Monday, August 29, 2011

Braxton Bragg still sucks

I just finished Failure in the Saddle: Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joseph Wheeler, and the Confederate Cavalry in the Chickamauga Campaign, by David A. Powell.  Powell, a nationally-known expert on the Chickamauga Campaign, also wrote The Maps of Chickamauga.

To make a short story long, the Chickamauga Campaign of the Civil War involved the Union Army of the Cumberland under William Rosecrans maneuvering the Confederate Army of Tennessee under Braxton Bragg out of the critical transportation center of Chattanooga, without fighting a major battle and basically without firing a shot.  The loss of Chattanooga was a major defeat for the Confederacy, which most Confederate officers as well as most historians have blamed on the incompetence and temperament of Bragg. 

Rosecrans pursued the retreating Confederates into northern Georgia, but Bragg managed a counterattack near West Chickamauga Creek.  Because of a(n un)timely mistake in Union communications that opened a major gap in the Union line just as an attack column commanded by James Longstreet, recently arrived from the Army of Northern Virginia, launched an attack in that very spot, the Union suffered a major defeat.  The defeat, however, was a only tactical, not strategic, which most Confederate officers as well as most historians have blamed, again, on the incompetence and temperament of Bragg.

Still more additions to the library

The Maps of Chickamauga, by David A. Powell and David A. Friedrichs
The Maps of the First Bull Run and The Maps of Gettysburg, both by Bradley M. Gottfried

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Chinese hoisted by their own petard?

It's always frustrating to me to see how the US is vilified for supporting "tyrants" across the globe while countries such as Russia and China get a free pass for their support of such vile regimes as Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe, Kim Jong Il's North Korea and mullah-mad Iran.  Now, perhaps they will pay a price:

No one is an expert on Libya’s rebels, and we haven’t a clue who the next leader of the country will be or how he will be chosen. (Libya is very much a man’s world so the next leader absolutely will be a he.) Even so, small indications about what to expect from the future government do bubble up once in a while.

The Chinese are trying to ingratiate themselves with Libya’s future leaders after opposing the assistance given them by the West, and they’re meeting resistance. “We don’t have a problem with western countries like the Italians, French and UK companies,” says a rebel official in charge of the Agoco oil firm. “But we may have some political issues with Russia, China and Brazil.”

Muammar Qaddafi has few real friends in the world, but thug regimes from Caracas to Moscow have been sticking up for him anyway. He isn’t exactly Moscow’s or Beijing’s man, but that’s how he is perceived.

MLK as Mao

So they wanted to put a memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington. Fine. No problem with honoring the man who brought the second-class treatment of blacks in this country to the forefront of the national consciousness so that it could be corrected.

But couldn't they have come up with a better memorial than this?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The bigger war

We have been at war since at least September 11, 2001.  But that war is not with al Qaida or the Taliban, or, more accurately, not just with al Qaida or the Taliban.  Michael Ledeen explains:

If we are going to win in the Middle East, we have to get the context right. As I wrote in The War Against the Terror Masters, long before the invasion of Iraq, we cannot just “do” a country like Iraq, or today, Syria, and then move on. That’s one of the strategic mistakes Bush, Rice, Hadley, Cheney and Rumsfeld made. They viewed Iraq in isolation. They thought they could just “do Iraq,” and then consider their options. We then belatedly discovered (even though our enemies publicly announced what they were going to do) that Iraq and Afghanistan could not have decent security so long as Syria and Iran actively supported terrorists in those countries. American soldiers and countless Iraqi and Afghan civilians have paid a terrible price for our failure of vision.

The regional war has expanded, but we still look at each battle field in isolation, rather than seeing the war whole:

Food prices and social unrest

You don't hear about it much, but there may be an underlying cause to many of the riots across the globe: the price of food:

What causes riots? That's not a question you would expect to have a simple answer.

But today, Marco Lagi and buddies at the New England Complex Systems Institute in Cambridge, say they've found a single factor that seems to trigger riots around the world.

This single factor is the price of food. Lagi and co say that when it rises above a certain threshold, social unrest sweeps the planet.

I just love the headline

Apology Accepted, Captain Needa.

That was probably my favorite scene from The Empire Strikes Back.  Yes, I have a dark sense of humor, as did Darth Vader, obviously; that was part of his total coolness.  But part of it was also that the guy who played Lorth Needa, the CO of the Star Destroyer Avenger, did a really crappy acting job in that scene.  While he's feeling the effects of Vader's force choke, he's on his hands and knees, then as soon as he dies he flips over and looks like he has gone to sleep. Huh? Then when the naval troopers (the guys with the black uniforms and black cockroach helmets) drag Needa's body from the bridge, you can see him standing up to help them pick up his body.

Lousy acting job, but a great scene that captures the essence of Darth Vader.  In the real world, of course, such an action would be inherently unfair, which is Ed Driscoll's point with the column.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Failure in the Saddle -- a good "sniper book"

I have a litle bit of a thing for what I call "sniper books."  These are books on military history that are very tightly focused, dealing with one battle, or one aspect of one campaign.  The books target the issue and maintain a laser-like focus on it and "rip it apart," which is to say they examine it very, very thoroughly.

