Sunday, July 15, 2018

After Action Report: Heartbreak Ridge

Heartbreak Ridgeis a good action story with few leadership lessons. Dissenting for the sake of the task is one of the ethical standards that makes businesses (and scientists) successful. The guardian ethos rewards conformance to hierarchy and tradition. So, a story about an unorthodox soldier provides a context for thinking about values. In the case of Heartbreak Ridge, the hero’s values are ultra-orthodox. The complexity is delivered in the contrast between his military work and his successful attempt to re-unite with his ex-wife. When not firing an AK-47 at his men to teach them what it sounds like, GySgt Tom Highway is reading women’s magazines in order to eventually ask, “Do you think our relationship failed because of a lack of commitment?” 

As an actor, Clint Eastwood makes a good Marine. He has said that personally he is a libertarian conservative. He stays in great physical condition. He directed and produced the movie. The writer was James Carabatsos who created Hamburger Hill and Heroes. The story was gung-ho and left me feeling happy, but not any smarter. 

GySgt Highway is assigned to a reconnaissance platoon that has been allowed to lapse. This was 1986. The American military was not yet over Vietnam. “We are 0-1-1: no wins, one tie, and one loss.” The previous platoon sergeant was “retired on active duty.” The men are unmotivated. But that assessment and this assignment come from Maj. Malcolm A. Powers, who has been set up as the antithesis of our hero. Maj. Powers is an Annapolis graduate. He transferred to a combat regiment coming from supply and logistics. Although he expects GySgt Highway to get the platoon into shape, he calls the Gunny an anachronism with no role to play in the modern Marine Corps. In contrast to the martinet, we have 2LT Ring. Ring led his ROTC unit. He wears glasses. He excuses himself from an exercise to make a doctor’s appointment. Nonetheless, he supports GySgt Highway’s actions, speaking up to the Major to take responsibility for the Gunny. He tries hard. His heart is in the right place. He leads the men into combat. 

Under direct fire, the Lieutenant makes a bad choice and his radioman is killed. He is crestfallen. “You won’t make the same mistake again,” the Gunny says. We can believe that; and it might be interesting to write a story about Major Ring in Iraq during the Surge. 

Overall, Heartbreak Ridge charges through a barrage of intellectual bullets. The warrior ethos embraces fatalism. When 2LT Ring is floundering over the death of Private Profile the Gunny tells the Elltee that the man’s time was come and no matter how fast you run when it’s your time there’s nothing you can do about it. But that is not entirely true, or no reason would exist for GySgt Highway’s gung-ho training regimen and relentless pursuit of combat readiness. 

And that speaks to the problem of Maj. Powers. The story line denigrates him for coming from supply. He wants every form filled out, every bullet tallied. He is not the hard-charging Bionic Marine that GySgt Highway is. We get that. It is the story. But the fact remains that while good commanders know tactics and great commanders know strategy, winning commanders know logistics: an army moves on its stomach. But we do not get a lot of hero stories about the 4-shop.

Powers and Ring are college graduates whereas Highway “graduated” from Heartbreak Ridge when he and two others were the only survivors of three days of human wave assaults. (Highway was granted a Medal of Honor. That speaks to other problems with the story line, but let that go for now.) Although GySgt Highway is condemned as an anachronism, we see him learning to understand his ex-wife by reading women’s magazines. It is an emotional problem, not an intellectual one. The Gunny does outfox his wargame opponents by setting a better trap but it is range of the moment, concrete, not something you learn from a book. In point of fact, of course, it exactly one of the many lessons in the books assigned to those who want to become leaders in combat. It is just that we did not sit with young Cpl Highway at the NCO school.

(For more on the differences between the commercial ethos and the guardian ethos see Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics by Jane Jacobs, New York: Random House, 1992, which is cited in several other posts in this blog.)


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave

When has our republic not been in danger of invasion from without or subversion from within? 

