19 Jan 2020

Robert E. Lee’s Birthday

Today is the 213th birthday of Robert E. Lee, General-in-Chief of the Armies of the Confederate States, and one of the greatest American military commanders ever to pull on boots. This photograph, taken in late February-early March 1864 by Julian Vannerson, is among my favorites. Lee is shown in the Confederate colonel’s coat he habitually wore and the photograph certainly supports the diarist Mary Chesnut’s description of the General as “cold, quiet and grand.”

When this photo was taken, Gettysburg was eight months in the past. Lee knows that the gigantic US Army of the Potomac is coming south again. He is consumed with anxiety because a third of his army is detached, away in east Tennessee; his own greatly outnumbered army’s horses, and soldiers, are tired and ill-fed; and the Confederate States is reaching the end of its resources. Winter is ending, the enemy will be moving very soon. . .

In 1864, Lee would do his finest work, stymying Grant in the “Overland Campaign” (The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, Yellow Tavern, Cold Harbor and other battles) — Lee keeping Grant out of Richmond despite frequently being outnumbered by almost two to one. The Southern war for independence was lost by that November. . .but not because of events in Virginia.

Volumes have been written on Lee the general, and as many on Lee the man. But I think the General speaks best for himself, and that his own writing shows the true measure of the man. Here is his letter to his sister Anne Marshall (a passionate Unionist and thus not on Lee’s side), written in April 1861, just after his resignation from the US Army:

    Arlington, Virginia
    April 20, 1861

    My Dear Sister,
    I am grieved at my inability to see you. I have been waiting for a more convenient season, which has brought to many before me deep and lasting regret. Now we are in a state of war which will yield to nothing. The whole South is in a state of revolution, into which Virginia, after a long struggle, has been drawn; and though I recognize no necessity for this state of things, and would have forborne and pleaded to the end for redress of grievances, real or supposed, yet in my own person I had to meet the question whether I should take part against my native State.

    With all my devotion to the Union, and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have, therefore, resigned my commission in the Army, and save in the defense of my native State (with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed) I hope I may never be called upon to draw my sword.

    I know you will blame me, but you must think as kindly as you can, and believe that I have endeavored to do what I thought right. To show you the feeling and struggle it has cost me, I send you a copy of my letter of resignation. I have no time for more. May God guard and protect you and yours and shower upon you everlasting blessings, is the prayer of

    Your devoted brother,

    R.E. Lee

    (From “The Wartime Papers of Robert E. Lee” (Clifford Dowdey, Louis H. Manarin, eds., Da Capo, 1987) pp. 9-10.

HT: Hale Cullom.

19 Jan 2020

Roman Engineering

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Interior of the Pantheon in Rome.

In his excellent King Arthur’s Wars: The Anglo-Saxon Conquest of England (2016), retired British officer Jim Storr (now teaching at the Norwegian Military Academy in Oslo) puts the astonishing Roman technological achievements into perspective.

Roman engineers… were astonishingly skillful. In the years just before the birth of Christ they built an underground tunnel to bring water to Bologna in Italy. The tunnel was 20 kilometres long. Hundreds of years earlier they had drained the Pontine marshes south east of Rome. In the second century A.D. they brought water to a city in what is now Syria from a source over 130 kilometres away. It had an average gradient of just 3 centimetres’ fall in every kilometre. Many kilometers of it still exist today. In several cities in Europe, Roman aqueducts still provide water from several kilometres away. The world-famous Trevi fountain in Rome is supplied by the Virgo aqueduct, 22 kilometres long and built in 19 BC. The Pantheon in Rome was built in about 126 A.D. It is the world’s first large mass-concrete dome building. It is over 40 metres high and is visited by thousands of tourists, in complete safety, every day: almost 2000 years later.

Roman engineers were not just good builders. They were also world-class surveyors. If you walk south from London Bridge today, you soon reach Kennington Park Road (the A3). As you look along it you are looking in the precise direction of the east gate of Chichester, 59.84 Roman miles from the end of London Bridge. The surveyors who first laid out that road, probably in the first century A.D., knew precisely which direction Chichester lay in. There are two major rows of hills (the North and South Downs) in between.

