books that they like, they have less time for the latest titles, as sold in bookshops.

A few years back, I got interested in Ian Rankin’s Rebus books.  I read one, liked it a lot, and decided to read them all, in order.  Why?  Because, thanks to Amazon, I could.  For a lot less than a fiver a go, I got Amazon to send me second hand copies of every Rebus I didn’t already have.  I don’t see how I could have done this satisfactorily without Amazon.

See also: public libraries.

Also, impact of digital photography on trade, discuss.  I’m thinking of how much easier it is to sell something to a stranger, by post, if you can cheaply show them a photo, or even several photos.  Very cheaply.  The marginal cost of digital photography is: zero.  Impact of digital photography on trade: epoch-making.  With books, you pretty much know what you will get.  But, a frock?  An item of furniture?  Without even a photo, forget it.  With photos, you’re in business.  Which is more terrible news for shops.

Thursday March 07 2013

As soon as I had finished looking at those brightly coloured buildings designed by Renzo Piano, I also took at look at the bottom of Centre Point, where they are doing Crossrail.

“Grubbings” is a word I inherited from my late father, along with his fondness for the thing that grubbings describes.  Grubbings are big building projects in their early, especially below ground level, stage, when they are … well: grubbing, rather than building upwards.  My father loved grubbings, and so do I.

It’s often hard to photo grubbings, because they often put a high fence around them and there’s no convenient high-up spot nearby to look over.  But at this site, you can climb up some steps (top left) to a Centre Point entrance on the first floor, and photo through the mesh that you see in most of the other pictures.


Even with the internet, it can be hard to know how these kind of things are going to end up.  Okay, here are these computer fakes of how they had in mind two years ago for it to be, but who knows if that’s still what they’re thinking.

There is also the fact that there are often so many images of how, at various stages in the design, they envisaged things looking, that it’s hard for a more casual onlooker to keep up.  Simpler to just wait and see.

It reminds me of how the Brits confused the Argies during that Brits versus Argies war.  Instead of not telling the Argies their plan, the Brits did tell the Argies their plan, and all the other plans the Brits might just as likely be following.  The British newspapers were full to the brim with every imaginable plan.  And the Argies were baffled, trapped in the headlights of too much information, all of it suspect of course.  That’s sometimes how I feel when trying (admittedly not very hard) to find out how some big grubbings in a big city like London are going to end up looking.

Friday March 01 2013

imageOne of the about seventy seven signs of aging is definitely being more sensitive to the weather, and in particular the cold.  I remember feeling this way as a small child, when first compelled to travel every morning to school.  Now, I feel it again.  I actually “caught a chill” earlier this week, and had to take to my bed for a whole day.

However, I will soon be getting out from under the weather, if the next ten day weather forecast is anything to go by, which it is.  As of today, it looked like that (see right).

Talking of short range weather forecasts, James Delingpole did a silly piece in the Daily Mail a while back, saying the Met Office is a total waste of space.  But it is precisely because the Met Office’s short-range weather forecasts are generally so spot-on that its mad opinions about the weather in the more distant future are taken so seriously.  If the short-range forecasts were as bad as so many unthinking idiots say, the Met Office wouldn’t be half such a menace on the C(atastrophic) A(nthropogenic) G(lobal) W(arming) front.  This Delingpole article played right into the hands of CAGW-ers.  Asked the News Statesman: Was there ANYTHING in James Delingpole’s Daily Mail piece which was true? Yes.  The Met Office is bonkers about CAGW.  But Delingpole’s attempts to prove that the Met Office never gets anything right were indeed ridiculous, and did the anti-CAGW team no favours at all.

But I digress.  To more serious matters.  There is another reason I am glad the weather is going to perk up soon, which is that rugby matches are far more entertaining when the weather is nicer.

The Six Nations began with what the commentators were all telling each other was one of the best Six Nations first weekends ever.  All three games were full of tries.  England won.  Okay, only against Scotland, but they won, and actually Scotland are looking a bit better now, with some backs who can actually run fast.  Ireland and Wales scored lots of tries against each other.  Italy beat France.  It doesn’t get much better for an England fan.