"[A] populist strand ... has run through American history since Jonathan Edwards led the Great Awakending against the sophistication that was blossoming in the eighteenth century and Andrew Jackson spearheaded a popular revolt against John Quincy Adams. In fact, the division between populists and the establishment has been a more fundamental one in American politics than that between left and right, liberal and conservative. Both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, like many of their predecessors, rode to the White House in large part by tapping an anti-Establishment vein in the populace."  -- The Wise Men: Six Friends the World They Made  by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas, Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1986; page 29.

Nothing in human history required the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights. They were not the only documents of their kind. Before it was the United Kingdom, Great Britain had the Bill of Rights of 1689 which constrained the monarchy and included the right of the people (all of the Protestant ones) to keep arms in their homes. We all know the Articles of Confederation. But even that rested on the Albany Plan of Union, which itself was only one of several compacts over the previous two generations among some colonies for mutual defense. And the villages and townships were governed by elections, even—and especially—as the colonies lost their charters to the crown. 

The American revolution did not begin in July of 1776. The Marine Corps was founded on November 10, 1775. The battle at Breed's Hill and Bunker Hill had been fought on June 17, 1775, six weeks after Lexington and Concord. The Boston Massacre was March 5, 1770. The "American revolution" had already begun fifteen years earlier. The battlegrounds were the minds of Americans and the shots fired were ideas in newspapers, pamphlets, sermons, and private letters. 

Today, here in Austin, Texas, no parade will be held. We will have civic barbeques. Maybe that is enough, if it is true that 30% of the Texans in attendance will be carrying concealed handguns. I am less confident that 30% of them will have the post-graduate reading level necessary to understand the Declaration of Independence. (See here.)

Previously on Necessary Facts

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Forbidden Planet

Forbidden Planet influenced my passion for languages. I first saw it on television as a movie special when I was in my early teens. Professor Morbius was a philologist in a genre whose common characters are physicists, chemists, astronomers, and engineers, all in the plural. Morbius unlocked the language of the Krell, and doubled his intelligence with one of their machines. Psychology was the other underutilized science that drove the plot of Forbidden Planet to its conclusion. The “id” is called an archaic idea, long since abandoned, but the construct does explain the action, as surely as the other technobabble describes the ship’s hull, engines, navigation, and weaponry. As interesting as it is, I never had the drive for studying models of mentation that I did and do for words, their meanings, origins, and uses. 
Blade and blood share a root meaning.
Many of the "bl" words do.

When Mom bought the house a new dictionary, 
I spent hours reading etymologies. 

 My mother’s family was Hungarian. Although English was the official language of our home, Hungarian was impossible to avoid. My brother and I were encouraged to take foreign language classes in school as soon as they were offered. He started with French in the third grade. I had to wait until the seventh to begin German. At that same time, when telephoning my friend, John, I learned to get through to his mother in Ukrainian: "Mazhu ya hovoriti do Vanya?" And to listen for the reply, just in case, "Yo ho ne ma doma." (He is not at home.) Over the years of junior and senior high school, I spent hours just browsing the foreign language stacks in main branch of the Cleveland Public Library. It was a moment for me when I read the title Szep Uj Vilag and understood the meaning: Pretty [Brave] New World, itself another reference to The Tempest.
Decrypting the language of the Krell
At Lansing Community College in 1990, I had two classes in conversational Japanese for business before going to work for Kawasaki. The writing was not as much of a challenge for me because when I was about 12 I found a book at my neighborhood branch library on Chinese characters. In it, an American boy whose father is an engineer, learns from an Old Master how to write about 20 characters. Around that time, I began collecting Berlitz and other guides for tourists. 
The Monster of the Id
Fifteen years later, I was a campus safety patrol officer while majoring in criminal justice at Washtenaw Community College. Once a month, on Sunday night, one of our classrooms was used by a Persian Poetry Group. They were ethnic Iranians from Detroit and Grand Rapids who met to discuss world affairs. The building had to be cleared and locked by 11:00 PM. I began with “Welcome,” “Good evening,” and “How are you?” and after a few months, I was up to “It is getting late, is it not?” One of them asked me if I was Turkish. “No,” I replied. “Why do you ask?” “Because,” he said, “you speak Farsi with a Turkish accent.” Not bad.
Oh, brave new world
that has such creatures in it!
Here in Austin, I found myself waiting at the bus stop several mornings a week with neighbors who looked almost Oriental and spoke something that sounded almost Arabic. I inquired politely. They were Uzbeks. No problem: the Austin City Library has books for tourists on the languages of central Asia. 
The IQ Test
My first computer language was Fortran. I followed it with Basic. Lansing Community College had an IBM 5100 that was programmable in APL. The school library had book about computer languages; by 1976, there were over a hundred. Ten years later, I was setting type with TeX/LaTeX, the foundation of SGML. I met a computer literacy requirement for my bachelor’s with a class in Java. When I moved to Austin, I took a community class in Ruby.

