HMS Dreadnought and Saint Patrick’s Day 2019

As March marches along (pun intended) we must now turn to the pressing issue of this time of year: the dog poop that’s been lying latent on/in the snow since January. Oh, boy…

HMS Dreadnought, 1911 Configuration (Wiki Commons)

The construction of HMS Dreadnought in 1905 was said to have triggered the naval race which drove WWI. While the nature of the historical record makes such claims unknowable–and a matter of opinion–Dreadnought did mark the beginning of the end of surface warship development. First Lord of the Admiralty John (Jackie) A. Fisher’s “all big gun” innovation drove warships to drop their multiplicity of ordnance in favor of a single primary batter and a host of secondaries. It also made them horribly more expensive.

Warships and the facilities to keep them have always been and will always be an expensive method of national defense, but in many cases a necessity. The ships themselves are only the most visible symbols. The dockyards, storehouses, training centers, munitions factories and everything else needed to maintain the ships cost orders of magnitude more than the ships.

But Dreadnought served in a particularly expensive, volatile and innovative period. Fisher felt that a warship’s first duty was to sink other warships. For this reason, he felt that scrimping on main gun armament in favor of smaller guns was a waste of space. Dreadnought carried ten 12-inch main guns in five turrets compared to the Lord Nelson class’s two 12-inch guns. To serve these guns, she was one of the first vessels in the Royal Navy to be built with electrically-operated centralized fire control. This large number of big guns were incentive enough to drive all other major combatants to follow the big-gun philosophy. While building her wasn’t particularly expensive for the time, designing and building entire navies because of that one vessel was–and that’s what happened.

For all the innovation she drove and all the sensation she caused at the time, Dreadnought’s combat record was quite brief–in fact, she never fired a shot at an enemy vessel. Dreadnought was, however, the only battleship to purposefully sink an enemy submarine. On 18 March 1915, German submarine SM U-29 broke the surface immediately ahead of Dreadnought and Dreadnought cut the submarine in two. She spent much of WWI being refitted and repaired, was paid off in 1920 and scrapped. Very little of the ship that drove a hundred others remains.

Saint Patrick’s Day 1984/2019

Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day, commemorated with a parade first in Montreal in 1824 and observed in Canada as far back as 1759. The saint himself was said to have been born in Britain in the 4th century, and who returned to Ireland in the 5th to spread Christianity. He didn’t drive the snakes out: there were never any there.

But St Patrick’s day is noisily celebrated nearly everywhere, from Dublin to Yokohama to the International Space Station, primarily as a pop culture celebration and a reason to get blasted. Having an Irish heritage (my first ancestor in the New World was transported from Ireland to Jamestown in 1611) I can recall doing this more than once after I turned 18, and I can recall more than one St Patrick’s Day Blizzard growing up in Michigan.

On 17 March 1984, however, this scrivener and his bride Evelyne tied the knot in Waukesha, Wisconsin (see above). It was a sort of a compromise date. My step-brother was dying of cancer in Detroit at the time, and my step-father and my mother were shuttling back and forth between Michigan and where they lived in Florida, so I wanted to catch him on an up-cycle, and the date that became convenient was 17 March, a Saturday. It didn’t snow much that day, but it has snowed often enough on St Patrick’s Day since to make each anniversary memorable. And we’ve spent all of them together.

But five years ago today, on 18 March 2013, I had my C-3 through C-7 vertebra fused together. Didn’t snow that day, either, but it snowed a week later. I was in a brace and couldn’t do anything about it…but there it was.

So yesterday was our 35th wedding anniversary. Happy day, honey. I know you won’t read this, but I’d do it again, over and over. Love you!

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Spanish Flu begins and Pi Day

In the late winter of 1917, a handful of Indo-Chinese laborers crossing the US on their way to France stopped in Haskell County, Kansas for at least three days. They had limited contact with any local Americans, and what contacts there were, were casual at most. On the morning of 11 March 1918, Albert Martin Gitchell reported to sick call at Camp Funston, Kansas (on the site of the modern Fort Reilly). He complained of a high fever, aches and pains, and a cough. Usually, this would have meant isolation in a sick ward (which was done), but Gitchell was a cook, who had been serving food as late as the night before. By noon there were 107 influenza patients; in a week, over 500. By April, over 1,000. Even this would have been unremarkable if 46 hadn’t died–horribly, coughing lung matter out in their final moments, blue-in-the-face.