The best example, as well as the best overall, "sniper book" I've seen so far is Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg, by Timothy B. Smith.  There are a number of books on the Civil War Vicksburg Campaign.  I've read most of them.  Some are better than others, but Champion Hill is the only one to deal exclusively and intimately with the single, day-long major battle of the campaign, at Champion Hill in Mississippi, that ultimately decided the fate of Vicksburg.

Champion Hill is literally an hour-by-hour account of this battle, going through the ebbs and flows and tactical considerations.  It is an excellent piece of work, and one of my favorite military history books overall.

Now another one has come along.  I'm in the process of reading another "sniper book," this one called Failure in the Saddle: Nathan Bedford Forest, Joseph Wheeler and the Confederate Cavalry in the Chickamauga Campaign, by David A. Powell.  This one discusses how the poor performance of the vaunted Confederate cavalry, and in particular the famous, otherwise brilliant Rebel cavalry commander Forrest, doomed the Rebel cause during the Chattanooga campaign.  Powell, an expert on the Battle of Chickamauga, seems to be trying, at least in part, to excuse the horrible performance by Confederate General Braxton Bragg.

Failure in the Saddle isn't perfect -- early on the book shows a need for a few more maps as well as an editor -- but so far it is a thoroughly enjoyable read.  I'm always interested in seeing my opinions challenged, so let's see if Powell's case holds up.

Pushing back against Alaric

The Telegraph's Janet Daley lowers the boom on the delusions that have given barbarians control over London and, indeed, over some American cities as well:

There is no national debate about the epidemic of riots and looting that spread through our cities like a bush fire. Out there in the real world, where people go about the normal business of life, there is no sign of the heated argument that the media is so determined to air. In fact, I cannot remember a time when there has been such crushing unanimity on a matter of public importance: the answers to the questions of why this happened, what went wrong when it began to happen and what needs to follow in its aftermath are considered so blindingly self-evident as to be beyond rational disagreement.

At the margins of this consensus, there are some distant noises off. They are the desperate cries of those who fear that they have lost the argument of a lifetime and who want to persuade the great mass of the population that what it saw before its own eyes, hour by hour, night after night on the television news channels was something else altogether.

Why gay marriage is needed

In the aftermath of the tragic stage canopy collapse at the Indiana State Fair, we are witnessing the first of the inevitable lawsuits.  One out of northwest Indiana is most interesting:

Beth Urschel had turned to look at the approaching rainstorm when she heard screaming and looked as the stage in front of her collapsed on top of her and her life partner, Tammy VanDam.

Urschel described the events of Aug. 13 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis during a news conference in Valparaiso lawyer Kenneth Allen's office Friday. The conference was held shortly after Allen filed civil lawsuits on behalf of VanDam, who was killed, and Urschel, both of Wanatah.

"I saw the stage falling," Urschel said from her wheelchair. "Where do you run? Where do you go to survive?"

No more "Libyan Hit Squad" cartoons

When I was a kid, there were rumors that Libya's Colonel Muammar Gadhafi (given that he ran the country and was head of the armed forces, why was he only colonel?) had sent a hit squad to kill President Reagan.  I took it upon myself to visualize that in a comic strip called the "Libyan Hit Squad."  It was basically a takeoff of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, but I did get pretty creative towards the middle and the end.  Unfortunately, my artistic skills never matched my imagination, especially when it came to drawing people -- it was so bad I had to draw them with little sticks in their backs with signs identifying who they were and which countries they were from. Gadhafi had a little hat.

I kept the comics all these years, until, sadly, my cat Berenice decided to shred them all.  Berenice is an amazing, wonderful, extremely intelligent cat, but this was not among her prouder moments.  She seems to very much enjoy shredding paper.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Even more new additions to the library

Pawns of War: The Loss of the USS Langley and the USS Pecos, by Dwight R. Messimer
The Vatican: Secrets and Treasures of the Holy City, by Father Michael Collins

Friday, August 19, 2011

Gadhafi folding in Libya?

So says NBC News:
Moammar Gadhafi is making preparations for a departure from Libya with his family for possible exile in Tunisia, U.S. officials have told NBC News, citing intelligence reports.

One official suggested it was possible that Gadhafi would leave within days, NBC News reported.
The information obtained by NBC News follows a series of optimistic statements this week from U.S. officials that Gadhafi would soon give up the five-month-old fight and and leave Libya.
In an on-camera forum at the National Defense University this week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, "I think the sense is that Gadhafi's days are numbered.
The officials could provide no further details as to conditions or precise timing for Gadhafi's departure, NBC said, and the news report emphasized that there was no guarantee that Gadhafi would follow through on any plans to flee.
Rebel fighters are closing in from the west and the south while NATO controls the seas to the north. The opposition is in control of most of the eastern half of the country and has declared Benghazi, 620 miles east of Tripoli, as its de facto capital.
Rebel forces have managed to surround Tripoli and appear to be attempting to cut off supplies and fuel to trigger a collapse, NBC News reported. Families were seen driving away from the city.
Note that Benghazi used to be an alternate capital for Libya.