As for the movie, it has held up well over time. With The Tempest for its model, the plot was tried and true. The writing and acting were competent. The special effects were innovative. In fact, live action shooting took only a couple of months and the artwork required another eighteen. The high-quality workmanship continues to deliver value.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Texas Navy

“Remember the Alamo!” For most people who care one way or the other, “Remember the Alamo!” encapsulates the history of Texas independence. The easy narrative is that the 185 defenders bought time for the government to form an army with which to defend itself. In fact, the government fled towards the United States in the Runaway Scrape. The truth is that Texas was created, secured, and maintained by its navy. 
TNS San Antonio from The Texas Navy
U.S. Navy Department. Naval History Division. January 1, 1968.
 The victory at San Jacinto (April 21, 1836) was made possible by the Texas flotilla which deprived Gen. Antonio López Santa Anna of supplies. On March 3, 1836, the Liberty captured the Pelicano. The cargo was manifested from an American firm, J. W. Zacherie of New Orleans. But inside the barrels of flour and other trade goods military supplies were concealed. The Liberty later seized another American ship, the Durango, which was also carrying military stores under a false manifest. However, it must be admitted that those seizures were among several others of no legal pretense whatsoever as hapless fishermen fell prey to the Texian corsairs. The Mexican army invading Texas was forced to forage, ultimately allowing the Texians to advance on an unprotected staging area. They captured Gen. Santa Anna who, as President of Mexico, granted independence to Texas. 

TNS Austin from The Texas Navy 
U.S. Navy Department. Naval History Division. January 1, 1968.
Mexico did seize and temporarily hold the town of San Antonio again in 1842 but it was an exception. Northern Mexico and southern Texas are wastelands. For either side to invade the other, an army of men with animals would need a month of food and water to be hauled with them over open country. Without access to the coast by which men and supplies could be moved, Mexico was never able to retake Texas.

The reality is that the Texas navy can be credited with only two or three significant captures. Those were critical to disrupting the land operations of the Mexican army. Most of the actions of the Texas navy were around Yucatan and Campeche in support of rebels there. Those engagements forced the attentions of the Mexican army and navy away from Texas. The successes of the Texas navy must also be understood in the context of Mexico’s first war against France, November 1838 to March 1839. France won. Mexico surrendered her entire Gulf fleet. 

In the meantime, the government of Texas was at best lukewarm toward her navy. President Sam Houston refused to support it. He was famously insulting toward the men of the sea; and in his second term he reneged on the paper promises (pay warrants) issued by his political enemy, President Mirabeau Lamar. Houston occasionally flapped with the prevailing wind, but issued contradictory orders, authorizing actions and then withholding the funds for them. At one point, he declared Captain Moore and his flotilla to be pirates and authorized any lawful ship to seize them and return them to Galveston for trial. 

In addition to the sources cited below, most of my narrative is based on The Texas Navy in Forgotten Battles and Shirtsleeve Diplomacy, by Jim Dan Hill, University of Chicago Press, 1937, which I borrowed from the open stacks of the UT Austin library. They have other sources at the Briscoe Center for American History and I am cleared for patronage there, but they are only open weekday business hours. Jim Dan Hill’s history is prejudiced toward his subject, but he remained objective. For one thing, according to Hill, common military custom required that Gen. Santa Anna’s surrender at San Jacinto removed him from the authority to grant independence to Texas. Simply put, a hostage is never under any moral obligations to honor the promises made in duress. For that and other asides, I accepted Hill’s history at face value.  