Red Cross in Detroit, Michigan during the Pandemic: Author’s grandmother third from right in white. Grampa got the flu but survived; Gramma’s hair turned white

What no one appreciated just then was that this H1N5 strain of influenza (so-called for the proteins in the outer shell of the virus) might have started as early as 1916 in Britain or France–to this day it is unclear. There were no centralized reporting mechanisms then, no CDC or WHO that anyone could recognize as such. Modern researchers believe that this strain of influenza may have been a close genetic match to the 1898 influenza, a milder form that swept the globe starting in China (as the flu always does) from October 1898 to March of 1899–flu season. It seems likely that the Vietnamese laborers carried the virulent Asian bug into Kansas, where it crossed with another strain, though the truth is unknowable.

What was remarkable about it wasn’t the “knock-me-down fever” that the flu was called, but that so many (proportionately) died, and not the elderly, infirm or very young who were usually flu fatalities. These were young people, healthy and in a prime state. Four deaths would have been odd, but 46 such horrible deaths was downright alarming. But the war came first, and the survivors–many still weak from the experience–shipped out in April and May for France, on slow-moving trains that stopped a dozen times before they reached whatever port they departed from–and spread the flu as they went.

At the time, medicine was in a state of transition. The only widely accepted vaccine was for smallpox; there were no antibiotics; there were still physicians whose medical training took about four months and did not involve looking at a cadaver. This bug spread from town to town, state to state, country to country. By June it had spread to most of the ports of debarkation and exploded worldwide. The Wilson administration was aware of the pandemic but forbade widespread news coverage of it because it would have been bad for morale. The British and French, Italians and everyone else had similar reasons for not covering it as the bodies stacked up in the morgues, ships arrived in port with bloody flux all over the decks and dead in the hundreds. For this reason, the only major European power that covered this plague in their mass media–the newspapers–was Spain, and that’s how it came to be known as the Spanish Flu.

This flu hit the sufferers suddenly and often violently. Caregivers came to know which sufferers were going to survive and which would not within the first few hours the symptoms presented. Extreme sufferers (about 20%) turned blue, cracked their ribs coughing, spewed black fluids from their mouth and nose, and died in hours..sometimes minutes. There was no treatment save codeine for their cough, and it hit those between the ages of 20 and 40 the hardest. Post-mortems showed the extreme sufferers were drowned in the detritus of their own immune systems that attacked the invading virus so vigorously that it killed their hosts. In milder forms, the affected simply weakened and died (40%) within days. The mildly afflicted–the lucky or strong 40%–suffered from a malaise that often lasted for years, sometimes for the rest of their lives.

By the second week in November 1918–when the War to End All Wars was ending–leading clinicians in the US and Britain, Russia (where the Revolution came to a brief halt) and even Japan were calculating the end of the human race. Most gave humanity perhaps six months to live. Many believed it had to be a new plague…a resurrected, reconstituted Black Death.

The American Army’s fatality roles 1917-18 were doubled by influenza. Large cities like Detroit and Chicago, Paris and London monitored traffic and imposed quarantines; rural communities and isolated islands stopped traffic altogether, frequently at gunpoint. A streetcar in Johannesburg loaded with passengers and departed a stop and five blocks later unloaded all of the 21 passengers and the conductor–dead. Children deprived of their caregivers starved to death, especially in urban areas. Funeral directors ran out of coffins and embalming fluids, which combined with shortages of gravediggers resulted in mass cremations: one in Vienna, Austria was said to have contained over 10,000 dead. Entire North African and Chinese villages were burned. Actuaries in the United States dropped the average life expectancy for 1918 from 55 to 37.

By the end of November, the rate of infection slowed, and by the end of January 1919, it became clear that the crisis had passed. It came again that winter, and once more in the winter of 1920-21, but the virulence seemed decreased, and the number of fatalities far less. Nearly 100 million people worldwide were killed directly or indirectly by the 1918 influenza; one in four (about a billion) were affected one way or another–sickened and survived like my mother’s father, overworked and weakened like my father’s father, or watched whole populations wiped out like my father’s uncle. In closing:

  • There are no lab samples, despite years of searching in graves: thus, there are no specific vaccines against the 1918 influenza.
  • Since the 1918 bug struck those in the prime of life–those who make vaccines–it is not clear that one could be made available if it should strike again.
  • The failure rate of the annual flu vaccine is about 30%; in bad years, like 2017-18, it rises as high as 60%. However, even failed or non-specific vaccines decrease the symptoms and the likelihood of retransmission.
  • Herd immunity is best sustained when 92% or more of any given population has been vaccinated, even with a non-specific vaccine.
  • The “reaction” to the flu shot shows that it is not only working but that the sufferer has already been exposed and is likely contagious.
  • About 20% of adults do not get regular flu shots.

