Friday, November 06, 2015

Election 2016: Peak Trump?

I like to look at two different kinds of data during election seasons. One of those will be the polls, obviously. This far out, the polls aren't always going to tell you anything tremendously useful, but they do get a sense of what the people who are paying attention are thinking. The other thing I like to look at are the prediction markets. These two sources tend to converge as the event draws closer. But this far out, it sometimes looks as if they were describing two entirely different contests.

Like now, for instance. Looking at the polls, it's all about Trump versus Carson. But Vegas loves them some Rubio. The intriguing question here is, why? (More on that later.)

The other question -- and I think this one has an important bearing on what kind of primary we're looking at -- is ... well, where is Rick Santorum?

Remember, the GOP's usual modus operandi amounts to "It's His Turn." A shocking number of Republican nominees were the runner-up the last time around. Let's look at all of the races in the last seventy years or so, and see what the trend tells us:

1952: Eisenhower (Taft)
1956: Eisenhower (inc.)
1960: Nixon (VP)
1964: Goldwater (Rockefeller)
1968: Nixon (Reagan)
1972: Nixon (inc.)
1976: Ford (inc.)
1980: Reagan (Bush the Elder)
1984: Reagan (inc.)
1988: Bush the Elder (Dole)
1992: Bush the Elder (inc.)
1996: Dole (Buchanan)
2000: Bush the Younger (McCain)
2004: Bush the Younger (inc.)
2008: McCain (Romney)
2012: Romney (Santorum)

Re-elections don't count, so we can discount 1956, 1972, 1976, 1984, 1992, and 2004. Nixon in 1968 is sort of unusual, but Nixon could claim a form of seniority in having been both a Republican VP and nominee. Excepting those, we have a fairly strong string of the prior runner-up taking the top spot in the next available election. Reagan in 1980 was the runner-up in both 1968 and 1976. Bush in 1988 was the runner-up in 1980, as well as the VP of a still-fairly-popular President. Dole was the runner-up in 1988, as was McCain in 2000 and Romney in 2008.

And Santorum? According to Pollster, he's sitting at 0.5%. Which means that the existence of Santorum supporters cannot be proven by any known statistical science.

This is going to be like 1964 or 2000: a year where they GOP throws "It's His Turn" onto the dust-heap, and does something else. What we don't know yet is whether 2016 will be more like 1964, or more like 2000. In 1964, there was an ideological struggle within the Republican party. in 2000, they'd been out of the White House long enough to want a winner, ideology be damned. Or, maybe, 2016 ends up being a little bit of both. The Goldwater-Reagan era of conservatism is over. This may be the year we find out what will take its place.

The Republicans

The interesting thing about this chart from Pollster is that it appears that Trump has hit at least a temporary ceiling. I'm actually surprised that he appears to be truly serious about seeking the nomination. I'd pegged this for a vanity project. It may still be a vanity project. And for a while, his poll numbers skyrocketed with no end in sight. For now, at least, it appears he's hit a hard ceiling of support. Time will tell if this is a fluke, or if it's for real. But when we turn to the betting markets, such as PredictIt, we see another story emerge:

Rubio: 0.49
Trump: 0.24
Cruz: 0.23
Bush: 0.17
Kaisch: 0.12
Carson: 0.11
Christie: 0.08
Fiorina: 0.07
Paul: 0.06

Yes, the Vegas bookies do love them some Rubio. And his polls don't totally stink -- he's in third behind Trump and Carson. He's well-positioned to heat up once the real voting starts in January. January is always when the vaporware candidates fold up like cheap suits. But Rubio strikes me as kind of an empty suit. I'm going to have to take a closer look at this in the coming weeks to months, because clearly they're seeing something in him that I don't.

The Democrats

Well, this isn't particularly interesting. You can look at the PredictIt numbers if you care to, but they're giving nearly four-to-one odds in Clinton's favor. Either the bosses have made the tactical decision to clear the decks for Secretary Clinton, or it's just that everyone is scared spitless of the Clinton machine. "It's Her Turn" seems to be in full effect, though; and it doesn't particularly matter why. If you're a Democrat, get used to the idea that Clinton will be your nominee. She's just about going to have to deliberately try to lose the nomination to fail to get it. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is still achievable for her ... just not especially likely.

