This Week’s Book Review – Seapower States

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

How maritime culture affected historical events

By MARK LARDAS

Dec 4, 2018

“Seapower States: Maritime Culture, Continental Empires, and the Conflict that Made the Modern World,” by Andrew Lambert, Yale University Press, 2018, 424 pages, $30

Free markets and representative government combined to create unprecedented wealth since 1800. During the 20th century, three major conflicts were won by the coalition better representing those two traits.

“Seapower States: Maritime Culture, Continental Empires, and the Conflict that Made the Modern World,” by Andrew Lambert examines the roles maritime cultures play fostering progress. Lambert holds that nations depending on seapower must necessarily favor free trade and possess representative governments.

He examines five nations that became world powers through embracing maritime culture and seapower: Athens, Carthage, Venice, the Netherlands, and Britain. All five gained power through trade — and more importantly, exchange of ideas. He argues they achieved this because all five had decentralized, representative governments made up of people whose livelihood depended on trade. This allowed the best ideas and the best leaders to rise to the top.

He also examines the major rivals of each state — continental powers favoring a strong central government with a command economy set by that government: Persia and Sparta against Athens, Rome against Carthage, Imperial (and later Revolutionary) France against Venice, the Netherlands, and Britain. He explores the wars fought between the rival piers and what led to victory or defeat in each case.

Lambert differentiates between seapower (controlling the sea and trade on it) and naval power (possessing a strong navy). Continental powers can build and sustain strong navies (as did Rome and Russia in examples given in his book) and even defeat seapowers with their navies. But while seapowers use their navies to protect trade, continental powers use their navies to project land power. Rome invaded Africa, and Russia used its fleets to flank Sweden and the Ottomans.

He also examines sea states, nations which developed seapower, but didn’t become dominating nations. These include the ancient Phoenician cities of the Levant coast, Rhodes, and Genoa.

Lambert argues what makes seapower states dangerous to continental states is they foster innovation. This is destabilizing, as new technologies often undermine the authority of central governments. “Seapower States” offers insight into the direction the modern world may take due to tensions between liberty and centralization.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.


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Do Something !

This has become a familiar problem in politics. At the moment that any news item comes along, media hacks want to be able to report on what reactions and consequences will result from the item. Politicians become immediately anxious to influence any outcomes in a direction favorable to them. Pundits have to have something clever or ponderous to say about everything. And, if it is international, all eyes are on the President to see how he will respond.

No; I am not about to talk about President Trump. I am thinking about President George Herbert Walker Bush. The memorial chatter in observance of his death has got me irked. He is rightfully being remembered as the great statesman who presided over the collapse of the Soviet Union. But he was called “gracious” and “statesman” and “reserved” in ways to deliberately contrast with President Trump, in hopes of making President Trump look bad by comparison. That was a very different time with very different circumstances. Current motives for lauding President G.H.W. Bush are transparent.

Now there is a spate of “he was actually horrible” reaction pieces. Here is an example of the c**p I mean:

Especially compared with current occupant of the Oval Office, George H. W. Bush was a dignified figure who served his country steadfastly in war and peace. He represented a center-right, internationalist strain of Republicanism that barely exists today. But it doesn’t make sense to canonize him.

Steadfast

I remember the G.H.W. Bush Administration days. I recall all the histrionics over the open discontent coming from behind the Iron Curtain, which was building because Mikhail Gorbachev was holding steady on his course of “Glasnost,” which was translated as “Openness.” I also recall mass media giving voice to lots of chatterers who were urging President Bush to “do something!” These were counterposed with chatterers expressing high anxiety about things going badly wrong if he did the wrong something. There was a huge debate raging over just what America should do to take advantage of the situation.

President G.H.W.B. was the right man for this circumstance. He was a cold warrior, well-acquainted with all the players, including China. He was well known by most world leaders. Nobody thought he would act rashly, and he was circumspect. In this case, by “circumspect” I do not mean to say that he was risk-averse, but, rather that he exhibited a pattern of careful and well-informed decisionmaking: “a careful consideration of all circumstances and a desire to avoid mistakes and bad consequences.”

There was a great storm of confusion and loud voices urging all sorts of action, and all sorts of fearmongering about what America might do to exploit the situation. President G.H.W.B. started calling heads of state, beginning with Gorbachev and proceeding all the way down the roster. This was something he had been doing all through 1989, since the unrest in the Eastern Bloc presaged the unrest in Russia. I recall some Important People predicting that, just as Luis XIV’s reforms let the pressure off just enough for the French cauldron to boil over in 1789, so Russia would explode in a massive bloodletting, and that the unrest would be a great opportunity for America to exploit.