But then the weather turned nasty and the games turned attritional.  England beat Ireland, but nobody scored any tries.  England beat France, with one fortuitous England try which shouldn’t have been allowed.  Italy reverted to being … Italy.  The one truly entertaining thing about the next two weekends, after the entirely entertaining first weekend, is that now it’s England played 3 won 3 and France played 3 won ZERO!  Arf arf.  Sorry Antoine.

Talking of England v France, I’ve been reading (and watching the telly) about the 100 Years War.  And it seems that towards the end, the French cheated by having guns.  That explains a lot.

So anyway, no more 6N rugby until the weekend after next, and I really miss it, just as I did the weekend before last.  The Six Nations takes seven weekends to get done, with weekends 1, 2, 4, 6 and 7 being occupied with games, and weekends 3 and 5 being skipped.  During weekends 3 and 5, I pine, and watch ancient rugby games, the way I never would normally, to fill the rugby gap.

The best ones I recently watched were two epic Wales wins against France, in 1999 (France 33 Wales 34) and 2001 (France 35 Wales 43), on VHS tapes.  Sorry Antoine.  But the next one I’ll be watching will be 2002 (Wales 33 France 37).

Monday February 11 2013

It is now Monday afternoon, but the end of my Thursday Odyssey is hardly yet in site.

My next stop was at Gramex, where second hand classical CDs are on sale, in particular abundance during the last week or two, as it happens.

The BBC is making a big fuss of LPs just now.  Fair enough.  LPs had a huge influence on the music being created at the time.  Pop music was transformed, for a while, by the album, as was Pop Art, the album cover being a new arena for graphic fun and games of all kinds.  Remember all those concept albums?

I just about do, but for me, Pop etc. was a parallel universe.  I never disliked it, in fact I admired and admire it very much, and I like occasional pop tracks hugely.  Pop is hugely better than recent “classical”, classical being basically a museum now.  But despite all that, then as now, I still preferred and prefer classical, and for all but a few vinyl-obsessed classicists, the LP was never more than a means of reproduction, a window to look out at the classical garden, and a very ropey one at that what with all the clicks and scratches, particularly during your favourite bits.  Classical music was a going concern long before recordings of any kind existed, and classical LP graphics never amounted to much more than pictures of the musicians, fancy ye-olde typography and/or kitschy chocolate box type landscapes.  So when classical LPs were replaced by classical CDs, little was lost and a universe of distraction-free clarity was gained.  CDs, certainly classical CDs, after a brief interlude of euphoric demand-driven bonanza profits, quickly got cheaper than LPs if you knew anything about how to buy them, on account of them being so much cheaper to make and distribute.

At first, people thought CDs would eventually disintegrate, but actually what was disintegrating was the CD players.  CDs last for ever, provided you are minimally careful.  Certainly mine all have, the only problem CDs being the ones that were scratched when I bought them.  Crucial to the cheapness of CDs is that you can buy them second hand with reasonable confidence.  On Amazon, sellers are terrified of a bad rating, and in shops, you can search out scratches for yourself.  Often a shop will let you buy and try, and return if it is too much of a mess.  Often what looks like a mess plays just fine.  (The trick is to realise that scratches often don’t matter, provided they point towards the middle, as it were.  The ones that go with the groove, sideways, because they seriously interrupt the one stream of digital stuff, are the killers.)

So for me, classical CDs were love at first sound.  I keep wondering if I may soon stop buying them, but the sort I continue to buy, second-hand at Gramex or (more recently) from Amazon, continue to drift downwards in price.

Here is what I bought at Gramex on Thursday:

image  image

I paid only eight quid for those.  And the one on the left is a double, which I have been looking for cheap for quite a while.  Look for them on Amazon, here and here, and you discover (today anyway) that you would have to pay more like thirty quid for those.  Plus, there is no postage to pay if you buy them in Gramex, like there is with Amazon.  The cheaper the stuff you like to buy, the more that matters.

Which, along with the exercise I get from going there, is why I keep returning to Gramex.  Boss Roger Hewland knows exactly what he is doing.  He knows all about Amazon, and regularly checks prices there so as to go below them.  He buys big collections for about one quid per CD, often within a minute of looking at them.  He then piles them high, sells them cheap, and turns over his stock fast.  He knows that getting four quid for something he sells in two days is a better deal for him than getting a tenner, but a month later.  And he charges more like one quid for less desirable CDs, just to get rid of them and to make it worthwhile for his regulars to keep on visiting.