Got your flu shot yet? Why not?

Pi Day

Um…yeah…

Thursday is Pi Day–3.14. It started out in 1988 as a celebration of mathematics by Larry Shaw of the San Francisco Exploratorium. The US Congress passed a non-binding resolution in 2009 recognizing 14 March as Pi Day. Nominally, this clever holiday has been celebrated or observed by throwing pies, holding mathematical symposiums, eating pizza and other more or less benign activities.

However, like many other things, Pi Day has been hijacked by…other interests. In 2005, an Oregon State physics major named Bobby Henderson sent an open letter to the Kansas State Board of Education, which was then struggling with creationism and intelligent design requirements alongside more scientifically accepted versions of Earth’s origins. He suggested that it is as likely that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created everything as it was any other deity. The most significant phrase reads:

I don’t have a problem with religion. What I have a problem with is religion posing as science. If there is a god and he’s intelligent, then I would guess he has a sense of humor.

Bobby Henderson

Not exactly 97 Theses nailed to a door, but in the 21st century, it was enough. Soon, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster–the Pastafarians–was born. A book entitled The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was released in 2006. There are websites, and more books, and the odd, odd convention, and somehow piracy and other odd things got tossed in the chaotic mix. Mostly the Pastafarians are polking fun at organized religion, especially when it pretends to circumvent falsifiability.

Oh, and Pi Day is celebrated by some Pastafarian sects as recognition of a related deity. It is observed by reverently eating pizza…at least, according to my late buddy Bill, may Pasta rest his soul.

Inauguration Day and National I Want You To Be Happy Day

March…the month that deceives. It’s supposed to be coming up to spring, but here in the Great Lakes we can expect at least one more big snowstorm. We’ll know when it gets here.

4 March was an important day in American history for over a century. The 2nd Congress decided, under the Articles of Confederation, that the Constitution would take effect on 4 March 1789, when Washington was to be sworn in as President. But the electoral votes couldn’t be counted by then, so his inauguration was put off to 5 April. Thereafter, every routine presidential inauguration was held on 4 March except when it was on a Sunday in 1821, 1849, 1877 and 1917. The tradition ended with Amendment XX in 1933, which fixed the inauguration on 20 January.

The Goal

This was less because of presidents than it was because of Congress. The Constitution states that Congress should meet on the first Monday in December each year, principally so that they would be available to decide who the president may be in the event of an Electoral College tie. 4 March was also the last day of Congressional business. Thus, the “lame duck” Congress was four months long…too long if control of Congress was to change, and those vengeful “other guys” wanted to change things.

Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural in 1801 was the first held in Washington, DC. James Monroe’s 1817 inauguration was at the Old Brick Capitol in Washington because the British had burned the Capitol down in 1813, and restoration was underway. Andrew Jackson’s inauguration in 1829 was marked by drunken revelry but was the first of 35 held on the east front of the Capitol. Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural was the first performed under armed guard. A blizzard forced William H. Taft’s 1909 inauguration into the Senate Chamber. Warren G. Harding in 1921 was the first to ride in a car to and from the ceremony. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fourth inauguration in 1945 was entirely without fanfare: the exhausted president had less than four months to live. Jimmy Carter’s inauguration marked the first “march” from the Capitol to the White House–a hike of about a mile. Since Ronald Reagan in 1981, the ceremonies have been held on the Capitol’s west front, a move designed to both cut costs and to provide more space for spectators. There have also been milestones in communications:

  • Thomas Jefferson, 1801: the first covered by a newspaper extra of an inaugural address
  • James K. Polk, 1845: the first covered by telegraph; first known newspaper illustration of a presidential inauguration
  • James Buchanan, 1857: the first to be photographed
  • William McKinley, 1897: the first to be recorded on film
  • Theodore Roosevelt, 1905: the first time that telephones were installed on the Capitol Grounds for an inauguration
  • Calvin Coolidge, 1925: the first to be broadcast nationally by radio
  • Herbert Hoover, 1929: the first recorded by a talking newsreel
  • Harry S. Truman, 1949: the first  to be televised
  • John F. Kennedy, 1961: the first to be televised in color
  • Ronald Reagan, 1981: first closed-captioning of television broadcast for the hearing impaired
  • Bill Clinton, 1997: the first time the ceremony was broadcast live on the Internet
  • Donald Trump, 2017: the first inauguration broadcast live on Twitter.