Bush was calling to reassure everyone that America would not act rashly nor aggressively, and, if assistance was wanted, would help the Russian people to back away from generations of Communist rule, and that he looked forward to embracing his Russian friends as free partners on the world stage. The central message was that President G.H.W. Bush intended to do nothing, and allow the Russians and their client Soviet partners readjust their internal affairs without American meddling. This had been his consistent message to Gorbachev all through 1989.

You are probably familiar with several aphorisms to the effect of, ‘when things are going in a good direction, don’t get in the way.’ But that is really hard do; to refrain from acting when there is a daily clamor for you to act.

President Bush was faulted for inaction, called a “dumb lucky bystander,” trashed daily in the press. He was even called “a wimp;” which is a stunning description of a man who earned the Distinguished Flying Cross while piloting 58 torpedo bomber missions from the deck of an aircraft carrier.

Media shenanigans

You have to remember that this was back in the days of Leftist mass media hegemony. There were only the three alphabet networks, Public Broadcasting, and a brand-new little-known phenomenon, a cable channel dedicated to full time news broadcasting. CNN was new and was just one of 100 cable channels competing for attention in the relatively new world of cable. The only conservative publications were Commentary and National Review, both with miniscule circulation then as now. The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal was the only widespread source of conservative thought in America. The New York Times and the Washington Post dominated the national conversation, much more back then than now.

There was little in the way of talk radio. Rush Limbaugh had started in 1988 with 56 stations, the year after the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, and was barely on over 100 stations at the time. (Otherwise, talk radio was mostly local, interviewing local commissioners and municipal department heads, or discussing health issues with a local doctor, or national shows that talked about music and Hollywood celebrities.) The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine allowed the major media organizations to quit maintaining a balance of “liberal” (Leftist) commentary and conservative commentary.

So media was a Leftist project, but most Americans did not recognize just how far left it had become. This allowed President Bush to be slandered daily with little in the way of countervailing defense. There were still a hundred or so conservative daily papers in those days, but they were overwhelmed by the flood of Leftist ink and Leftist broadcasting.

President G.H.W. Bush had his defenders, including the most stalwart Bob Dole. But on the national scene, he was holding steady, reassuring the world most evenings by telephone to encourage everyone to simply let the Soviet system collapse without meddling, and not to worry about all the fearmongering from the press. When the Berlin Wall fell, there was a new round of fearmongering about American meddling, which kept G.H.W.B busy soothing political anxieties around the globe in early-early morning or very late-night phone calls.

By the time of the 1992 campaign, the Soviet Union had collapsed, with total casualties less than a hundred, not millions. Boris Yeltsin had been leading the new Russian Federation for a year, and the whole subject was considered “old news” as far as American mass media was concerned.

Steadfast

Saddam Hussein miscalculated badly. He mistook American inaction during a clear moment of opportunity to be an indication of American weakness and of President Bush’s personal weakness. He invaded Kuwait, which he had wanted for a very very long time. His minions treated Kuwaitis badly. News of atrocities, and refugees, slipped out of Kuwait.

The ruling family of Kuwait had an important personal friend in George H.W. Bush; they had had warm acquaintances for many years. He told Saddam Hussein to leave Kuwait or else. Then, to back up his threat, he requested that the Pentagon get to work in earnest on war plans.

But the situation was complicated by the fact that there was no Soviet counterbalance to American power, and the Europeans were going nuts about American cowboys swaggering around the world and breaking things. There was all sorts of Congressional carping about how G.H.W. Bush would lead us into a disaster. So, President Bush decided to act as the leader of a group, and then patiently pulled together a coalition. Several (seemingly) important international members decided to play coy, and so President Bush agreed not to invade Iraq, but instead to go only so far as was needed to liberate Kuwait.

He kept his promise. Even though it was clear to everyone that what would be best would be to move on in to Baghdad, President Bush kept his promise.

Steadfast

There were some really interesting economic changes in the 1980s. The one we best remember is the Reagan tax cut. But there was a stock market crash in 1987, and a slo-mo disaster among savings&loans that began with a high profile bankruptcy in 1985, then progressed through a number of bankruptcies until Charles Keating’s Lincoln Savings went bankrupt in 1989. The deregulation of savings&loans under Carter ended with new regulations in 1990. That was accompanied in a budget deal in which the Democrats had forced President Bush to accept a deal that modestly raised taxes, famously breaking his “no new taxes” pledge from the 1988 campaign. The American economy stalled into a mild recession in 1990.

President G.H.W. Bush huddled with his economic team, and decided that the fundamentals of the American economy were sound and that things were sorting out smoothly. He decided that the best approach was to do nothing and let the power of American enterprise work things out.

Of course, mass media was full of chattering about how awful the Bush economy was and how out of touch Bush was because he was spending all his time palling around with his international friends.

