Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The View from Russia

I love this pic in John DeRosa's article vis Stratfor;

If you want to get a different view of how Russia sees its near-abroad, you'd be hard pressed to find a better one-pic summary.

His entire article is worth you time to read in full.

Just pause a bit, look and ponder.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Common Catastrophic Systems Collapse, 1177 BC and All That

When we speak of wanting people to know their history, the usual plea is for just minimal awareness of the last 50 years, maybe 100, or in a stretch, national history since the American Revolution. 

Sadly, many people only have a surface understanding of what has happened in their own lifetime. This limits any kind of informed guess they could make about what comes next, see trends, patterns - or better yet - know what mistakes to avoid that tend to repeat themselves.

A knowledge of deep history was a common baseline understanding by our Founding Fathers, which is one reason our republic has lasted so long. They were classically educated men who knew not just Latin, but many were fluent in ancient Greek and Hebrew as well. They knew ancient history in its own language. They studied previous republics and knew the weaknesses that led to their ultimate fall. Our system was designed to give future leaders of our republic opportunities to avoid the common mistakes of the past.

What is frustrating for me is that so few of today's leaders have that understanding, not to mention the voting public. Our society has lost a critical mass of influencers who understand the larger historical picture, and hold an apathetic narcissism to do the hard work now to east the troubles of future generations.

Collectively, as a result we don't see the things that cycle through the centuries of human history as a constant. We are ignorant, like children. Well meaning, but dangerous in our ignorance of ourselves, our nature, and the world around us full of similarly flawed people.

We don't see history's patterns and don't appreciate that history is about people. Our technology, tools, and other details may change, but the essential nature of man remains the same. As such, we are not all that different from Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers that we all were in a historical blink of an eye. Our minds are the same. Logic, drive, fear, greed, sloth, envy, vanity; it is here as it was then.

We are subject to the same strengths, weaknesses, vices and desires of all those who came before us. So are out institutions created by us in all our imperfections.

That brings us to a common, almost instinctual fear, like that lower brain stem fear of snakes. Few things seem as frightening, or as unrealistic to those living in the "now," as systemic societal collapse. Not just of your country, but of the entire global system. All the zombie books, movies, and stories derive from that concern in the back of everyone's mind; an almost genetic memory. It should be, as almost complete collapse has been a regular occurrence throughout human history.

Sure, when you bring up the topic, most will think of the fall of Rome, but that was just one recent example in a long series of diverse, complicated, and relatively advanced civilizations that collapsed over the course of thousands of years on every continent but Antarctica - and at least for now - Australia.

I find this topic fascinating because there is always a collapse in the making small, and perhaps even large. They are decades, and more often than not centuries, in the making. Sometimes it is the collapse of a single nation, but often it is something much greater. Unless you believe that you are living in a unique moment in human history that has brought a halt to all the normal ebb and flow of our existence, you have to ask yourself, when is the next collapse?

Will it be small and localized somewhere else, or a cascading global collapse driven by its own inertia and logic?

Is it in 10 years? 100? Are we going to be lucky and have another 500 yrs to so to go? Or, are you living right in the middle of one yet, being part of it, don't have the perspective to see what is going on?

All these things came to mind again while watching the below video from Eric Cline, PhD, professor at George Washington University in DC, and author of a book new book, 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed

I've been thinking about all weekend.

Forget the fall of Rome, that is modern history. What about something even further?

Just in the West, how many times have we lost the ability to read? To write? To have sophisticated urban design?

As Cline outlines and I mostly paraphrase in part below, do any of these things sound familiar?
General features of system collapse.
1. Collapse of the central administrative organization.
2. Disappearance of traditional elite class.
3. Collapse of centralized economy.
4. Settlement shifts and population decline.

- It might take as much as a century for all the aspects of the collapse to be completed and there is usually no single obvious cause for the collapse.
- In the aftermath of such a collapse, there is frequently a transition to a lower level of socio-political integration, and a development of romantic "Dark Age" myths about the previous period.

Are we facing a similar situation to 1177BC?

Q: Is there climate change?
A: Yes.
Q: Are there famines and droughts?
A: Yes.
Q: Earthquakes?
A: Yes.
Q: Rebellions?
A: Yes.

Only thing missing? Sea Peoples?

Well actually we do have Sea Peoples - the refugees flowing in to the Western World from the Middle East.
Here is a fun slide he continues to make his point. So where are we today?

Oh, did he say "today?"

In Q&A, piracy is brought up. And yes, in the late Bronze Age is it a big problem and part of a general collapse of international trade by sea that proceeded the collapse.

1,000 years before coinage was even invented this was a problem. A problem that existed even further back in the large abandoned cities thousands of year prior to 1177 BC.