More and more regular shops won’t or can’t think like this, and in the face of online selling are just folding their tents, to be replaced by gift shops, restaurants and coffee shops.  The latter two being what I did next.

First I went to Marie’s Thai Restaurant, a minute away along Lower Marsh from Gramex, and had my regular chicken and cashoo nuts with rice and a glass of orange juice, and then killed some more time in a Cafe Nero, while continuing to read about Tamerlane, in a book I recently bought for four quid in a remainder shop.  He was born.  He deceived.  He tortured.  He slaughtered.  He conquered.  He died.  His vast empire immediately fell apart amidst further slaughter.  What a pointless monster.  Read about all that and tell me there’s no such thing as progress.

Coffee shops do puzzle me a bit, though.  How to do they pay their rent?  The morning and lunchtime rushes I suppose, which I avoid.

Sunday July 08 2012

Last week I used one of the photos I took at the new Bomber Command Memorial at Hyde Park Corner as a Samizdata Quote of the Day.

Here are some other snaps I took of the Memorial:


For some reason, I often find the little cards and photos of loved ones that people put on these memorials to be more evocative than the Big Thing itself.  And given that others will of course also be photoing the big picture, I often find myself concentrating on these small things when I photo these things.  And on others taking photos of course, that being a constant preoccupation of mine.

You don’t have to agree with everything Bomber Command was commanded to do during WW2 to salute the bravery of those who did it.

I for one find that prominent Pericles reference to defending freedom (the one I made into an SQotD, and which you can see in the final picture above) slightly odd.  Bomber Command was an offensive weapon, as is made clear in the Churchill quote about how only the bombers could offer victory (see photo in line 3, far left).  And its purpose was not just to win the war (which despite Bomber Harris’s promises it only helped to do), but to punish the damned losers of it for having started it.  This was a punitive war, and everyone at the time knew it.  Oh sure, the story at the time in the newspapers was that it was all precision bombing of military targets, blah blah, but if any bombs just happened to land on civilians, the attitude of civilians on our side was: serve the bastards right.

You have to realise how most British people felt about the Germans during WW2, including most of the bomber airmen.  The Germans were the people who, having experienced World War 1 in all its horror, concluded from it that they needed to have a re-run of it, but this time win.  Starting WW1 was forgiveable, albeit a horrible blunder, and we still quarrel about who exactly did start it.  Starting WW2, on purpose, was unforgiveable.

Okay, maybe a lot of Germans were not in favour of all this.  But they went along with it, very happily.  Until it all started to go wrong.

WW1 ended with a negotiated German surrender.  This time around, our Anglo ancestors were determined that every last German left alive would not only lose, but know that Germany had lost.  Each German must taste defeat, and if they died while tasting it, that was just fine.  This time, the surrender would be unconditional.  No “stab in the back” crap.  Stabbed from the front, with overwhelming force, by an enraged world.

Never again.  You must never, never, do this again.  That was what Bomber Command was saying.

In a way, the bombing offensive was a continuation by other means of the silly pamphlet dropping over Germany which was what the bombers first did.  Sending a message, but this time in a form that would register.

You may not like any of this, but that is how it was.

Friday July 06 2012

Like this (and welcome to all visiting from Guido):


This is such an important issue.  Regular punters owning guns in America controls crime in America, except where idiot politicians forbid this.

But irregular punters, libertarians, not just having weapons but being downright enthusiastic about them.  This will defend Libertaria, once someone finally gets it going, somewhere in the world.

Lots of libertarians think “defence” is a difficult issue.  No.  Just allow anyone who wants to do it to do it.  The enemy are a bunch of wankers who don’t think they should be allowed to wield weapons.  No contest.  As for the armies these people think they command, our job will be to get our spies in among them, and stop them doing anything.

Building railways in built-up areas, organising drains, controlling infectious diseases; Things like that will be far harder to sort out.

By the way, I like the word “Libertaria”, to describe the place when Libertarianism first kicks off in a big way.  I have been in the habit of calling this mythical land the “libertarian utopia”.  But “utopia” is a word with baggage attached, a lot of it very bad.  “Libertaria” dodges all such stuff.