The campaign began in earnest in the fall of 1991, with America still technically in recession, but with signs of recovery all around. Democratic candidates all agreed that America needed a huge jobs bill to “put America back to work.” The most robust counterpoint to that was from Ross Perot, who was spending his own millions to put the budget deficit and the national debt into the national conversation.

The campaign of 1992 was really ugly if you were paying attention. Pat Buchanan ran a strong primary challenge in which he decried the national debt, trying to leverage some of Ross Perot’s work.

Bill Clinton emerged soon as the favorite Democrat. He had southern charm, a boyish grin, and spoke about being a “New Democrat.” His wife was a career lawyer lady popular among the Planned Parenthood wing. He could carry all those Southern conservative Democrats along with all the Leftist coastal Democrats and the rust belt union states. The pundit class agreed that he had what it would take to unseat an incumbent.

What nobody except Rush Limbaugh was talking about was that mass media was working as an extension of the Democrat campaign.

Media talking heads started saying that Bush was so focused on international events that he did not care about domestic affairs. Their spin was that his energetic and careful restraint on the international front caused him to neglect domestic issues. The recession was blamed on Bush, and the actual causes were ignored. Democrats raised the hue and cry, and mass media amplified it.

They also reinforced it through dishonest reporting on the economy. They reported every bit of economic news, maintaining a careful accounting. But that is not how Americans learn news. Bad economic news was reported, and good economic news was reported. Then the bad news was repeated, while the good news was shelved. Bad news got talked about, and good news did not get talked about. Reporters asked questions at news conferences about bad news, but not about good news. Chattering shows dwelt on bad news and ignored good news. Editorials focused on bad news and not good news. If much of the American economy is dependent on “consumer confidence,” then the whole economy resisted recovery because consumer confidence was killed by constant media focus on bad economic news.

James Carville famously observed that Clinton’s main message was “it’s the economy, stupid.” This sound bite leveraged the mass media narrative in a way that was condescending and arrogant, which was what made Carville such a good hatchet man.

At every opportunity, at the Convention and all through the fall campaigning, G.H.W. Bush kept saying that all the indicators were that the economy had bottomed out in the early spring of 1992, and that the American economy was robust, things were building up, and that the best thing to do about the economy was to do nothing.

He was ridiculed. He was mocked and and scoffed. He was called “out of touch.” He was called an out-of-touch elitist who never did his own grocery shopping. In an effort to address that, he went grocery shopping, which turned out disastrous when it became clear that he had never seen a checkout scanner in use. He was widely mocked for that, although grocery scanners had only come into widespread use in the past five years. The optics were bad.

And he was too genteel to call out the reporters who rode Air Force One for their poor and unfair journalism. They continued to carry bad economic news to boost Bill Clinton.

And in the third ring of this circus H. Ross Perot stole enough votes away to throw the election.

Clinton Economy ?

George H. W. Bush lost in 1992 and Bill Clinton became president. He had his massive jobs program introduced and passed in the House. It was spiked by Bob Dole in the Senate. Dole killed it so dead that it never was mentioned after that.

Mostly it was forgotten because it was not needed. Other economy-boosting measures introduced by Democrats also died. What happened was that the Fed kept interest rates low, and that was all that was needed for the American economy to recover. It was more than a recovery. It was a booming economy.

So, what Bill Clinton actually did for the economy was to do nothing, because Bob Dole prevented him from doing the stupid stuff he had promised while campaigning. He even won reelection in 1996 on the basis of his wonderful economic performance.

Bill Clinton and the Democrat-Media Complex are still taking bows for the wonderful economy of the 1990s. Nobody ever observes that it was G.H.W. Bush’s (and Bob Dole’s and Ronald Reagan’s) economy and economic policy that initiated it and provided room for American ingenuity to flourish.

Economists’ Assessment

In the July reports on the first half of 1993 a report came out that said that the economy was great, all indicators were up, and things looked really rosy.

What went unreported was a little paragraph in which it was noted that the bottom of the recession had been reached in March of the previous year.

What G.H.W.B. had been saying about the economy was exactly true. But Americans were never told that.


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This Week’s Book Review – Smoke ‘Em if You got ‘Em

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

‘Smoke ’em’ shows military’s role in masculine rite

By MARK LARDAS

Nov 27, 2018

“Smoke ‘em if You Got ‘em: The Rise and Fall of the Military Cigarette Ration,” by Joel R. Bius, Naval Institute Press, 2018, 328 pages, $39.95

Anyone serving in the U.S. military before 1980 remembers the cry opening every break: “Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.” Almost everyone, from the lowest private to the most senior officer present, would light up a cigarette.