Really people; do you think we are all that much different?

On a not totally unrelated story, I've heard a lot of bad, and frankly lazy reporting about the French author Jean Raspail and his story, The Camp of the Saints. The sub-titles are good, take some time to listen to this interview from 2011.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Surface Warfare JO Manning, on Midrats

When is there ever too much of a good thing? Is our officer manning policy in the Surface Warfare Community resulting in too many JOs chasing too few hours of experience actually performing one of their most important professional duties, the safe and effective maneuver of a ship at sea?

Do we have our numbers, policies, and priorities right to ensure we are giving out Surface Warfare Officers the opportunity to master the fundamentals of any respected leader at sea?

Building off his article in the March 2017 Proceedings, Too Many SWOs per Ship, our guest for the full hour this Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern will be Lieutenant Brendan Cordial, USN.

We will not only discuss the issues he raises in his article, but will cover the experiences, responsibilities, and future of our surface forces from the Fleet LT perspective.

LT Cordial is a native of Beaufort, South Carolina. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2011 and commissioned through the NROTC Program. During his division officer tours, he served in USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) and USS San Jacinto (CG 56), both home-ported in Norfolk, VA. He is currently assigned to the NROTC unit at The George Washington University."

Join us live if you can, but if you miss the show you can always listen to the archive at blogtalkradio or Stitcher

If you use iTunes, you can add Midrats to your podcast list simply by clicking the iTunes button at the main showpage - or you can just click here.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Saturday Music Stop

It's been a long time since I've done a "Saturday Music Stop." Part of it is that I think twitter is making me lazy and not doing what I prefer to do here at the homeblog where I have more than 140 characters. I should do better. I'll try.

I woke this AM under a dark cloud, the kind of dark you can only find in an empty, quite house the morning after a restive sleep. A mood made darker by working on an outline of a post I'm thinking of doing on Monday that goes back to 1177 BC. It is one of those dark moments where I found myself wandering over to YouTube because I wanted to hear Peter Gabriel's version of Bowie's "Heroes."

That led to Velvet Underground's "Pale Blue Eyes."

That seemed to feed the beast I love to loath, and then in the corner of the YouTube page I saw a familiar bearded man.

"Hey, it's Michael. What's he up to?"

Six months ago they did the below interview in conjunction with the release on the 25th anniversary of its original release, a remastered "Out of Time."

REM had already "turned the corner" for me at least when that alblum came out, and that work is mostly of little interest to me.

What is of interest is how Mike Mills and Michael Stipe have embraced the march of time. Representing the early cohort of Gen-X , like many of us in comparison to men of previous generations they have avoided the excessive male vanity of the combover, the razor, knife, and chemical.

It is fun to go, "Dude ... what happened." But all that does is to point out a denial on the speakers part of their own mortality. Time waits for no one. She has her plan. We can accept her plan with dignity, or we can fight her retreating tide until we become a stretched, filled, and plasticine-smooth parody of what we are not.

Mike and Micheal - especially my favorite member of the band Mike - have got it right I think. Mike perhaps a bit more grounded than Michael - but that is normal.

The only really frustrating thing about this interview is when Michael identifies himself as a "New Yorker." He's lost a lot in the last 25-yrs, most of his Southern accent, and now it seems even his roots.

Come back to Athens Michael - we like our quirky types. I believe Mike still live there. He seems a bit happier.

Anyway, enjoy the interview.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Fullbore Friday

About half of this is from an email Sid sent me in 2009. I added a little bit - but what a catch.

An elderly leader with decades of experience at sea. Merchants without enough military ships to make the passage. Hostile waters. A mission.

What do you do against a superior military force, when you basically have next to nothin'..?

You have been put in command of really nothing of a military ability - but everything of an economic necessity. Your nation is one that is at war, and relies on sea born commerce to survive and prosper. Between you and your nation are thousands of miles of open ocean, and an enemy that wants to destroy you.

You know you do not have what you need to fight and win ... at least on paper.

So, what do you do? Well - if you are Commodore Sir Nathaniel Dance, you get to work. You go to war with the Fleet you have - not the Fleet you wish you had.