One difficulty I had with Hill's history was with the language of the sea. Hill never explained anything about corvettes or barques closely hauling in pursuit of or being pursued by schooners or brigs. Then there were the mizzenmasts. I found safe harbor in another book from the UT Austin library, A Visual Encyclopedia of Nautical Terms Under Sail, Bathe, et al., Crown Publishers, 1978. 

The First Texas Navy
BrutusCaptain W. A. Hurd. 160 tons. 40 crew. Nine short guns. One 18-pounder. Run aground August 27, 1837.
Invincible. Captain Jeremiah B. Brown. 40 crew. Six “carronades” (low-velocity guns with custom-made anti-personnel shot). One 9-pound swivel. Lost August 27, 1837; aground on sandbar, destroyed by storm.
Liberty. Captain W. S. Brown; Captain George Wheelwright. 70-80 tons.  20 to 50 crew. Sold for the cost of refitting, May 22, 1837.
Independence. Captain Charles Hawkins “commodore” of the fleet. 140-160 tons. 40 crew. Nine to 11 guns. Captured April 17, 1837.

The Second Texas Navy
TNS Zavala. Captain Edward Ward Moore; Commander A. C. Hinton. Corvette; sidewheel steamship. 600 tons. 22 guns. Launched March 1839. In action November 1840 through February 1841. Victory against the San Juan Bautista. Damaged in action and abandoned.
TNS San Jacinto. Lieutenant J. O. O’Shaunessy. Schooner. 170 tons. Four 12-pound guns. One 9-pound long gun. Commissioned June 1839. Lost in a storm October 30, 1840.
TNS San AntonioLieutenant William Seeger. Schooner. Commissioned August 1839. Six 12-pounders. One 12-pound long gun. Lost at sea (presumed) October 1842.
TNS San BernardoLieutenant D. H. Crisp. Schooner. Commissioned September 1839. Six 12-pounders. One 12-pound long gun. In action November 1840 through February 1841. With TNS Zavala took the San Juan Bautista. Run aground at Galveston September 1842.
TNS Austin. Captain Edwin Ward Moore. (Became his flagship.) Corvette or sloop of war. Commissioned April 1840. 600 tons. 18 24-pound guns. Two 18-pound guns. Participated in the capture of the San Juan Bautista. Survived to join the U.S. Navy after annexation.
TNS Wharton. Captain Edwin Ward Moore; Captain George W. Wheelwright. Brigantine. 16 18-pound guns. Commissioned October 1839. Survived to join the U.S. Navy after annexation. 

Texas Military Forces Museum, Camp Mabry, Austin, Texas. In addition to their displays, they provide an article online hereThat citation to the publication of the U.S. Navy Department, Naval History Division, dated January 1, 1968, is also found at other locations.

Wikipedia (of course), The First Texas Navy.

The Texas Navy by James M. Daniel
Texas State Historical Association

Texas Navy Association 
From the Visual Encyclopedia of Nautical Terms under Sail

Previously on Necessary Facts

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Wooden Ships

I can see by your coat, my friend, you're from the other side. There's just one thing I have to know. Can you tell me, please, who won?

Won't you have some of my purple berries? I've been eating them for six or seven weeks now; haven't gotten sick once. Probably keep us both alive.