“Smoke ‘em if You Got ‘em: The Rise and Fall of the Military Cigarette Ration,” by Joel R. Bius examines the link between the military and cigarette smoking. He shows how cigarette consumption and the military were connected.

In 1900 cigarettes were a surprisingly small fraction of tobacco consumption. Around 7 percent of all tobacco products were retailed in the form of cigarettes. Cigarette smoking was viewed as unmanly and un-American.

World War I changed that. Nicotine proved the American Expeditionary Force’s battlefield drug of choice. Tobacco simultaneously calmed the nerves while increasing alertness. Smoking masked the battlefield’s stench. Although tobacco was known to be bad, its adverse effects were long-term. Meantime, there was a war to win. Organizations like the YMCA freely distributed cigarettes, the most convenient form of smoking tobacco to our boys in the trenches.

The link stuck when the boys returned home. Cigarettes gained the cachet as a man’s vice, linked with battlefield bravery. Bius follows the arc cigarette consumption followed through the century’s middle years. Battlefield use of cigarettes in World War II sealed the image of cigarettes as a masculine activity. By then, the Army issued a cigarette ration and subsidized smokes at the PX. Use hit a peak after World War II years when 80 percent of men smoked cigarettes.

Despite the 1964 Surgeon General’s warning and government efforts to cut tobacco use thereafter, cigarettes remained popular, even after the military eliminated the cigarette ration in 1972. It took the All-Volunteer Army to break the link between smoking and the military. Containing health care costs led the military to discourage tobacco use. That in turn broke smoking’s image as a masculine activity. Cigarette use plunged; until today, cigarette use is almost back to 1900 levels.

“Smoke ‘em if You Got ‘em” is a fascinating story about the rise and fall of a masculine rite of passage.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.


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Christmas on December 25th

Hey, gang, we are going to celebrate the Festival of the Birth of Jesus on December 25th this year. We are going to join with all Western Christians and all the saints who have gone before us for the past 1900 years and more. Now, probably on a facebook page near you, sometime this Advent season you will see someone telling you how the Christians selected the date of December 25th by appropriating the date of a Pagan festival. That is a crock, and an anti-Christian slander, and this article is to explain why.

    Most of you plain don’t care whether Christians appropriated a Pagan date. This is the typical reaction from Christians. We don’t really think that there is anything special about the date, it is just the traditional time for an annual celebration of the Nativity miracle. And, since we believe that mankind is corrupted by sin, and because we are all aware that church leaders have let us down on many occasions, we do not find this tale to be particularly troubling, and it sounds believable. So, Christians are generally not disconcerted by this tale, and we generally accept it without question.

Unfortunately, this is the sort of deference on the part of Christians that allows anti-Christian falsehoods to proliferate. Many Christians, such as G.K. Chesterton, accepted this tale as true. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia entry for Christmas (which was written in 1908) mentions this theory with the remark that it is “plausible.” Lots and lots of Christians have simply accepted this anti-Christian falsehood, mostly because it is considered an unimportant detail.

There is much to say regarding this anti-Christian slander, so I will provide some long-winded information and some links for anyone who is interested, or who is cornered by someone who finds this particular assault on the traditional Christmas story to be troubling.

Appropriation theory

Anti-Christians have said that the date of December 25th was deliberately picked to coincide with a Roman Pagan celebration. There are several versions, but here are the two most popular ones: one says that it co-opted a solstice celebration, just getting the date off by a couple of days, and the other says it was to co-opt a festival for Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun god). Both versions are falsehoods that keep going around on the internet.

First, neither the Greeks nor the Romans had a solstice festival before Sol Invictus. Sometimes I have seen anti-Christians on the internet raise the fact that other Pagans definitely did, but that does not hold up. There is no evidence that early Christians were in the business of co-opting dates or practices from the surrounding Greek Pagan culture (they opposed it in many ways), and, even if they were, they certainly would not have gone about picking dates from some far-away Pagan culture.

The second version also fails, on the basis that the Sol Invictus festival was initiated long after the Christians had agreed that December 25th is the most likely date for the Nativity. The Christians arrived at the December 25th date by completely independent reasoning that had nothing to do with any December events.

Mea culpa

The Sol Invictus theory was a speculation by a 12th-century writer, and it was accepted by Christians and non-Christians alike as possible and plausible; in those days it was extremely difficult to access the sort of historical records that would have shed light on this theory. This theory was reported later as fact by a Protestant who was using it as a smear against the Roman Catholic Church. It was spread by anti-Catholic Protestants. It has been picked up and used since the Enlightenment by anti-Christians of all sorts, and it gets spread today on the worldwide web by many who seek to undermine the teachings and traditions of orthodox Christians, both Catholic and Protestant.