Eh, for what it’s worth.

National I Want You to Be Happy Day

Of all the…

Yesterday was National I Want You to Be Happy Day because the folks at–you guessed it–The National Day Calendar say it is. It should be spent doing things that make others happy.  A flower here, a silly knock-knock joke there.  Buy the person’s coffee standing in line behind you.  Remind your kids how much you love them.  Leave a sticky note for a co-worker telling them to have a spectacular day, a happy day.  Draw a happy face in the snow for a stranger to come across later.  Give someone a hug.  Putting a smile on someone’s face tends to put one on ours, too.

There’s a great deal of frustration…sometimes…trying to make someone else happy, as we have all experienced. Smiling and telling a joke to someone who just got bad news of any kind can elicit poor reactions. Flowers delivered to allergy sufferers can be deadly. Donuts for the work gang the day of a mass layoff can make the event flat. But sometimes someone, like the illustration to the right, just can’t do “happy” as others do. Its occasions like that, and circumstances like that, when the most positive-thinking folk just move on, and hope for the best.

Hope yesterday was at least reasonably happy for everyone.

J. Robert Oppenheimer and President’s Day 2019

I appreciate that February only has four weeks, but must they be as long as they are? What? They’re the same length as those in June? No, can’t be. You’re making that up. Next week is National Tell Me A Fairy Tale Day, not this week.

Nuclear Club: Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer 
LIFE Magazine cover, 1947.

Well, given that…Julius Robert Oppenheimer (known either as Robert or Oppie) was born on 22 April 1904 in New York City to an affluent first-generation German Jewish immigrant family in the textile business. Young Robert’s early education was typical of secular Jews in Manhattan, but untypically Robert was introduced to the quasi-Christian/quasi-atheist Ethical Culture movement in the primary grades, which may have informed his life thereafter. 

Young Robert, like the physicist Oppie would become, had a wide-ranging mind and interests that ranged from English and French literature to horseback riding and mineralogy. At Harvard he majored in chemistry but gravitated to physics, graduating summa cum laude in just three years. He moved on to Cambridge and to the University of Göttingen, where he earned his PhD in physics at the age of 23 while he developed his most cited work, the Born–Oppenheimer approximation in quantum physics.

After university, Oppie (from a Dutch-derived nickname) was much sought after, dividing his time between the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) and Harvard for a year. Known to work himself to exhaustion while still in school, he was also subject to fits of depression. He had no spare time, dividing himself between hard science and Eastern philosophy, learning Sanskrit on his own so he could read the Bhagavad Gita in the original. He supported communist ideals in the ’30s while supporting refugee scientists from Europe–including many who he would work with on the atomic bomb. At the same time he practically ignored the world around him, and was unaware of the Wall Street crash of 1929 until he was told about it two years later.

Morally Oppenheimer could be described as a mess. He had an affair with divorcee Jean Tatlock, a fellow communist sympathizer who really was a communist, that supposedly ended in 1938. Then he married another communist, divorcee Katherine Puening, who had two children with him while he was still sleeping with Tatlock from time to time. All of this made for interesting reading and constant surveillance while he worked on the most secret project of WWII.

Oppenheimer joined the Manhattan Project in 1942 as the head scientist, in part because he was a good referee. Oppie was the one world-class physicist among all those in the Western world who all the others would work for. The military head of the project, Army brat Leslie R. Groves, had been the overseer for the building of the Pentagon and was regarded as one of the best civil engineers in the Army. The unlikely pair–unruly and eccentric Oppenheimer and straight-laced career soldier Groves–got along famously and became lifelong friends, though Groves was always concerned about Oppenheimer’s serial indiscretions. 