How reliable is this report? AllahPundit:

They’re not blowing smoke here. As unlikely as it may have seemed after the highly suspicious killing of the rebels’ top general a few weeks ago, rebel forces in the field have finally broken through in Zawiya and Brega and are threatening Tripoli’s supply lines. At least one of Qaddafi’s top security aides flew the coop this week, and the rebel leadership predicted a few days ago that the man himself would finally be gone by the end of the month.
Adam Garfinkle:
We are at a tender spot in this war. Over this past weekend it appears from press reports that rebel forces have seized reasonably firm control of Zawiya. Zawiya is the first town to the east of the Tunisian border, and it is a supply and transportation hub serving Tripoli. Rebel control of this strategic spot puts the regime in a kind of vise, an observation so obvious that it has been repeatedly made even by journalists in recent days—if you take my point. Anyone can see that the regime is in a vise by the fact that some of its principals are defecting, including reportedly one of its intelligence chiefs.
Now, in a set-piece military situation of the sort described by textbooks concerning Europe, one might expect that at a certain point the regime will simply surrender to its adversaries after enough military pressure and a consequent sufficiency of humble introspection on the part of the besieged have been applied. That is very unlikely to happen in Libya.
As for what it would mean, Garfinkle says it all with the title of his piece, "And Now for a Real Slaughter:"
There are rules in places like Libya, but they are different from the rules applied in Europe in recent centuries. The main rule when one tribe or one tribal confederacy conquers another is that the defeated party is politically, socially, economically and, often to some extent, literally decapitated. The defeat must be total, unmistakable and irreparable. That is the best way, indeed, in many cases the only way, to make sure that the rank-and-file of the defeated group will not find some way to rise up again in revenge.
Now what does this mean in the Libyan case? It means that if the rebels centered in Benghazi are going to overthrow by force of arms the Gaddafi regime, they are going to have to fight for Tripoli, possibly down to the last square block of the regime’s stronghold. Gaddafi and his tribal loyalists and allies will not surrender peaceably. There is therefore going to be, quite possibly, a crimsoned slaughter of the civilian population of Tripoli.
I do not know this for certain, but neither did the Obama Administration know for certain five months ago that there was going to be a slaughter in Benghazi. There are reasons for thinking that the likelihood of the slaughter in Benghazi was far lower than the likelihood of a slaughter coming soon in Tripoli. Gaddafi may have thought back then that just the threat of mass violence could dissipate the rebellion, or weaken it fatally. Arabic is very good for threat making, and Arabs over the years have become masters at using language as votive acts. [...]
At any rate, as I say, the likelihood of a very bloody fight for Tripoli is high. Note that the Benghazi-centered rebels are not threatening anything like what Gaddafi threatened them with some months ago. That is not a good sign in this context; it is a very bad sign.
NATO is not in a position on the ground to do anything about it. NATO, fighting without the United States, has not been in a position to do very much about anything, which raises a point I will follow up just below. Clearly, the rebels who might be soon advancing on Tripoli do not recognize a clear distinction between civilians and combatants. Tribal rules say that all adult males are fair game. Given the widely available military technology of our time, however, and the Libyans’ lack of training in using that technology surgically, it is very unlikely that women and children will remain safe regardless of traditional prohibitions against harming them.
Can we do anything about it?
If the Obama Administration intervened in the first place to prevent mass murder against Libyan civilians in Benghazi—and on this point I take the Administration at its word—what will it do to prevent mass murder against Libyan civilians in Tripoli? Will NATO forces now suddenly switch sides, and begin suppressing the military activities of the Benghazi rebels it has been supporting and trying to build up for the past five months? That would be logically consistent in terms of the way the Administration does its moral reasoning; it is also completely unthinkable under present circumstances.
So perhaps the Administration and its NATO allies will try instead to simply persuade the rebels not to be brutal when the triumphal end of their campaign comes into sight (assuming it does). If they succeed in that task, highly unlikely though it is, the result will be to further prolong the war and muddle the possibility of a definitive endpoint. That would be inane, if not insane.
I don’t really know what they will do. I can’t wait to find out. All I know is that when a government engages in military activity on the basis of a nonsensical premise, there is a price to be paid always down the road. We are now pretty much down the road.
Well, should we do anything about it? asks Ace:
The Bush model of war -- go in heavy, attempt to win the war on the backs of American (and allied) soldiers, attempt to establish a monopoly on the use of violence, and then continue that monopoly on the use of violence by acting as the nation's law enforcement/army for five, six, ten years -- doesn't work, or at least does not work at costs the American public is willing to pay.
I see no point agitating for a Full War Model against Iran, for example -- to urge such a thing is futile. I do not believe the American public has the appetite for such an endeavor. (At least-- not unless Iran uses its soon-to-be-built nukes.)
We didn't use to take care of these countries in this fashion. We used to arm and train rebels within those countries (they've all got them), fund them, provide intelligence, spread some bribe money around, and, when necessary, bring in the sort of Word of God that our air and naval forces issue from the air or sea.
Such wars were messy and bloody and often very very dirty, with guerrilla tactics that often looked like "terrorism" being employed by both sides. This is only a problem when the forces on our side employ such tactics, because that's the only time such tactics get condemned in the press.
They are, however, effective, much of the time at least, and with a light American involvement as far as troops on the ground.
Colin Powell's ludicrous statement -- "You break it, you buy it" -- is a formula for nonstop, decades-long nation-building of exactly the same type that George W. Bush campaigned against in 2000, albeit on a much longer and much bloodier scale than we saw in, say, Haiti.
Why do we "buy" it if we break it?
Broken societies reassemble themselves. In fact, they seem to do so more quickly than people expect, even when faced with great devastation.
There is no need for American troops to hand-hold them through this process.
If a country thwarts or threatens the US enough to invite a decapitating military strike, one that takes out the ruling regime and renders the state without any force to impose order -- they broke it themselves.
And they can reassemble it themselves.
And the thing is -- they will.
It will not be a clean thing. There will be assassinations. There will be ethnic cleansing. Sometimes there will be mass killings, and sometimes there will be terrorism.
But what there won't be in the model of warfare I am endorsing is a large body of American troops in the crossfire.
Yes, our troops are the best in the world, and not just the best at destroying the enemy -- they are the best at destroying the enemy while sparing noncombatants' lives. They are the most disciplined and most precise forces the world have ever seen, in addition to being the most lethal.
So yes, the presence of our troops can in fact spare any number of noncombatants in such a bloody civil war.
But... I have to say: Who gives a shit? How many foreign citizens in an country we've gone to war with do I need to save in fair exchange for one American soldier's life?
I think that number must be more than 100. Actually, I think it must be more than 1000 before I really start to think that maybe that's a good exchange.
These basket-case, broken, violent rogue countries have their own growing up to do. They have to go through their own spasms. They have to shed their own blood, and inflict their own massacres.
Yes, we can spare them some of this; but why should we? Someone is going to die in a war. I nominate foreign nationals.
American troops' heavy engagement is better for all parties in a war, except for the American troops themselves, and while they might be selfless enough to nobly volunteer for such missions, I'm a little too selfish to want to use them for such purposes any longer.
In some cases, we may need to fight a WWII style total war. Fine. In all other cases, we should go back to the 70s/80s model of backing indigenous fighters with the 90s/2000s addition of devastating airstrikes.
This style of warfare isn't perfect. Libya will (as Allah suggests) probably descend into revenge bloodletting. Ask me how much I really care.
As callous as Ace's opinion may sound, it's absolutely right.  The responsibility of the military, intelligence and diplomatic services of the United States is to protect the interests of the United States.   The idea behind "nation building" is to rebuild a damaged or destroyed country in such a way as to promote a peaceful relationship, at least, with the United States, so trouble can be  avoided in the future.  But if we cannot afford that monetarily or politically, then there is no requirement -- moral, ethical, political or legal -- that we do practice it. 