Early Christian thinking

The Christians of the second century discussed the likely dates for several events in the life of Jesus, in the absence of precise dating in the Gospels. The matter that got the most discussion was the time of the Crucifixion, which was important for dating the Easter festival that commemorates the Resurrection. They were looking to establish the most appropriate date for this important feast, and were employing a Jewish tradition that held that prophets died on the same date that they were either born or conceived.

The short version of the reasoning is: that before John the Baptist was born, when his father Zechariah received his vision, he was serving in the Temple. From Luke chapter 1:

Now while [Zechariah] was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. …

18 And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” 21  And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22  And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. 23 And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

The early Christians reasoned that if Zechariah could not be looked in on, then he must have been in the Most Holy Place, behind the veil, and so the event must have occurred during the annual festival of the Day of Atonement, which takes place in September. This was corroborated by a separate line of reasoning that was based on the rotation of the priests, and informed by a comment found in Josephus to backtrack and learn that Zechariah’s division of priests was serving in September.

If Elizabeth conceived John in September, then it would have been March when Mary conceived Jesus:

26 In the sixth month [of Elizabeth’s pregnancy] the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”

They set the Feast of the Annunciation as March 25. Nine months later is December 25. This was established long before the first Feast of Sol Invictus. Clement of Alexandria wrote about it near the year 200 AD, as did Hippolytus of Rome. It appears from their writings that the date had been established prior to their day. Sol Invictus was first decreed by Emperor Aurelian in 274 AD.

Summary

Here is an excerpt from an article by William Tighe:

Thus, December 25th as the date of the Christ’s birth appears to owe nothing whatsoever to pagan influences upon the practice of the Church during or after Constantine’s time. It is wholly unlikely to have been the actual date of Christ’s birth, but it arose entirely from the efforts of early Latin Christians to determine the historical date of Christ’s death.

And the pagan feast which the Emperor Aurelian instituted on that date in the year 274 was not only an effort to use the winter solstice to make a political statement, but also almost certainly an attempt to give a pagan significance to a date already of importance to Roman Christians.


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The Theory of Dark Suckers

10 Cents and I were discussing light bulbs on the late night phone call. And it brought to mind an old piece of text explaining why we should not call them light bulbs, but rather “dark suckers”. I have not the time to convert this old text to incorporate the newer LED type of dark suckers, but here it is in the older format.

Enjoy. Continue reading “The Theory of Dark Suckers”


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A must see: The Ingraham Angle

IMHO; it ain’t only the Clintons…  Desperate Obama wants credit for Trump economy. (No surprise there, I never trusted that man. I took an oath to respect the office of the president, I did and I will respect the office, But I could never respect that man that held that office for those turbulent eight years.)

Continue reading “A must see: The Ingraham Angle”


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This Week’s Book Review – The Story of Greece and Rome

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

‘The Story of Greece and Rome’ an entertaining history lesson

By MARK LARDAS

Nov 20, 2018

“The Story of Greece and Rome,” by Tony Spawforth, Yale University Press, 2018, 392 pages $30

Modern western civilization sits atop a foundation built by the ancient Greeks and Romans. How much do you know of these civilizations?

“The Story of Greece and Rome,” by Tony Spawforth offers a short, one-volume introduction to ancient Greece and Rome.

Spawforth starts at the beginning and carries the story to the present. He opens at the dawn of Greek history, and shows the influence these civilizations continue to have today.

The book starts by examining ancient Minoan and Mycenaean societies. Spawforth shows how they grew from societies into civilizations. This includes examination of how they gained, lost, and regained literacy, as well as the development of political systems and art forms.

He also shows how as Greek civilization grew, it impinged on neighbors to the west, east, and south. This includes showing how they borrowed from neighboring civilizations and fought with them. This section includes the conflict between Sparta and Athens, and how these two city-states eventually involved their neighbors.

This included the Macedonians, who eventually swallowed the Greek peninsula, the surrounding civilizations south and east (including Egypt and Persia) and then thrust east into modern Afghanistan and India. He also shows the results of the Macedonian empire fracturing after Alexander the Great’s death.

As Alexander is moving east, a new civilization was developing in the Italian peninsula: Rome. Spawforth presents the emergence of Rome and its struggles with its Etruscan, Greek, and Carthaginian neighbors. He also presents a factor allowing them to gain power – the willingness to let outsiders become Roman citizens. It was a previously untried innovation, and proved decisive.

Chapters follow showing Rome’s growth to regional domination. More importantly, he shows how Rome borrowed from Greece, and how Rome “Romanized” its territories. Rome’s arts, engineering and culture became fused with Greece.

Spawforth, emeritus professor of ancient history at Newcastle University (UK), presents the story in engaging language, mixing history with his personal experiences over the course of his career. His tales illuminate the historical discussion, humanizing the discussion.