In July 1945 Oppie and thousands of other workers watched the Trinity device–a plutonium core nuclear bomb–ignite the very air in the New Mexico desert.  His reaction over the years has been described and reinterpreted, but the one that makes the most sense was relief. After all, the Manhattan Engineer District had cost the United States $3,000,000 for every man, woman, and child in North America. There were scientists who thought that the thing wouldn’t work and others who thought that it would cause a continuing chain reaction and consume the Earth. If he thought of the Bhagavad Gita at that instant we can’t know now, even as much as he said he did later.

His early flirtations with communist organizations, direct or not, caught up with him in the coming Cold War. He lost his security clearance in 1954, and his situation was made worse by his pronouncements that science knew no politics. As the head of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton from 1947 until 1966 when he began chemotherapy for throat cancer, he encouraged research of all kinds and consistently spoke for harnessing science for the public good. J. Robert Oppenheimer died 18 February 1967, eulogized by many and remembered as a cautionary yet unapologetic voice for the harnessing of science for the public good.

President’s Day 2019

From right, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter in College Station, Texas,  Oct. 21, 2017.  (AP Photo/LM Otero) ORG XMIT: TXMO103

The appellation “President’s Day” originated in the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968, which took effect in 1971. The Act established Washington’s birthday as the third Monday in February, in the week of 15-21 February; it didn’t officially merge Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthday, nor did it establish a “President’s Day” by law…pop culture seems to have done that all on its own. 

The photo up top is of a unique club: five men who get to be called “Mister President” at the opening of the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California. There’s another to the right: a hurricane relief concert in 2017 when there were five living former presidents. WIth the incumbent in the White House, this was a period during which there were six living members of the President’s Club, which has happened four times. There have been six periods when there were no living former presidents:

  • When George Washington died in 1799;
  • When Andrew Johnson died in 1875;
  • When Grover Cleveland died in 1908;
  • When Calvin Coolidge died in 1933;
  • When Lyndon Johnston died in 1973.

Richard Nixon is the only person to have been both the only living US president (January 1973, after Johnson died, to August 1974, when he resigned) and one of six living presidents (January 1993, after Clinton’s inauguration, to his death in April 1994). Everyone should be known for something odd.

Emperor Norton I of the US and National Create a Vacuum Day

February in the Great Lakes: still in the depths of winter, but there are rimes of ice around everything by now. Feet don’t fail me now, we gotta make it until spring.

On 4 February 1818*, Joshua Abraham Norton was born somewhere in England (Deptford, near London, is the best candidate). At the age of two, he and his family moved to South Africa as members of the 1820 Settlers, sanctioned by the British government.  Not much more is known about him until he arrived in San Francisco on 23 November 1849 with some capital in his pocket–though how much is unclear and at this point unknowable. What is known is that he was a savvy investor who did well in real estate and commodities, and by 1852 was one of the wealthiest people in San Francisco, which for that time and place is saying a great deal. But he tried to corner the market in rice and lost his shirt doing it, filing bankruptcy and was living in a boarding house by 1859.

On 17 September 1859, Norton declared himself Norton I, Emperor of These United States and Protector of Mexico

Emperor Norton I, circa 1875

Well, good for him: everyone needs an emperor now and then. Having been a prominent businessman just months before, the San Francisco newspapers were more than happy to publish his announcement, and like many others regarded him as a harmless crank. It didn’t take long for His Majesty to start issuing proclamations removing and appointing the governor of Virginia (17 September 1859), dissolving the United States (16 July 1860), forbidding Congress to meet in Washington, D.C. (1 October 1860), and abolishing the Democratic and Republican parties (12 August 1869). All the while, newspaper editors attributed scores of other declarations and decrees to him, few of which were his, many were amusing, others quasi-serious.

While it was clear to nearly everyone that the guy was unhinged, it seems that he was indulged well beyond what would be tolerated a century later. Police and militiamen saluted him on the streets; society swells doffed their hats and curtsied; restaurants fed him at no charge; workmen would stop their work as he inspected; his boardinghouse used him as free advertising. Even the 1870 census listed his occupation as “emperor.”

But all good things must come to an end, and on 8 January 1880, Emperor Norton I dropped dead at California Street and Grant Avenue, on his way to a lecture.  He was adequately eulogized in the newspapers and buried at the Masonic Cemetery on 10 January. The procession was two miles long, attended by some 10,000 mourners. Since then his body was moved to Woodlawn Cemetery, where it rests today, maintained by the city of San Francisco. The City by the Bay has never hesitated to suck whatever whimsey or publicity out of Norton that it could. Persons playing the role give tours of the city, dressed in whatever imaginary finery they could imagine. Businessman, crank, emperor and tour guide: quite a career.