In any event, the new model for regime change in limited conflicts, as Ace states:
In some cases, we may need to fight a WWII style total war. Fine. In all other cases, we should go back to the 70s/80s model of backing indigenous fighters with the 90s/2000s addition of devastating airstrikes.
This style of warfare isn't perfect. Libya will (as Allah suggests) probably descend into revenge bloodletting. Ask me how much I really care.
But the advantage of this style of warfare is that it is politically possible, which I no longer [think] the Bush style is.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Finally moving on Syria

As you know, I rip Obama regularly for his defense and foreign policy, such as it is, so when he does something good, it's only fair that I point it out.  This time, it's on Syria:
President Obama on Thursday called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, a demand aimed to ratchet up the diplomatic pressure on the leader who has launched a bloody crackdown on his own people for months.
"For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside," Obama said in a statement.
The president has signed an executive order to block property and prohibit certain transactions with respect to Syria, the White House announced.

Paying off Alaric

Getting caught up on all the Sack of London stuff after being laid up sick means a bit of a long post.

As you can probably tell, I cannot help but see dangerous parallels between the riots in London, and by extension Philadelphia, Milwaukee, etc., and the Sack of Rome in 410 AD by Goths under the chieftain Alaric, that highlighted the complete failure of Roman government and heralded the downfall of the Western Empire some 66 years later.  First, take a look at the, um, "career" of Alaric:

In 394, Alaric served as a leader of foederati under Theodosius I in the campaign which crushed the usurper Eugenius. As the Battle of the Frigidus, which terminated this campaign, was fought at the passes of the Julian Alps, Alaric probably learned the weakness of Italy's natural defences on its northeastern frontier at the head of the Adriatic.

Theodosius died in 395, leaving the empire to be divided between his two sons Arcadius and Honorius, the former taking the eastern and the latter, the western portion of the empire. Arcadius showed little interest in ruling, leaving most of the actual power to his Praetorian Prefect Rufinus. Honorius was still a minor; as his guardian, Theodosius had appointed the magister militum Stilicho. Stilicho also claimed to be the guardian of Arcadius, causing much rivalry between the western and eastern courts.

Even more additions to the library

Failure in the Saddle: Nathan Bedford Forrest, Joseph Wheeler, and the Confederate Cavalry in the Chickamauga Campaign, by David A. Powell
Japan's Imperial Conspiracy: How Emperor Hirohito led Japan into war against the West, by David Bergamini

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

With "friends" like these ...