In about 155 A.D. Roman surveyors re-aligned a section of 82 kilometres of frontier defenses in southern Germany. The southernmost 29 kilometres ran over several heavily wooded ridges, yet none of the forts (a Roman mile apart, with turrets in between) is off the direct line between start and finish by more than 1.9 metres. That is a deviation of less than five minutes of arc (five sixtieth of a degree). The accuracy which Roman surveyors achieved was phenomenal. It was only bettered with the invention of surveying instruments with magnifying optics (such as the theodolite) in the 17th century. Yet, as far as is known, Roman surveyors did not even have an instrument for observing and copying angles directly (such as a protractor). However, by about the year 500 or so, nobody could even build in stone, let alone lay out aqueducts or build in concrete. Concrete only came back into use in the late 18th century.

19 Jan 2020

US Troops Drank Old Reykjavik Dry

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Fox News:

Thousands of U.S. soldiers depleted all of the beer in Iceland’s capital over the weekend.

More than 6,000 soldiers were in Reykjavik for four days participating in the Trident Juncture 18 – a NATO-led military exercise. After their drills, the troops reportedly visited the city’s downtown bars, where they finished off the entire beer supply.

According to Icelandinc magazine Visir, the brewery Ölgerð Egils Skallagrímssonar had to send emergency beer cases to the bars.

RTWT

This kind of thing wouldn’t happen in England!

18 Jan 2020

House Dems Delivering the Articles of Impeachment

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18 Jan 2020

If Correctly Identified….

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that there was one helluva a black mamba.

The possibilities are pretty limited. It might possibly be really a King Cobra.

18 Jan 2020

The Tale of the Slave

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From Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia:

Consider the following sequence of cases, which we shall call the Tale of the Slave.

HT: William Laffer.

17 Jan 2020

Photographing Left-Behind Pennsylvania

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Niko J. Kallianiotis, “Lights On,” between Shenandoah and Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania (2016).

Niko J. Kallianiotis makes a specialty of photographs capturing the surreal quality of economically-abandoned Pennsylvania small towns. A lot of his work focuses on the Anthracite Coal Region.

15 Jan 2020

Last Night’s Debate

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I was in the “Rather Put My Face in the Blender than Watch This Thing” camp and put on a saved Gordon Ramsay after just a few minutes, but Monica Showalter was clearly made of sterner stuff, and she describes for the rest of us the “best moments” of the the dems’ debate.

Amy Klobuchar pretty well came off as a boob by saying she was all in for Iran negotiations because Iran wasn’t following its agreements made in…negotiations:

Sen. Klobuchar, if you become president, it’s very possible there won’t be an Iran nuclear deal for the United States to rejoin. Given that, how would you prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon?

    KLOBUCHAR: I would start negotiations again. And I won’t take that as a given, given that our European partners are still trying to hold the agreement together. My issue is that, because of the actions of Donald Trump, we are in a situation where they are now starting — Iran is starting to enrich uranium again in violation of the original agreement.

    So what I would do is negotiate. I would bring people together, just as President Obama did years ago, and I think that we can get this done. But you have to have a president that sees this as a number-one goal.

    And in answer to the original question you asked the mayor, I would not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. And then you have to get an agreement in place. I think there are changes you can make to the agreement that are sunset, some changes to the inspections, but overall, that is what we should do.

    And I am the one person on this debate stage, on the first night of the very first debate, when we were asked what we saw as the biggest threat to our world, I said China on the economy, but I said Iran, because of Donald Trump. Because I feared that exactly what happened would happen: enrichment of uranium, escalation of tensions, leaving frayed relations with our allies. We can bring them back, understanding this is a terrorist regime that we cannot allow to have a nuclear weapon.

OK, so let’s get this straight. Iran was violating its treaty it negotiated, so the solution is more negotiations? The mullahs would roll this stupid woman like a Persian carpet if she ever made it into the White House. If Iran’s ignoring the agreements made in past negotiations and getting itself a nuclear weapon instead, why would “bringing people together” make them act any different? They’d negotiate with her, snicker up their sleeves, and go make a bomb. File under woman who has no idea what she’s talking about.

RTWT

15 Jan 2020

Surveillance Video Shows Cat Taking on Three Coyotes

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CNN video.

HT: Karen L. Myers.