*The year of Norton’s birth is in dispute: as early as 1814 or as late as 1819.

Create A Vacuum Day

Um…no, not necessarily the one on the left

Today is National Create a Vacuum Day because the good folks at the National Day Calendar say so.  As we all know, vacuums (the atmospheric state) are an absence of, well, principally gas. So why is it my vacuum cleaner is always full of something–hair, dirt, paper, dust or I just don’t know what? That’s because what we call a vacuum is an absence of air. A true or perfect vacuum which is devoid of all matter is only theoretical and can’t actually be created, exist or be detected…except by the US Congress, which makes one practically every time they meet.

Now, according to Doc Elliot’s Mixology, whose graphic I borrowed above, the reason your drink shaker creates a vacuum when you shake it is because the contents of that shaker cool and contract, creating a partial vacuum that holds the lid on. Have to take their word for it because I don’t do that: hard liquor just doesn’t appeal to me.

This look is something new: a new editor for WordPress that seems easier to use.  Every paragraph, graphic, quote or what-have-you here is a separate, reusable block. It makes moving the elements around easier, but I’m nowhere near bright enough to take advantage of all this stuff. So it might look different, but it’s still my same old rambling.

Kido Butai and National Cake Day

So, glad you survived not only Thanksgiving last Thursday but Black Friday the day after, for those of you who indulge in that orgy of retail greed. But today is Cyber Monday, so those among you who want to wait in your living room watching your computer rather than standing in a checkout line for the same stuff–knock yourselves out.

On this day in 1941, the main portion of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s (IJN) Kido Butai (literally mobile force. but also known as the Carrier Striking Task Force, depending on sources) with the 1st Air Group embarked (sources differ, but this was more symbolic than a real operational command) left the fleet anchorage at Hittokapu Bay and headed for Hawaii. The six aircraft carriers in the Kido Butai were the largest concentration of naval air power anywhere in the world and would be the largest until the US invasion of the Marshall Islands in 1944.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attack_on_Pearl_Harbor#/media/File:PearlHarborCarrierChart.jpg

The course of the Kido Butai December 1941. Wiki Commons.

Though the details are sketchy, the Kido Butai proceeded on its course with strict communications discipline, giving position reports and little else. This in itself is somewhat unremarkable to serious analysts, but to conspiracy-minded Americans, it’s proof of a US government cover-up at the very highest levels.

Regardless, the Japanese force was proceeding, supposedly, under the strict control of the “government” in Tokyo, which in theory was in control of the entire mission, indeed the whole war. The story goes that there was a chance that the attack on Pearl Harbor–which had required a complete redirection of the IJN from a mid-ocean ambush of the USN strategy that had been planned since 1922 in a matter of months–would not be needed. This is an interesting but ultimately unsatisfying version of what was likely the truth: the Pearl Harbor attack was going in no matter what because stopping the samurai from going to war was not going to be possible. After 1938 they controlled the economy; by October 1941 they controlled the government outright. The negotiations with the diplomats in Washington were, as FDR’s Secretary of State Cordell Hull thought at the time, a stalling tactic.

The “go code” message “Climb Mount Niitaka 1208,” has been widely asserted to have been sent by Yamamoto Isoroku, commander in chief of the Combined Fleet, to Nagumo Chuichi, commanding the Kido Butai, on 2 December 1941. This has been interpreted to mean that the attack on Pearl Harbor was to go ahead as scheduled on 8 December (Japan time). There are many different versions of this episode, but none of these versions answer the simple question that any good analyst would ask:

WHO authorized Yamamoto to send such a message?  

THAT part of the story is left out, and there is no evidence of any discussions of any “authorizations” by Tojo Hideki’s government that would have unleashed the attack–or how a lack of any such instruction would have restrained it–outside the movies. In other words, the military government (bakufu) that ran the country didn’t appear to authorize it. Huh.

So, who was waiting for word from the negotiations in Washington? Not Yamamoto, apparently. Beyond that, where are the similar messages to all the other Japanese commands headed to Malaya and the Philippines at the same time, and those poised to strike at Hong Kong? Was it the same message for everyone? Was the Imperial Japanese Army going to be taking orders from the Navy? Really?