Remember that when our troops put Usama bin Laden in his place, one of our helicopters was downed.  The ever-lovable Pakistanis were not happy with us for taking out the man who killed 3,000 Americans who was living comfortably in their territory.  Now they're making us pay:
Pakistan gave China access to the previously unknown U.S. “stealth” helicopter that crashed during the commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May despite explicit requests from the CIA not to, the Financial Times reported Sunday.
The disclosure, if confirmed, is likely to further shake the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, which has been improving slightly of late after hitting its lowest point in decades following the bin Laden killing in a Pakistani garrison city.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Light posting today

I'm as sick as a dawg.

Even more new additions to the library

Every Day a Nightmare: American Pursuit Pilots in the Defense of Java, 1941-1942, by Wiliam H. Bartsch
The Loss of Java: The Final Battles for the Possession of Java Fought by Allied Air, Naval and Land Forces in the Period of 18 February-7 March 1942, by P.C. Boer
In the Hands of Fate: The Story of Patrol Wing Ten 8 December 1941-11 May 1942, by Dwight R. Messimer
Bloody Shambles – The First Comprehensive Account of Air Operations Over South-East Asia December 1941- April 1942, Volume One: The Drift to War to the Fall of Singapore and Bloody Shambles – The First Comprehensive Account of Air Operations Over South-East Asia December 1941- April 1942, Volume Two: The Defense of Sumatra to the Fall of Burma, both by Christopher Shores, Brian Cull and Yasuho Izawa

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Piramide Cestia

Most definitely one of the weirder things I saw in Rome:

Another site memorialized by Assassin's Creed Brotherhood.

The new Roman civil war

Between Italian police and fake Roman legionaries:
For the first time perhaps since the fall of the Roman empire, a group of centurions faces prosecution for mounting an assault on brother officers just a few paces from the Forum.
Unknown to the attackers, their fellow "centurions" were undercover police officers sent to investigate claims of racketeering and fraud in the shadow of the Colosseum. Dozens of modern-day Romans dressed as centurions or gladiators make a living by posing for photographs alongside tourists in return for tips and by enticing them onto tours in exchange for payments from the organisers.
But the business has been plagued by complaints from holidaymakers of centurions resorting to threats, and allegations that it is a "closed shop" from which outsiders are rigorously, and sometimes brutally, excluded. The three men arrested on Wednesday have been accused of assault and risk additional charges of criminal conspiracy, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
They were among 30 people arrested as a result of the investigation. Others included tour guides and the owners of tour agencies.
The officers posing as centurions were reportedly approached and threatened in the Piazza Venezia by the three men who were subsequently arrested. An argument broke out, and swords – albeit wooden ones – were soon cleaving the air.
Unknown to the trio, a party of street cleaners at work nearby was also made up of undercover police officers. On seeing their colleagues attacked, they sprang into action and, watched by bemused tourists, clamped handcuffs on the aggressors.
The picture is a classic:

What a wuss!  A real Roman soldier would never let himself be captured by guys in trousers and T-shirts.

But the issues with the fake legionaries are, um, legion:
The police operation was launched after four complaints from tour agencies and two more from Italian tourists who said they had been tricked by a costumed tout into paying for a tour of the Vatican museums that never materialised and then threatened by him when they demanded their money back.
Theirs was merely the latest in a long line of allegations. Others have involved claims of centurions demanding up to €30 (£26) for a posed photograph.
One ruse allegedly involves offering to take a photograph of a tourist with his or her own camera, and then refusing to give it back until a substantial amount of money has been handed over.
In 2007, police arrested a fake centurion following a reported attack on an American man and a Chilean woman which landed both in hospital. The same year police said they had arrested 28 unlicensed phony centurions and charged them with "violating laws banning commercial activity in an archaeological area".
Four years earlier there was a fistfight outside the Colosseum between rival bands of costumed ancient Romans. Also in 2003 police arrested a self-styled gladiator for carrying a real sword.
The Rome authorities said in 2002 they would be licensing the centurions who hang around the Colosseum and other historic sites. There was talk of tests to show they spoke English, had good people skills and adequate general knowledge.
Those who passed were to be put on a list, given a badge and assigned a pitch. But they would have to abide by regulations concerning the authenticity of their costumes.
Regulating the "authenticity" of their costumes sounds like a way of culling the herd. Authentic Roman armor is expensive.  I know. I'm assembling my own set:

When I found this shop across from the Pantheon, I felt like a kid in a candy store.

I was warned that some of these fake legionaries could be trouble.  Not all , but some.  When my parents went to Rome they got their pictures take with one for ten euros.  No trouble.  But others would demand a hundred euros.  They would not tell you the price until you had the picture taken, then they would give you problems if you didn't pay up.

Never had any wish to have my pictures taken with those guys, though.  When you're putting together your own set of real Roman armor, why would you want your picture taken with a fake?

I just had some fun with them.  On one walk down the Via dei Fori Imperali I told an approaching legionary, "Sorry, I got my own armor."  Gave me a bewildered look.  On another, I said, "Sorry, I only allow my pic taken with centurions and above."  Another bewildered look.

Thanks guys, but no thanks.  I have my own Roman armor.

OK, maybe you had to be there.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

More Punishing the Innocent and Protecting the Guilty (Or "More Sack of Rome")

Lotsa commentary out there abut the meaning of the London riots and the government's Honorius-like response thereto.