15 Jan 2020

Just a Suggestion

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14 Jan 2020

Anamnesis

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View over the Prague downtown Wenceslav Square with the hero’s statue in foreground. A huge crowd was assembling again, Thursday evening, November 23, 1989, for another demonstration for more democracy in Czechoslovakia.

Michael Brendan Dougherty quotes Roger Scruton’s memory of meeting the Czech dissidents with whom he would go on to create an underground university in the 1980s. There he gave lectures on philosophy, history, and literature — meditations on the whole inheritance of Western civilization — that were forbidden by Communist authorities. Scruton would finally be detained by secret police and his name placed on the Index of Undesirable Persons.

From How to Be a Conservative (2014):

In that room was a battered remnant of Prague’s intelligentsia — old professors in their shabby waistcoats; long-haired poets; fresh-faced students who had been denied admission to university for their parents’ political ‘crimes’; priests and religious in plain clothes; novelists and theologians; a would-be rabbi; and even a psychoanalyst. And in all of them I saw the same marks of suffering, tempered by hope; and the same eager desire for the sign that someone cared enough to help them. They all belonged, I discovered, to the same profession: that of stoker. Some stoked boilers in hospitals; others in apartment blocks; one stoked at a railway station, another in a school. Some stoked where there were no boilers to stoke, and these imaginary boilers came to be, for me, a fitting symbol of the communist economy.

This was my first encounter with “dissidents”: the people who, to my later astonishment, would be the first democratically elected leaders of post-communist Czechoslovakia. And I felt towards these people an immediate affinity. Nothing was of such importance for them as the survival of their national culture. Deprived of material and professional advancement, their days were filled with a forced meditation on their country and its past, and on the great Question of Czech History that has preoccupied the Czechs since the movement for national revival in the nineteenth century. They were forbidden to publish; the authorities had concealed their existence from the world, and had resolved to remove their traces from the book of history. Hence the dissidents were acutely conscious of the value of memory. Their lives were an exercise in what Plato called anamnesis: the bringing to consciousness of forgotten things. Something in me responded immediately to this poignant ambition, and I was at once eager to join with them and make their situation known to the world. And I recognized that anamnesis described the meaning of my life too.

14 Jan 2020

The Late Harold Bloom

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Harold Bloom, right, with John Ward of Oxford University Press in New York on April 17, 1970.

The Yale Alumni Magazine, in the latest issue, collects anecdotes about the late Harold Bloom, testifying to both his genius and his eccentricity.

Bloom was wearing a stretched-out orange sweater, and he had begun reading from the moving Conclusion to Walter Pater’s The Renaissance. While continuing to recite (he knew this, like all texts, by heart), Bloom began to remove the sweater. But it got stuck as it passed over his head, so we could hear oracular utterances about life’s irredeemable evanescence continue to come from out of a gyrating mass of wool, until, the garment subdued at last, Bloom pronounced: “That is the most profound thing that was ever written.”

–Richard Brodhead ’68, ’72PhD
Bird White Housum Professor of English at Yale
Dean of Yale College 1993–2004
President of Duke 2004–2017

Harold was as devoted a teacher as I’ve ever known. “I am,” he often said, “a teacher first and last, and they’re going to have to carry me out of the classroom in a coffin.” It came close to that: he taught on Thursday, and died on Monday.

He was hungrier for poetry than anyone I have ever encountered. Once, when my wife and I were over at the house on Linden Street—just after he’d returned from a long stay at rehab following an illness—we were sitting in the living room and talking when Harold’s eyes shifted a little to the right of, and just above, my shoulder while I was midsentence. He’d spotted the mailman coming up the path to the front door, and interrupted me: “Peter, could you get the mail?” as we heard the storm door opening and the bundles hitting the floor. I brought them to him. He began ripping into envelope after envelope with his teeth, clutching his cane, and ignoring us entirely. “Harold, expecting something important?” I asked him. Without looking up, and in total seriousness, he answered: “Maybe someone has sent me a great poem.” Most writers I know run the other way when other people’s poems draw near; there was the great Bloom, at 81 or so, just back from a hospital stay, panting after them like a golden retriever.

–Peter Cole, Senior Lecturer in Judaic Studies and
Comparative Literature

RTWT

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