Voting begins in 87 days. Remember, vote early, and vote often!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Spy Satellite That Was Never There

One of the problems with the early series of spy satellites was simply this: Every photo frame counts. And many of the photographic frames returned by the early CORONA satellites were of cloud-covered sites. It was accepted as a risk that the weather wouldn't always cooperate. The automatic control worked well enough that pictures were only taken during daylight, but whether the actual meteorological conditions would allow collection of useful intelligence was something that would only be known once the film capsules were recovered and developed.

What they really needed was a way to determine -- in real time -- if a target's lighting and cloud cover would allow a useful picture to be taken. And in the early 1960s, the only way that was known to actually do that was to have a man on the scene to make that call.

This was the genesis of the project that became known to the public as the military's Manned Orbital Laboratory. To the public, it was a military space station for scientific research and experiments.

It also had another designation, one kept a close secret for many years. Its actual payload was called Key Hole 10, or DORIAN. It was in development from 1963 to 1969, when it was cancelled.

Why was it cancelled? Not necessarily because it was big and heavy -- its successor, KH-11, wasn't exactly slim or cheap. It was because computers and communications had become good enough that the "man on the scene" could be a technician in Sunnyvale, California; as opposed to an astronaut in orbit.

Details were few and far between. Even up to a few years ago very little was known about its actual layout. Little by little, that began to change.

First came the leaks. Nothing says locked up forever. Alert enthusiasts pored over publicly-available pictures -- there always were some -- and made some educated guesses based on what was known about its size and weight. The external dimensions were known, for example. And the payload capacity of its Titan IIIC booster were also fairly well-documented. From that, you can figure out what it could and couldn't lift into a Sun-synchronous orbit from Vandenberg AFB. Little by little, more information came out.

And then, NRO recently declassified a whole bunch of material.

This makes for fascinating reading.

For one, even nearly fifty years later, there are labels and even whole pages still redacted. We can speculate why, but the obvious conclusion is that even so many years down the road, those might give away currently-relevant capabilities.

For another, even though they settled fairly early on an entry hatch through the modified Gemini heat shield, and even did a flight test to make sure it would work, they always had a "Plan B" for the astronauts to get back in the return capsule.

Yet another, the original MOL was just the beginning. There were follow-on plans for version capable of being resupplied in-orbit, using uprated Large Diameter Core (LDC) Titan boosters.

In the end, though, the Nixon Administration decided the juice just wasn't worth the squeeze. A TV camera and an encrypted radio link could let a ground-based technician decide what was worth spending a frame of film on, obviating the need for a crew. Soon the film capsules themselves would be rendered obsolete.

But that wasn't the end of the military space station. As the Soviets often did, they decided that anything the Americans spent that much money on was worth trying at least once. The space stations Salyut 2, 3, and 5 were actually Almaz military reconnaissance stations. The two key differences between Almaz and MOL were that the Almaz stations were serviced by Soyuz capsules launched separately, and that the Almaz stations were armed. Not that it made that much difference. Having lost one station to launch failure, and finding that the two flown versions didn't actually do that much, they dropped the idea as well.

In the end, though, the longest-lasting legacy of the MOL program were the men selected to fly it. Seven of them were selected by NASA when the project was cancelled. Six of them became Space Shuttle pilots and commanders, one became a mission specialist. One of them, Richard Truly, became Administrator of NASA between 1989 and 1992. One of the MOL astronauts not selected by NASA, James Abrahamson, would go on to run the Strategic Defense Initiative from 1984 to 1989.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

What Might Have Been...

There's a considerable amount of confusion about when World War II began. Depending on whom you ask, you'll get a different answer, and most of them will be wrong. They'll be wrong for honest reasons, because what made it a World War didn't come along until fairly late in the game.

The Pacific War began first, in 1937, when Japan invaded China. Then the European War began in 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. But those were separate conflicts until 1941. No, that doesn't mean I'm arguing for December 7th. That's when the United Stated entered the Pacific War. But the two theaters didn't join fully until the 12th, when Germany declared war on the United States. Only then did it become a truly worldwide conflict, with all of the coordination that implies.