Max Hastings, always an enjoyable and interesting, if not always accurate, writer, nails the societal issues:

A few weeks after the U.S. city of Detroit was ravaged by 1967 race riots in which 43 people died, I was shown around the wrecked areas by a black reporter named Joe Strickland.
He said: ‘Don’t you believe all that stuff people here are giving media folk about how sorry they are about what happened. When they talk to each other, they say: “It was a great fire, man!” ’
I am sure that is what many of the young rioters, black and white, who have burned and looted in England through the past few shocking nights think today.

It was fun. It made life interesting. It got people to notice them. As a girl looter told a BBC reporter, it showed ‘the rich’ and the police that ‘we can do what we like’.

That's not a bug, that's a feature.

Susannah Breslin claims that she's "unemployable" because, in part:

1. I don’t fit in a box

I have never fit in, really. I have been a freelancer for 15 years. I have covered some unusual subjects in my career. I am six-foot-one. I grew up in Berkeley, California. In other parts of the country, the goal is to fit in. In Berkeley, the goal is to not fit in.
At this blog, there are no boxes allowed, so that's not a bug, that's a feature.

Most people don't fit into boxes.  They want to, because it makes life easier, especially for employers, but it leads to unhappiness.  Creative people are especially hurt by being forced into boxes. Prison boxes.

The reason I named this place "No Boxes Allowed" is because I know that first hand. 

Everyone who knows me calls me a study in contradictions.  I am a (nominal) Republican with a Democrat's personality.  Not Republican enough for Republicans but too Republican for Democrats.

I am a security hawk but a social liberal.  I am absolutely and notoriously ruthless on security issues, but think we should have less crimes.  I think the EPA as it stands today is a malevolent force in America, but that we do need laws and regulations to protect the environment.  I'm a scholarly smartass.  I oppose affirmative action but support rights for gays, lesbians and transgendered.  I love "guy" things like football, military history and cars, but also love "girl" things like ballet, dance music, Shakespeare and reading.  I'm happy in a football jersey, a leotard and tights or armor and a skirt.  I'm a fiscal conservative who supports government spending for needed services.  I'm pro-union but I (famously) think some unions have gone way too far and need to be stopped.  I'm a proud ROMAN Catholic who doesn't care about abortion and supports the death penalty, divorce and birth-control.  I want to be the knight in shining armor (so long as that armor is Roman lorica segmentata) but I can't imagine dating a woman who doesn't have or want her own career, her own dreams.

I don't fit in a box.  And people, especially powerful people, really, really don't like that.

And I don't particularly want to fit in a box.  And people, especially powerful people, really, really don't like that even more.

But we're not supposed to fit into boxes.  Boxes are conformist and totalitarian.  All the same.  We're not supposed to be the same.  Not in a free society.

A free society depends on the marketplace of ideas to survive and prosper.  That's why the First Amendment to the Constitution is the First Amendment.  It is unique to Western civilization, and is, to be sure, its guarantor.  We're supposed to be different from each other.  That gives us more ideas to choose from.  Makes us stronger.

Breslin understands that, which is why she has struck out on her own.  Successfully, I might add.

Since Breslin lives in Berkeley, I'm guessing I don't agree with her on much.  But we should all be happy and grateful she has found success escaping the prison boxes of the world.

More developments in the 160th SOAR crash

I have been following with considerable interest the crash of the Chinook helicopter carrying members of the US 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), which included some 20 members of the Navy's SEAL Team 6, the guys who put Usama bin Laden in his rightful place in Hell. (See earlier posts here and here.)  The Chinook is believed to have been shot down by a rocket propelled grenade fired by the Islamist Taliban, probably in retaliation for killing bin Laden  There have been some new developments.

First, it has been confirmed that the shootdown was no accident or coincidence but was part of a trap set by the Taliban:

A helicopter which crashed killing 30 US troops in Afghanistan was shot down after the Taliban laid a trap to lure US forces into the area, an Afghan government official said on Monday.

"Now it's confirmed that the helicopter was shot down and it was a trap that was set by a Taliban commander," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A Tale of Two Heads

Last October I did some handstands to get to Philadelphia's Franklin Institute to see National Geographic's exhibit on Egypt's famous Queen Cleopatra, whose formal name was Cleopatra VII Neos Philopator.  She was the last ruler of Egypt from the Ptolemaic dynasty of Macedonian Greeks that dated from the days of Alexander the Great.  She was also the last Pharaoh of Egypt, period.

"Pharaoh" is an amazingly cool title for a king, wouldn't you agree? They should bring it back, but I digress ...

I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit, especially the papyrus signed by Cleopatra where, in response to a request to do a favor for a friend of Mark Antony's (Marcus Antonius) she quotes Jean Luc-Picard, "Make it so."

Don't threaten my Colosseum

A great way to get me angry is to threaten ancient archaeological ruins, like, say, Leptis Magna, the Pyramids of Giza or the Bamiyan Buddhas.  A great way to get me really angry is to threaten Rome.

Now, it has happened, to none other than il Colosseo:
A fake bomb caused police to evacuate hundreds of tourists on Sunday from the Colosseum, Rome's most famous monument.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Are the riots of London the new sack of Rome?