“The Story of Greece and Rome” is entertaining and informative. Although short, it offers a succinct concentration of information.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.


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The Impact of Immigration

Here is a chart of the absolute number of immigrants admitted to the United States as permanent residents for the years 1820–2017 according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Yearbook of Immigration Statistics 2017.  (Click on these charts to expand to full resolution.)

U.S. Immigration: 1820–2017

I’m sure you’ve seen a chart like this before, which shows a series of waves of immigration punctuated by gaps due to insurrections, changes in policy, economic crises, and wars which allowed assimilation of immigrants and their offspring.

But one might argue that the impact of immigration on a society doesn’t depend so much upon the absolute numbers of immigrants as the fraction of immigrants admitted compared to the existing (presumed largely assimilated) population.

To explore this, I downloaded U.S. Census data for the U.S. population between the years 1820 and 2017 and, since these data are only available at ten year intervals, performed a linear interpolation between the decadal census data.  (It might have been better to use a power law model, but why complicate things?)  I then divided the immigration data by the extrapolated population to obtain the fraction of the existing population who were admitted as permanent resident immigrants in each year, expressed as a percentage of the population that year.

Immigration: Immigrants as a fraction of population

This is a very different picture.  There are clearly two different epochs.  In the first, between 1820 and 1930, the U.S. was “filling up the empty country” by admitting large numbers of immigrants.  Then, due to immigration restrictions in the Immigration Act of 1924 and the subsequent economic depression and war, immigration remained at low levels until 1946 when, in the immediate postwar period, it jumped.  In this view, the impact of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was not the discontinuous change some present it as (at least in terms of absolute numbers; it may have changed the composition of the immigrant population, which is not captured in these statistics).

Instead, the trend established after 1946 continued to rise continuously until 1989–1991 when it went all whacko.  These numbers, as a fraction of the population, haven’t been seen 1923 or since.  If you take out those crazy years, the overall trend of immigration as a fraction of the existing population continues to rise almost linearly since 1946.

As you may have observed, my essays are heavy on numbers and light on interpretation.  But I must ask, “Why?”

Why do the United States need more people?

Between the founding of the country and the closing of the frontier in 1912, the population was less than 95 million.  With a population of 142 million in 1945, the U.S. contributed mightily to the defeat of fascism in World War II.  With a population of 201 million in 1969, it landed two of its citizens on the Moon.  With a population of 252 million in 1991, it saw out the Soviet Union, ending the Cold War.  Its population is now around 323 million.  How many more does it need?  And where will it find immigrants who are better equipped to build its future than the people already within its borders?

Will the U.S. be richer, more powerful, and more influential on the world stage if, in 2050, its population is 500 million?  Will this be the case if a large fraction of that population consists of immigrants from countries with no history of self-governance or institutions of education?

You can download the raw data and chart definitions used to compose this post (radical transparency!) from this archive as a LibreOffice ODS file.

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Do Video Productions Give Flickering Insight into Modern Russia?

My wife, a great video fan, largely selects our programming from among DirecTV (soon to be shed due to high cost and emerging streaming alternatives), Netflix and Prime Video. For years, BBC has been a go-to source, usually via Prime. Alas, she is someone who usually multi-tasks with her laptop while watching TV, which has ruled out watching foreign language videos with English subtitles. Until about a week ago…

…when she discovered several Russian language video series, which came as an enormous surprise. Each consists of 8 – 10 episodes of around 50 minutes. First came Ekaterina: The Rise of Catherine the Great. Then we watched Rasputin. We are now into Sophia – the story Sophia Palaiologina, daughter of the brother of the last Byzantine emperor, who had been defeated by Ottoman Turks. Sophia was taken under Papal protection to Rome, where she was raised (ostensibly Catholic despite her having been Eastern Orthodox as a young child) and later offered by Pope Sixtus IV in marriage to Ivan III of Muscovy. This was a cynical attempt to capture the Orthodox Prince to Roman Catholicism, and much intrigue is on display in several dimensions.

All of which is outside the impressions I want to share here. When critiquing literature, we are used to reading “between the lines” as to the author and his/her times and culture. Here, I want to inquire as to the validity of searching “between the frames,” so to speak, of this near-infinite series of still images which combine through the human brain’s fortunate perceptual error, into often-stunning moving images. And they are indeed ‘moving’ in both senses of that word. What, then, can be inferred about the film’s creators and the country in which such movies are produced?

These are not your father’s Russian (or particularly Soviet) movies, and I found myself needing to challenge my own biases  (starting while I was still watching) when reflecting upon what these truly excellent productions imply about modern Russia. Had these videos emerged from my TV in English, I would have taken them for top-notch Hollywood productions, lacking only the coarse language, gratuitous nudity/sex, and wall-to-wall decadence. A certain forthrightness and innocence characteristic of pre-modern American filmmaking pervades these productions. They come from a place of quiet restraint and decency; they show nothing but respect for the majority Orthodox faith.