Chimes of Freedom

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Rebels: A Well Regulated Militia

Rebels: A Well Regulated Militia by Brian Wood is a graphic novel that explores the lives of otherwise ordinary folk caught up in the extraordinary drama of the American Revolution. The main characters are fictional representations of real people. Historical figures pass through the narratives to add credence to the portraits of farmers, villagers, slaves, and natives. These stories span a lifetime, from the 1750s to 1800s, bringing the reader to Vermont, the Ohio frontier, the Carolinas, and the city of Boston.
Rebels: A Well Regulated Militia by Brian Wood
with Andrea Mutti, Matthew Woodson,
and other illustrators,
Collections of Rebels #1 through #10 inclusive
(Milwaukee: Dark Horse Comics, 2016).
 Anyone who can tell you much about the American Revolution is likely to be a political activist. Radicals, whether conservative or progressive, identify with the struggle for rights and independence, even as they find fault with it. On the left, the fact that the leaders were well-to-do merchants and lawyers explains the incomplete recognition of rights, the eventual three-fifths compromise, the Alien and Sedition Acts, and other betrayals of democracy. From the far right, libertarian science fiction author L. Neil Smith, who penned a set of Lando Calrissian stories, has an alternate universe in which Alexander Hamilton escaped to Prussia following a failed federalist coup to make George Washington king of America, leaving the republic to the true republicans.
Here, in essays apart from the graphic novel, author Brian Wood explains that he is a socialist. His passions for the commoner feed the compelling histories. The contextual events are real: Vermont’s war against New York, Breed’s Hill and Bunker Hill, Ticonderoga, and the Cowpens. The men and women who fought and suffered and died or survived are inventions of the author. 
“Creating Seth Abbot was partly to give myself a break – a fictional character allows us to tell the story we all want to tell without being trapped by historical facts and having my hands tied narratively. I mean, the Green Mountain Boys were real, as was Ethan Allen and the “noble train of artillery,” but I wanted to be control of the personal narrative of the main character. Seth needed to be a sort of everyman. I also wanted to be able to filter some of my own stories of Vermont childhood, the history that excites me, and the locations I know personally into that narrative.” – “Interview: Brian Wood Returns to Rebels with the Next Generation,” by Jeffrey Renaud in CBR Exclusives here. 
Within the ten stories is the continuing drama of Seth Abbott and his wife Mercy Abbott. He leaves her behind as he goes off to fight. The second time, he does not know that she is pregnant. He returns five years later. 

Among Seth Abbott’s adventures is his leading the team that brought the cannons from Fort Ticonderoga to Dorchester Heights. In that story, Brian Wood’s socialist preferences lead him astray. He draws Henry Knox as a soft sycophant, a bookseller with no military or other practical experience. A bookseller he was. He was also a street tough, a hoodlum who acquired the trappings of culture and sold them successfully until Boston was occupied. That remaining so, we slog through the mountain snow and valley mud with the farmers who hauled the cannons. For them, it was just more hard work. As one veteran told me about his view of Army life compared to his home life, “In other words, the Army was a lot like Tuesday.”  

Jane Franklin Mecom promises to tell the story of
rebel printer Silence Brght
“We actually have Washington in the story in issue No. 4 along with Benedict Arnold,” he revealed. “Later in the year we’ll see Jane Mecom, Ben Franklin’s sister. I think it’s a good idea to drop these people in from time to time for context, but part of the point of ‘Rebels’ is to not re-tell the same stories everyone’s heard about these famous people, but to find the untold stories, the stories behind the folktales, and tell those instead. So you can expect famous cameos, but no more than that. Those public figures of 18th century America are often referred to as “patriots” — a term that has been misused, misappropriated and/or misunderstood in recent years, he said. Exclusive preview: “‘Rebels’ writer Brian Wood explores the Revolutionary War” Hero Complex LA Times May 12, 2015 here. 
Brian Wood invented Sarah Hull and her husband, Captain Samuel Hull. She is the “Molly Pitcher” whose service to her country included hauling water for the cannons and for the men who fired them, and then loading and firing those guns with them.  The real Sarah Hull was just as interesting. 
"But if we paid you, we would have to pay all the women who served."
“Sarah Hull, the wife of Major William Hull, was one of those women who followed their husbands to the camp, resolved to partake their dangers and privations. She was with the army at Saratoga, and joined the other American ladies in kind and soothing attentions to the fair captives after the surrender. She was the daughter of Judge Fuller, of Newton, Massachusetts, and was born about 1755. At the close of the war she returned home; and when her gallant husband was appointed general of the county militia, did the honors of his Marquée, and received guests of distinction with a grace, dignity, and affability that attracted general admiration.” “Sarah Hull” at here. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Austin Under the Stars