On August 24, 410 AD, Rome -- no longer the capital of the Roman Empire but still its most important city -- was sacked by a Gothic army under King Alaric I.  Alaric and his army were ostensibly operating under Roman command but he revolted for monetary reasons.  The Western Roman Emperor Honorius did absolutely nothing to stop Alaric. Honorius was safe in a castle in Ravenna, surrounded by marshes and, it seems, could not have cared less about Rome.  Indeed, according to legend, when Honorius was told about the sack of Rome, his first thoughts were of his pet chicken.

The Byzantine Emperor Honorius, by Jean Paul Laurens (1880).  Honorius (who was not actually Byzantine but was Western Roman Emperor), safely ensconced in his castle in Ravenna, would not lift a finger to save Rome from sacking by Alaric's Goths on August 24, 410 AD, instead, according to legend, more concerned about his pet chickens.  Is Honorius the model for our current political class?

The sacking of Rome, while more symbolic than strategic, completely dispirited the Roman people, who were helpless in the face of Alaric's barbarians, and played no small part on the dissolution of the Western empire.

I can't help but think of the Sack of Rome when watching the riots in London.  London, an imperial capital all its own, is at the mercy of barbarians, while its leadership does nothing to stop the riots, instead congratulating itself on its understanding and restraint while working in secure compounds, living in gated communities and traveling with bodyguards.  Otherwise known as "Ravenna."

A similar plague is afflicting the United States. With our own political class safe in "Ravenna."

What is going on in London?

I don't know.  I can't get a straight answer.  Both the BBC and the Telegraph have updates.  Fox News has as good a report as any, certainly better than the crap you'll get from the New York Times, MSNBC, etc., but still leaving out a lot of details, details that may be unknown at this point.

As I understand it, the unrest started when, to quote Fox, "Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old father of four, was gunned down in disputed circumstances Thursday in Tottenham."  The report says later on:
Tottenham is an impoverished area with an ethnically diverse population, a large black community and a history of unrest. Tottenham was the site of the 1985 Broadwater Farm riots, a series of clashes that led to the fatal stabbing of a police officer and the wounding of nearly 60 others -- and underscored tensions between London police and the capital's black community.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Timeless weather

On my trip to Rome, I was initially disgusted when the only time it rained on the trip was the time when we were supposed to go to the Roman Forum (il Foro Romano), the center of government and public life in both Republican and Imperial Rome.   My tour group ended up huddled under an arch of the Colosseum (il Colosseo, aka the Flavian Amphitheater) for about a half hour waiting for the thunderstorm to end.  All this time I had notyhing to look at except the Arch of Constantine (Arco di Constantino).  i thought there was no point in taking pictures of it.  And it would have threatened to get water al over my camera lens anyway.

Except ... well, just look at these pictures I took after the storm had lightened up and I had second thoughts:

The Arch of Constantine was dedicated in 315 AD, to celebrate his defeat of Maxentius in 312 at the Battle of Milvian Bridge.  It is the only Roman triumphal arch celebrating the defeat of another Roman.  it is also the only such arch to use parts taken (stolen) from earlier buildings.

That said, it's a nice piece of work for the first Christian emperor.  But do you notice anything?

The rain.  You're used to seeing pictures of these monuments in the sun.  Perfect photography weather.  You rarely see them in inclement weather -- rain, snow or even clouds.

Rain.  The Arch of Constantine is almost 1700 years old.  The inconvenient storm did make me stop and think: how many rain storms has the Arch of Constantine endured? In 1700 years, how many storms has the arch survived?

Rain comes and goes.  People come and go.  Countries, nations, empires come and go.  But the Arch of Constantine is still there.

The age, the timelessness of this monument to ancient Rome struck me then and there, all because of an inconvenient thunderstorm.

For comparison, here's a pic I took shortly thereafter of the retreating storm clouds over the Colosseum.

The Colosseum was started by the Emperor Vespasian and completed by his son Emperor Titus (from both of whom the Colosseum derives its official name Flavian Amphitheater) in about 80 AD.  It's more than 1900 years old.

Rain comes and goes.  People come and go.  Countries, nations, empires come and go.  But the Colosseum stays.  Oh, sure, it's battered, it's bruised, it's gutted, but it's still there.

How many rainstorms has it survived?

Amazing.  Remarkable.  Incredible.  A blessing.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Questions about the 160th SOAR crash

Instapundit links to a Popular Mechanics article asking some pretty interesting questions about the loss of the helicopter carrying member of the US 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), which included some 20 members of the Navy's SEAL Team 6, the guys who killed Usama bin Laden.  The most important question, as I see it:

Will special forces be put in greater danger during the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan?

Special Forces are expected to keep the pressure on the Taliban, working closely with Afghan forces to maintain control as U.S and Coalition troops depart. That means more raids, more targets and more reliance on Afghan competence—all of which add up to more special forces casualties.

This incident could be a sign of things to come: The crash happened in Tanji, where the U.S. closed a combat outpost in April. However, the AP has reported, the Afghan forces never staffed the outpost after American forces left, and the Taliban moved back in. That left it to Navy SEALs to undertake a dangerous raid in a notorious insurgent area to stem the Taliban's advance. As more responsibilities fall on the shoulders of special forces, the risk of more losses like this one will continue to increase.
Indeed.  When you announce you are withdrawing from a war zone without having the area secured or victory achieved, you are inviting such attacks on your troops.