Technically, every component of film I can identify is extremely well-done. The story lines are credible and engaging, the characters, similarly, exude depth and texture written in screenplay fashion which is altogether polished, believable and professional. The settings are often breathtaking – some in recognizable lush historical places and buildings – all  perfectly restored. More rustic scenes show structures appropriate for the times. Costumes and implements (like weapons) in every one of these productions are unusually magnificent; fabrics are especially prominent and sumptuous.

The acting – across the board – is nothing short of superb, award-winning in its own right (and not even slightly dependent upon the actors’ having displayed the de rigeur political views du jour). The actress portraying Catherine the Great, Marina Aleksandrova was particularly striking and effective (although I cannot rule out some testosterone-weighted impression of her [pardon me while I catch my breath]). Other characters, even those evoking no humoral response in this writer, from major to minor, are uniformly excellent. The English subtitles are generally very good translations, with a few lapses in the form of modern colloquialisms inappropriate to the period.

These productions invoke in me a strong sense that the creators are intensely interested in showing the history of their nation and a desire to do so honestly, accurately and artfully. I believe it portrays a healthy nationalism – of pride in their nation’s emergence and existence – not superiority over anyone (why is nationalism such a dirty word for progressives?). Production generally appears to have taken place in an affluent country. Nowhere, even around the edges, does one see any shoddiness. Rustic homes of ordinary people appear clean and show real craftsmanship in their construction. Cinematography is just superb and scenes requiring computer graphics are every bit as good as what comes out of Hollywood.

Not usually a movie critic, I am surely leaving out many other identifiable aspects of movie-making which are amenable to description and critique. My overall impression of these films, however, has demolished whatever sense I had of Russia as a place somehow not measuring up to our “elevated” standards. I am not sure my inferences are completely valid, but suffice it to say that my opinion of Russia has markedly improved.

George Will used to say that the Soviet Union couldn’t produce poetry; that it was a third-world country with nuclear weapons. I remain unsure as to whether Vladimir Putin is really the dangerous autocrat our establishment and media insist he is. Seeing between the frames of these films this kind of creativity – which is usually upstream of politics – suggests some important, human, esthetic and ethical things are happening in a country which has only recently made itself able to afford these truly opulent productions. Considering where they came from, Russians have made obvious progress in many dimensions. Though they now even purport to possess hypersonic nuclear weapons, no third-world country can produce the poetry of these magnificent productions. 

The opening credits reveal that these films originated from Moskino Productions and, interestingly, state they were supported by the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation. Could it be they are on to something? Maybe the best defense of a nation is maintenance of a coherent, self-respecting, self-restrained culture which knows and values its own history. By way of contrast, when people ask why I no longer attend Hollywood movies, I tell them I refuse to pay money to go into a dark room only to emerge feeling ashamed to be an American and a member of the human race (oh, how could I forget – now I would also have to be ashamed of my hypo-melaninemia).


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The Spy and the Traitor

This book tells the story of KGB colonel Oleg Gordievsky who spied for the British during the Cold War.  Ames revealed his identity to the Soviets and the British smuggled him to Finland through the Soviet check points in July 1985.  If this story was a novel, no one would believe it.  I highly recommend this book.


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Michael Rectenwald on Postmodernism, Social Justice, and Academic Conformity

Professor Michael Rectenwald of New York University used to describe himself as a “libertarian communist” and spent many years embedded in the leftist milieu of the academy.  He then underwent an awakening to the madness of political correctness, the social justice agenda, and the absurdity of postmodern intersectional critical studies of dozens of genders and began to speak out on Twitter, eventually publishing Springtime for Snowflakes, a book about his experiences and what he learned.

Here is an hour and a half interview of Prof. Rectenwald by Glenn Beck on the latter’s podcast.

This is long, but it provides an in-depth look at the history, intellectual roots, and fundamental errors of the disease which has infected the campuses and is spreading into the larger society.  Say what you want about Glenn Beck, he is a superb interviewer who gets out of the way and lets the guest speak directly to the audience.


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Tracking books

I didn’t want to step on John Walker’s post about citing books in posts, but the image of a barcode in conjunction with identifying books triggered some old memories.