Let's set the stage.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the British economy depended on its ability to trade with the British Empire, particularly the valuable colonies in British India. The intercontinental trade was conducted by the governors of India, the Honourable East India Company (HEIC), using their fleet of large, well armed merchant vessels known as East Indiamen. These ships weighed between 500 long tons (508 t) and 1,200 long tons (1,219 t) and could carry up to 36 guns for defence against pirates, privateers and small warships. They were not, however, capable under normal circumstances of fighting off an enemy frigate or ship of the line. Their guns were usually of inferior design, and their crew smaller and less well trained than those on a naval ship.
The East Indiamen sought to ensure the safety of their cargo and passengers, not defeat enemy warships in battle. Despite these disadvantages, the size of East Indiamen meant that from a distance they appeared quite similar to a small ship of the line, a deception usually augmented by paintwork and dummy cannon. The East Indiamen would gather at ports in India and the Far East and from there set out for Britain in large convoys, often carrying millions of pounds worth of trade goods.
The journey would usually take six months and the ships would subsequently return carrying troops and passengers to augment the British forces stationed in India. "Country ships", smaller merchant vessels chartered for local trade, sometimes independently from the HEIC, would often join the convoys. To protect their ships from the depredations of pirates, the HEIC also operated its own private navy of small armed vessels. In combination, these ships were an effective deterrent against smaller raiders, but were no match for a professional warship.

Understanding the importance of the Indian Ocean trade and seeking to threaten it from the start of the inevitable war, First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte ordered a squadron to sail for India in March 1803. This force was under the command of Contre-Admiral Charles-Alexandre Durand Linois and consisted of the ship of the line Marengo and three frigates.
What was Commodore Dance working with?
The China Fleet was a large annual British merchant convoy that gathered at Canton in the Pearl River during the winter before sailing for Britain, via India. As the convoy passed through the East Indies, it was joined by vessels sailing from other European ports in the region on the route to India, until it often numbered dozens of ships. The 1804 fleet departed in late January, and by the time it reached the approaches to the Strait of Malacca it had swelled to include 16 East Indiamen, 11 country ships, a Portuguese merchant ship from Macau and a vessel from Botany Bay in Australia.
Although the HEIC had provided the small, armed brig Ganges as an escort, this vessel could only dissuade pirates; it could not hope to compete with a French warship. There was no military escort: news of the outbreak of war had reached Canton before reinforcements had arrived from the squadron in India. Spies based in Canton had passed the composition and date of departure of the China Fleet to Linois in Batavia, and he set out to intercept it. However, Dutch informants at Canton had also passed on false reports that Royal Navy warships were accompanying the convoy, reports that may have been deliberately placed by British authorities.
The convoy was an immensely valuable prize, its cargo of tea, silk and porcelain valued at over £8 million in contemporary values (the equivalent of £541,000,000 as of 2009). Also on board were 80 Chinese plants ordered by Sir Joseph Banks for the royal gardens and carried in a specially designed plant room.
The HEIC Select Committee in Canton had been very concerned for the safety of the unescorted convoy, and had debated delaying its departure. The various captains had been consulted, including Henry Meriton, who in his ship Exeter had captured a frigate during the Action of 4 August 1800, a disastrous French attack on a convoy of East Indiamen off Brazil. Meriton advised that the convoy was powerful enough in both appearance and reality to dissuade any attack. He was opposed by John Farquharson of Alfred, who considered that the crews of East Indiamen were so badly trained that they would be unable to mutually defend one another if faced with a determined enemy.
Eventually the Committee decided that it could delay the convoy no longer and awarded command to the most experienced captain, Commodore Nathaniel Dance in the East Indiaman Earl Camden, an officer of over 45 years service at sea.
Not perfect - not even good; but what does a leader do? Improvise, adapt - overcome.
Dance had been taken seriously ill at Bombay during the outward voyage, but had recovered in time to sail with the convoy. The fleet did not have any naval escorts, and though the East Indiamen were heavily armed for merchants, carrying nominal batteries of between 30 and 36 guns, they were no match for disciplined and professional naval forces. Not all of their listed armament was always carried, but to give the illusion of greater strength, fake gunports were often painted on the hulls, in the hope of distant observers mistaking them for 64-gun ships of the Royal Navy
...Maneuver and Deceive...
At dawn on 15 February, both the British and French forces raised their colours. Dance hoped to persuade Linois that his ships included some fully armed warships and he therefore ordered the brig Ganges and the four lead ships to hoist blue ensigns, while the rest of the convoy raised red ensigns. By the system of national flags then in use in British ships, this implied that the ships with blue ensigns were warships attached to the squadron of Admiral Rainier, while the others were merchant ships under their protection. Dance was unknowingly assisted by the information that had reached Linois at Batavia, which claimed that there were 23 merchant ships and the brig in the convoy. Dance had collected six additional ships during his journey, and the identity of these were unknown to the French, who assumed that at least some of the unidentified vessels must be warships, particularly as several vessels had been recently painted at Canton to resemble ships of the line.
At 09:00 Linois was still only observing the convoy, reluctant to attack until he could be sure of the nature of his opponents. Dance responded to the reprieve by reforming the line of battle into sailing formation to increase his convoy’s speed with the intention of reaching the Straits ahead of Linois.
With the convoy a less intimidating target, Linois began to slowly approach the British ships. By 13:00 it was clear that Linois's faster ships were in danger of isolating the rear of the convoy, and Dance ordered his lead ships to tack and come about, so that they would cross in front of the French squadron. The British successfully executed the manoeuvre, and at 13:15 Linois opened fire on the lead ship, Royal George, under the command of John Fam Timmins.
The Royal George and the next four ships in line, the Indiaman Ganges, Dance's Earl Camden, the Warley and the Alfred, all returned the fire, Ganges initially attacking the Royal George in error. Captain James Prendergrass in Hope, the next in line, was so eager to join the battle that he misjudged his speed and collided with Warley, the ships falling back as their crews worked to separate their rigging. Shots were then exchanged at long range for 43 minutes, neither side inflicting severe damage.