Which is why smart people never do such things. 

And, yet, Barack Obama very intentionally did so.

A crash in more ways than one

In Afghanistan the Taliban scored a victory when they shot down a US transport helicopter filled with members of our special forces, specifically the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR).  31 American service people were killed, including some 20 members of SEAL Team 6, the unit that killed Usama bin Laden.  Please keep the families of these brave, determined American heroes in your prayers.

There has been some concern expressed, specifically on Patterico's excellent blog, that this incident was an example of "loose lips sink ships," because Vice President Joe Biden mentioned that Navy SEALs were responsible for putting bin Laden in his place.  While that concern is understandable and even warranted, I do not know that it should be overstated in this case.  In contrast with most in this administration, Biden was trying to honor the military and give the troops their due.  Losses do happen in war, and contrary to the apparent opinion of Obama, Valerie Jarrett and the State Department, we are at war with the Taliban.  This should give pause to anyone who thinks that negotiating with the Taliban is a strategy that will lead anywhere but defeat.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ominous signs and portents from the Muslim world

Very unpleasant to watch, but it must be done.  Here we go:


Battle lines are being drawn across the Middle East.

On one side sit the forces of stability, with Saudi Arabia at the helm. On the other sit the forces of revolution, with Iran prominent in leadership. The alliances they lead are well known: the Gulf Sheikhdoms and Jordan align with the Saudis; Syria, Hamas, and Hizbollah with Iran. While both sides are equally capable of espousing Islamism and of violating the most basic human rights, the difference between them is very real. The Saudi-led bloc is quite content with the existing global order and the petrodollars that it bestows. The Iranian-led bloc is committed to toppling that order.

More new additions to the library

Imperial Roman Legionary AD 161-284, by Ross Cowan
Roman Military Equipment: From the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome (2nd Edition), by M.C. Bishop and J.C.N. Coulston

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

UPDATED -- I want answers (It's Alexander the Great; see comments)

A follow up to my original post asking for help identifying this guy:

Unidentified bust in Rome's Aurelian wall on the Via Campagna caddycorner from the Hotel Victoria Roma.
The possibilities that I put forth were, since he is in the Aurelian Wall, like, the Emperor Aurelian (duh!), along with Alexander the Great, the Eastern Roman general Belisarius, and the Renaissance artist Raphael.

A Pantheon Sundial

Yes, Rome has party places like the beautiful Piazza Navona (site of the Emperor Domitian's circus, now it has a Cafe Domitian), the Spanish Steps (by which I was not impressed) and the Trevi Fountain (no one goes there -- it's too crowded -- though it has a great shop for Roman legion T-shirts), but to me nothing beats the party at the Pantheon piazza (aka the Piazza della Rotunda).  Restaurants, music, singling, dancing, laughing, happiness, all underneath the Latin words "M.AGRIPPA.L.F.COS.TERTIUM.FECIT," which means "Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, having been consul three times, built it."  This was Marcus Agrippa, Octavius Caesar Augustus' right hand man, who built it with Augustus after the Battle of Actium (Azio, in Italian).  The Pantheon has been destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries.  This one dates from the Emperor Trajan (aka Trajanus, Traianus, Traiano; Trajan is very popular in Rome, second to only Julius Caesar) and should be credited to his architect Apollodorus of Damascus, who apparently preserved Agrippa's original work.  The Emperor Hadrian completed the reconstruction and kept Agrippa's name on the facade.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Judicial independence? Or infallibility?

I have been getting caught up on my past issues of Indiana Lawyer and I came across an article from June discussing the impact of unpopular decisions like Barnes v. State on the judiciary.  The article is called "Touched by Controversy: 'Unpopular' rulings, public outcry can test courts and judicial independence." Sigh!
In the history of court controversies, a recent ruling by the Indiana Supreme Court has created public outcry and calls for change in ways that few others do.

But it’s not alone.

The courts have faced a handful of issues through the years pitting judges against public opinion, from a federal ruling on school desegregation in the 1970s to the governor criticizing a ruling that struck down the state’s voter ID law as unconstitutional in 2009. Trial and appellate judges once faced common law liens on their property from people upset about particular decisions, and the judiciary has stood up to attacks from lawmakers and residents who’ve taken issue with a holding that’s seen as “unpopular.”

One picture explains why I love Rome

It's a Pantheon Party.  Every day.  Every night.  Antiquity and modernity mix in one swirl of fun!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Latest addition to the library

Rome: Day One, by Andrea Carandini

Turning point in Syria?

Several top Syrian generals have defected from Bashar Assad and joined the rebels:

A Syrian Major-General has deserted Assad's army along with a group of other officers and joined the rebels.

In an Arabic video clip posted on Youtube on July 29, 2011, the officer, Major-General Riad El As'ad is seen in the company of other officers, announcing the establishment of the "Free Syrian Army whose main goal will be to fight the army of oppression headed by President Bashar Assad".

As'ad accused the Assad regime of crimes against the Syrian people and called on the officers and soldiers in the Syrian army not to aim their weapons at the people. He further called on them to join the Free Syrian Army.