One of the early projects (late 60’s, early 70’s) at my first “real” job was to help build a system which would identify paperback books by optical recognition of the cover.  My company had done several military pattern recognition projects and we were approached by a New Jersey company to build two machines which would recognize paper back book covers.  The customer’s business model was based on the need to sort out the book returns from retailers.  They did not trust the retailer to provide a legitimate count, so the existing system was to ship (by boat) the books to Puerto Rico where cheap labor would do the counting.  The new company would strip the covers off the books and then run them through the machines we were building which would provide an more timely accounting of the different titles returned.  The reason the covers were stripped off was to make handling them easier and the fact that it was more expensive to get the whole books back into circulation at a retailer who would sell them than to just publish new books and ship them.  A side effect was that we could get all the paperbacks we wanted – without covers, of course.

In one of our first meetings to discuss the project, we Engineers (obviously not marketing types) tried to un-sell the recognition project by suggesting they just put a barcode on the books.  We were told in no uncertain terms that “The American public will never put up with a barcode on a retail product”.  (I just checked and the first barcodes were put on Wrigley gum in June of 1974, so they got a couple of years before competition hit)

One thing I learned from that project was that the problem as stated : “recognize paperback book covers” was only part of the real business solution.  After we were done, my mentor left us and went up to New Jersey to work with the customer to tie the recognition system into an accounting and billing system.  There is always a bigger picture.

One other thing about the project was that the book cover scanner was to be built so that the covers were shredded as soon as they were recognized.  They didn’t trust the operators to not feed them through again to pad the count.


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This Week’s Book Review – Inspector Oldfield and the Black Hand Society

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

‘Inspector Oldfield’ explores breaking the Black Hand

By MARK LARDAS

Oct 24, 2018

“Inspector Oldfield and the Black Hand Society: America’s Original Gangsters and the U.S. Postal Detective who Brought them to Justice,” by William Oldfield and Victoria Bruce, Touchstone, 2018, 336 pages, $26

Before the 1920s, the United States had little way to combat interstate crime. In some states law enforcement was purely local. Leave a city or county for the next one and you left the law behind. It was a perfect environment in which organized crime could grow — and organized crime existed before the 20th century, even in the United States.

“Inspector Oldfield and the Black Hand Society: America’s Original Gangsters and the U.S. Postal Detective who Brought them to Justice,” by William Oldfield and Victoria Bruce tells the tale of one of the federal government’s first attack on organized crime.

The Black Hand was a Sicilian crime syndicate that moved to the United States. It was unsophisticated; a protection racket. It blackmailed other Italian immigrants threatening victims with death if they failed to pay the demanded money, failed to do what the gang wanted (generally forwarding blackmail letters, but including joining), or if they reported the threats to the police.

It was astonishingly effective. Their targets, honest and successful Italian-American businessmen or professionals, mistrusted the local police. Gang members were ruthless, willing to kill anyone refusing their demands to make them examples. They shrouded their activities with anonymity, sending threats by mail and collecting through cutouts. Local law enforcement was not up to solving these crimes.

One of the few federal law agencies at that time was the U.S. Post Office. Any crimes involving the mails could be investigated by Post Office Inspectors. In 1899, Frank Oldfield was one — the 156th inspector appointed.

Oldfield loved solving crimes; the more spectacular the better. After learning of this blackmail scheme, which used the U.S. mails, he wanted to break it. It was the biggest crime he had encountered. This book explores how he went after and dismantled the Black Hand.

The book is co-written by one of Oldfield’s descendants who inherited his great-grandfather’s surviving records. The result is a fascinating and fast-paced story, revealing a complex and unorthodox man’s strengths and weaknesses. “Inspector Oldfield and the Black Hand Society” explores one of the take-downs of organized crime by the federal government.

 Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.


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On the Jews

I am currently reading Walter Russell Mead’s book God and Gold, subtitled Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World.  In this book, he discusses the role of religion as one of the forces in the making of the Western Enlightenment societies we have today.  He says this about the Jews in today’s world:

Apart from the significance of Jewish experience to Jews, the survival of the Jews into modern times serves for billions of non-Jews as a kind of historical proof that the God of Abraham is powerful and real.  God told Abraham that he would have descendants who would remember his name–and lo! there they are.  That this unique people, returning almost miraculously against all probability to the land God promised Abraham would support his descendants, is a kind of bone in the throat of the world–a people and a state that can neither be spat out nor swallowed, unable to find rest at “home” or in exile–only further shows billions of Abrahamic believers just how powerful the narrative (or the God) remains after all these millennia.  That world history remains convulsed by the struggles of the Jews to make a home, and that their ethical and military successes and failures reverberate to the ends of the earth, further reinforces the most powerful cultural force that human beings know.

I just love his phrase about the “bone in the throat of the world”, it just works.  And the paragraph above supports what I have come to think of as the role of the Jewish People in the world.

The Jews are the Conscience of Humanity.  You will know when the human race is well and truly doomed.  When the last Jew is gone.

May the Jewish People live, and thrive, Forever.  Amen

[Originally posted at RushBabe49.com]


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