Another nagging part of this story is the “1208” tacked on to the end of the message, always interpreted at December 8th. Huh. Some code, eh? One would think that if they went to the trouble of encoding the actual order, the date would be too, yeah?

The “Climb Mount Niitaka” message was purportedly intercepted by the Americans and the British, and probably by the Russians (though that is unclear in the “sources”). Its significance was, of course, missed, or misinterpreted. Trouble is, there’s no original source on any intercepts, nor any record or memory of discussions of any meaning attached to such intercepts at any level. More than that, the “East wind rain” message that signaled imminent hostilities that was supposedly also sent sometime before the Pearl Harbor attack wasn’t transmitted according to Japanese sources and was almost certainly never intercepted by anyone.

The two supposed coded messages combine in some minds into a missed opportunity to alert Hawaii and minimize the loss of life on 7 December. However, they are more critical to post-war views that Japan was a rational actor, that they genuinely wished for peace, and that by extension the American peace overtures in 1945 should have been more strident…and generous. Without the “Climb Mount Niitake” message, the Pearl Harbor strike was merely ordered by a duplicitous regime, not allowed by a more reasonable one.

So, after all this…what about the Kido Butai? It was ordered to attack Pearl Harbor regardless of what happened elsewhere because the entire Southern Operation (seizure of the Duch East Indies) was the objective. Neutralizing the US Pacific Fleet, even if briefly, was seen as an essential element of that operation. These coded messages were needed for other purposes, and have no basis in fact or hard evidence to support the contention that they were final instructions.

Waking the sleeping dragon/tiger of the US was concerning, but not restricting. If the carriers were there, excellent and most desired; if not, it would have been impossible not to attack whatever ships and facilities were there.

Think about that.

Next week, I start a series called “Pearl Harbor Reconsidered” to frame the publication (finally) of Why the Samurai Lost Japan on or about 15 December. The series will explore Japan’s strategic and tactical options for that December in 1941, including the folly of the mythical Third Strike on Pearl Harbor. Hope you enjoy it.


National Cake Day…who’s idea was this? No one knows, apparently.  And yet, the world continues to turn…

The word cake to denote baked goods is said to be derived from the Old Norse “kaka.” However, “kaka” in English is borrowed from the Maori and used to describe a species of birds native to New Zealand…or, for children and gremlins, poop.

No one can know how many different kinds of cake there are worldwide. There are countless recipes, some are bread-like, some rich and elaborate, and many are centuries old. Cakes typically contain a combination of flour, sugar, eggs, and butter or oil, with some variety of liquid which may be milk or water, along with a leavening agent such as yeast or baking powder. Flavorful ingredients are often added, for example; chopped nuts, fresh, candied or dried fruit, fruit purees or extracts. Cake can be enjoyed with or without frosting or icing…or eating, as these two examples show.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jj89XX-7JJg

Happy birthday…cake!?

Look hard enough on the internet, and you can find some even more remarkable cakes. Since I strive to make this a family-friendly blog, I shall avoid including the more salacious images or links to them. The cake to the left is one of the tamer images I found on a particular site.

There are several “cake” days (and a month), according to at least one source. Here’s a list With luck, I won’t be punished for blatantly stealing it:

  • National Cake Month – February
  • National Lemon Chiffon Cake Day – March 29
  • National Hazelnut Cake Day – June 1
  • National Applesauce Cake Day – June 6
  • National German Chocolate Cake Day – June 12
  • National Angel Food Cake Day – October 10
  • National Cake Day – November 26

 

 

Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, National Chicken Soup for the Soul Day, and Tideline

Yesterday was Veteran’s Day in the US. Some of you will be observing the “holiday” today (using that uniquely American phenomenon known as the Monday Holiday Move), which keeps you from getting any mail today or doing any banking.

However, it should NOT have prevented you from realizing that yeaterday was the centennial of the end of World War One. I haven’t done a lot of WWI material on this blog (some, not much) because there have been so many experts who would put me to shame.

If you didn’t pay your respects before…pay them now.

By November 1942, the Japanese were beginning to realize that the American lodgement in the eastern Solomon islands was not just serious, but dangerous. Henderson Field was a fully-equipped air base (if extremely primitive) capable of handling long-range bombers that could threaten Rabaul. But earlier Japanese efforts to reinforce the ground forces on Guadalcanal had been unevenly successful, and the logistical situation on the island was increasingly grave. Finally, the superbly trained cadre of prewar pilots was wearing thin, for the Japanese could not rescue downed pilots like the Americans could, and frequently did, and the Australian coast-watchers on several of the islands didn’t take prisoners. At the same time, constant harassment of American supply runs cost time and material that even the Americans could ill afford.