Royal George had one man killed: a sailor named Hugh Watt, another man wounded, and suffered some damage to her hull. None of the other British ships or any of the French reported anything worse than superficial damage in the engagement.
At 14:00, Linois abandoned the action and ordered his squadron to haul away with the wind and sail eastwards, away from the convoy, under all sail. Determined to maintain the pretence of the presence of warships, Dance ordered the ships flying naval ensigns, including his flagship Earl Camden, to chase the French. None of the merchant ships could match the French speed, but an attempt at a chase would hopefully dissuade the French from returning.
For two hours, Dance's squadron followed Linois, Hope coming close to catching Aventurier but ultimately unable to overtake the brig. At 16:00, Dance decided to gather his scattered ships and return to his former heading rather than risk attack from other raiders or lose sight of his convoy in the darkness. By 20:00, the entire British convoy had anchored at the entrance to the Straits of Malacca. On 28 February the British ships of the line HMS Sceptre and HMS Albion joined them in the Strait and convoyed them safely to Saint Helena in the South Atlantic, from where the convoy returned to Britain without further incident.
The attitude and conduct of the French Admiral is telling as an example of how not to fight war at sea.
The French admiral later attempted to explain his conduct during the engagement:
The ships which had tacked rejoined those which were engaging us, and three of the engaging ships manoeuvred to double our rear, while the remainder of the fleet, crowding sail and bearing up, evinced an intention to surround us. By this manoeuvre the enemy would have rendered my situation very dangerous. The superiority of his force was ascertained, and I had no longer to deliberate on the part I should take to avoid the consequence of an unequal engagement: profiting by the smoke, I hauled up to port, and steering east-north-east, I increased by distance from the enemy, who continued the pursuit of the squadron for three hours, discharging at it several broadsides.
—Linois, quoted in translation in William James' The Naval History of Great Britain during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, Volume 3, 1827,
That is pathetic.

To end this FbF on a positive note - let's go back to Commodore Dance. Good leaders always are humble and thankful.

Placed, by the adventitious circumstances of seniority of service and absence of convoy, in the chief command of the fleet intrusted to my care, it has been my good fortune to have been enabled, by the firmness of those by whom I was supported, to perform my trust not only with fidelity, but without loss to my employers. Public opinion and public rewards have already far outrun my deserts; and I cannot but be sensible that the liberal spirit of my generous countrymen has measured what they are pleased to term their grateful sense of my conduct, rather by the particular utility of the exploit, than by any individual merit I can claim.
Class act.

First posted DEC09

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Diversity Thursday

If this weren't such a serious topic, I'd have more fun with it ... but my humor leans dark, so why not?

It is important on some DivThu that we have time to enjoy a good chortle. Of course, being that it is DivThu, there are certain thematic requirements and a need for a leavening agent of schadenfreude.

As we all know, from your command website to the composition of the USNA Color Guard, the Navy's branch of the Diversity Industry is obsessed with optics. They want pictures to be "diverse" even though they may have absolutely zero reflection of the demographics of the topic at hand.

Does not matter ... it is all about the optics and counting each face so that you have the "correct" type of jellybeans in the visual.

As we all know, they can go overboard. The best are when they are at a command that is 75% "white male" and yet, "white males" are only in 20% of the pictures.

Good times ... good times ... but the Commissar is happy.

How does this get to a point of humor besides the usual photo asshattery? Here's an example. 

I think the Diversity Bullies lost the bubble a bit.

As Admiral Mullen and Roughead insisted, and their politics maintain their inertia today, I have to take diversity in to consideration in everything I do. So what does diversity have to tell us about domestic violence? 

Let's see what our GMT is messaging to us.

So, what you're saying here is that domestic violence isn't a problem with European heterosexual couples?

OK. Good to know.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Why the Third Offset Should Not be First in Your Hearts

If you've heard it once in the last year, you've heard it a thousand times.

Third Offset.

There is a good argument against it over at USNIBlog.

Stop by and give it a read.