Last night, Laurel and I attended a star party hosted by the Austin Astronomical Society and St. Stephen's Episcopal School. Laurel recommended it on the advice of a friend of hers from a Saturday morning kaffee klatsch for computerists. I went because I knew that there would be about 20 telescopes there, more powerful than my own, operated by people who know the sky better. Even though she is not into astronomy, we both had a good time. Laurel integrated some “Star Trek science” into her general knowledge base.

As is my routine, before the event, I referenced the current night via the US Naval Observatory site I made notes on what I wanted to see. Unfortunately, at the event, I was not able to view Markanian’s Chain (NGC 4406). However, as so often, serendipity delivered the M3 globular cluster, which I never saw before. Most of the telescopes were aligned to Jupiter and Venus. Venus was gibbous. But other than that, it does not grab the eye as does Jupiter, which most instruments were on for most of the night. In a Dobsonsian, it was bright enough to hurt.  

Laurel’s friend has a neat little instrument. The housing is aluminum and titanium; the optics are “folded.” This kind has been used by NASA and the CIA. “You can parachute it into the field,” he said. “Mercury and Gemini astronauts used them to look at Russia.” Even though the small aperture (about 2-1/2 inches), precludes deep sky objects, Rob knows the sky. (I bought two of his astro-photographs at an artists walk last winter.) He had all four Galileans in view. And he took out his cellphone and accessed an app to identify them. 
Pretty much as it looked to me
As with all knowledge aids since the first notched stick, phone apps and computer controls come with a cost. I saw one dad using an app to line up Leo for his daughter. But Leo is one of the three constellations of the Sumerians that actually looks like what it is: The Lion, the Scorpion, and the Bull. (The Giant is probably older, but not on the ecliptic.) On the other hand, it may just be my own perspective, but looking up the relative positions of the Galileans on your phone seemed no different than looking them up in an ephemeris. Without repetition, you can only keep so much in your head.

Knowing the sky makes all the difference. I was dismayed to discover that no one could answer my questions. People with Dobsonian “light buckets” knew even less than I do. According to Space dot Com, Ceres is in Leo right now, but that echoed as arcana when I asked. Then I met Frank Mikan, the science teacher at St. Stephen’s. As far as I can tell, he knows everything. I learned a lot that will help me when I am star hopping in my backyard.  

Messier Object 3 from Wikipedia
See also
See also
See also

Finally, one of the astronomy club members had his 10-inch reflector lined up on M-3, a globular cluster near the zenith. Actually Messier’s own very first object (May 3, 1764), it is catalogued as M-3. The elder Herschel resolved it 20 years later. It contains about 500,000 stars; is 8 billion years old (or 11.4 according to the latest research); lies 31,600 LY above the galactic plane and 38.8 kLY from the center and 33.9 kLY from us. It is coming toward us at 147.7 km/sec. According to the astronomer last night, globular clusters do not show relative orbital motions: the stars are just out there together. It will give me something to chase with my 5-inch reflector, though it will probably not resolve to a cluster.

The Austin Astronomy Club provided many hands-on learning opportunities with books laid out, and stickers and paper models from NASA. They also provided little glow-in-the-dark hand rockets. With a QR-activated app, you could “walk the solar system” and listen to transduced “sounds” of the sun and planets.

Laurel and I are working our way through Star Trek: The Next Generation. We are up to Season 6. In "Ship in a Bottle" the Enterprise is sent to witness the collision of two gas giants which is expected to create a proto-star. Laurel asked me what a "gas giant" is. I replied that it is like Jupiter and Saturn. That led to more questions, including the subject of hydrogen as as metal. Last night was Laurel's first view of Jupiter.