The Japanese, directed by Yamamoto Isoroku, put together a reinforcement convoy of 11 transports backed up by two battleships, two heavy cruisers, four light cruisers, and sixteen destroyers to run down the Solomons starting 12 November, shooting up Henderson Field while depositing another 4,000 men and their equipment, the whole commanded by Abe Hiroaki. Confronting them would be two American battleships, two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and twelve destroyers, with an aircraft carrier available as needed.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_Battle_of_Guadalcanal#/media/File:IronbottomSound.jpg

Ironbottom Sound, where most of the battle took place, between Savo island (left), and Guadalcanal (right)

The night gunfights that followed were confused enough: I’ll not make them worse this year. What mattered was that the Japanese were stopped, losing both battlewagons and all the transports. What mattered most wasn’t the fact that the Japanese couldn’t shell or reinforce, but that the troops already on the island were starving, and the supplies didn’t make it. The additional 600 Japanese soldiers and sailors that did manage to land just became that many more mouths to feed.

Guadalcanal was an attritional campaign on the scale of Verdun, though shorter and with less fanfare. Unlike Verdun, the Japanese and the Americans were both doing what they had always done: the Japanese attacked, the Americans defended, then attacked. The gates of Paris weren’t at stake at Guadalcanal, but the lifeline to Australia was.

Like the epic struggle then shaping up along the Volga between the Germans and the Soviets at the same time, the Solomons campaign would determine the initiative between the US and Japan for the rest of the war.


This is National Chicken Soup for the Soul Day, for reasons beyond anyone’s ken. Now, as we all know, Chicken Soup for the Soul is a commercial phenomenon, producing 100 million books with over 250 titles in forty languages, pet food, television shows, podcasts, journalism, and licensed products out of Connecticut.  Starting in 1993, motivational speakers Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen produced the first book of inspirational stories they’d heard over the years, simply titled Chicken Soup for the Soul. It took off from there.

https://www.ebay.com/itm/1944-WWII-Campbells-Soup-Kitchen-Snooper-Husband-Kitchen-War-Military-Print-AD-/400584721500

Um….no….not in my family.

Just to be clear, I’ve never read any of the books, can’t stand the smell of chicken soup (a friend’s mom made it for every meal) let alone the taste, and I just don’t get the hoopla over it. But, multimedia phenomena are hard to ignore, so I’ll avoid criticism of my own. There have been accusations of plagiarism in some of the books, but it’s hard to plagiarize anecdotes. Some critics have claimed that the books are repetitive and somewhat dull. Others have been inspired. Ah, well.

It is, however, a little ironic that this day falls on 12 November, the day after the American remembrance of the end of WWI, when the 1918 influenza killed more people than the war itself was killing men, women, and children globally, and some clinicians were calculating the end of the human race because they had no idea how to stop it.

At left is an ad that ran in magazines in 1944, typical of the commercial phenomenon of the time. Yes, they wanted to sell chicken soup, and my parents were married in 1943, when my father was in the Army and, obviously, before he went overseas. My dad was not a fan of prepared foods, but regrettably, for the family’s palates, my mom was not a very good cook. This little scene may amuse and may have sold a lot of cans of Campbell’s, but I can practically guarantee you that, given a time machine, you would never have seen it around my parent’s home at any time.


All of this has nothing to do with the Chicken Soup for the Soul, but it is a sort-of lead-in for my next book, Tideline: a Story of Friendship. I’ve talked about it before, but now…it’s probably going to be ready by mid-2019. Here’s a tentative cover:

Tideline_Cover

Tentative cover for Tideline

It’s a story about friends, love, youth, loss, finding yourself, and family secrets, but most of all it’s about the kind of trust that most of us are lucky to have just once in one person. You’ll also learn something about a family with a poor principal cook.

It takes place mostly in metropolitan Detroit and Key West, Florida at two times: 1963 to 1973, and 1985-86, before cell phones, the internet, and popular social media made personal contact between under-40 humans little more than fleshy accessories to digital noise. When the two main characters meet and fall in love it is personal; when they find each other again after half a lifetime apart, it’s still in the flesh.

More as it develops…