It's far easier to determine when World War II ended, though, right? Sadly, no. The Pacific War didn't end by treaty until 1952, the European War wasn't sorted out fully until 1990, and Russia and Japan still haven't signed a full and complete peace treaty.

As anyone who's gone through a break-up or divorce can attest, endings can be messy.

Still and all, for our purposes, this is the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II. As ugly as it was, and it was the bloodiest war in the history of humanity, it could have been worse.

What if we really had to invade?

Half a million Purple Heart medals were manufactured in anticipation of the casualties from Operation Olympic, scheduled to begin on November 1, 1945. The landings on X-Day would have made D-Day look like a warm-up. Fourteen divisions were scheduled to hit the beaches on that first day. They would be supported by the Third, Fifth, and Seventh Fleets, over two thousand ships total, including over fifty aircraft carriers. They would also be supported by the Fifth, Seventh, Eighth, Thirteenth, and Twentieth Air Forces; fourteen bomber groups, ten fighter groups, over a thousand B-29 Superfortress bombers and a similar number of B-17s redeployed from Europe.

This is the fury of an industrial nation made manifest. Armaments in quantities utterly unimaginable today. Granted, that's due in part to modern munitions being so much more precise, but the raw, distilled, purified rage implied by such numbers is more than a little frightening. When Halsey once claimed that by the time he was finished, Japanese would only be spoken in Hell, the man wasn't exaggerating for dramatic effect.

Estimates varied widely. But taking Operation Olympic, together with its follow-on Operation Coronet scheduled for March 1946, the invasion of Japan could have cost 1.4 million American casualties, with 400,000 dead. That's the low end. At the high end, 4 million American casualties with 800,000 dead, and about ten million Japanese fatalities from combat, disease, and starvation.

Understand that this was the piece of paper Truman was looking at as he made his decision.

Understand that this was the responsibility that fell to him when Roosevelt died.

Understand that we have struck no new Purple Hearts since 1945. We are still awarding medals intended to have been given out between November 1945 and January 1946.

Understand ... that as bad as it was, it could have been far worse.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

The Mystery Continues

I've been meaning to write something about the disappearance of MH370, except that there's not a whole lot to say. What we don't know dwarfs what we do. With so little information to go on, speculation runs rampant ... and who's to say what's right?

That's still mostly true. At least, it's true until new facts surface.

Perhaps "surface" is an unfortunate word choice in this case. Last Wednesday, an interesting piece of debris washed up on the shores of Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. It's the right size and shape, and more importantly it bears the Boeing part number for a flaperon on a Boeing 777 airliner. News agencies were careful not to go too far out on a limb with this, and only said it might be from MH370.

Caution is all well and good, but exactly one 777 has gone missing. One more than none, and one less than two. If you find such a part floating around the ocean, where might it come from? You get three guesses, and the first two don't count.

Now, we can't say a whole lot just yet. It's only one piece, after all. But its condition tells us a great deal indeed. It allows us to put some reasonable bounds on what might have happened.

First of all, we can once and for all discount and discard all those loony theories about terrorists hijacking it and flying it to a hidden airbase. The fact that fragments are washing ashore means it went down over water. I never could make myself take that option seriously, anyway. The Boeing 777 is an enormous airplane. You'd need eight thousand feet of runway to land it, and 45,000 gallons of fuel tanks to refuel it. Good luck building such a secret airfield without the NRO finding out about it.

No, that never even made bad sense. Nor did any of the other hijack/misdirection theories. The people who might have been able to pull it off lacked any visible motive, and the people with motive had no means.

So, it went into the water. But not on a steep, nose-dive trajectory. That kind of impact would have destroyed it utterly. It's in relatively good condition, no obvious deformation. That argues for some kind of horizontal entry, most likely after fuel exhaustion. Leading, of course, to the question of how it got there. There is certainly no shortage of theories.

What keeps tugging at my attention, though, is what we do know about the plane's path. It went incommunicado shortly after signing off with Malayan ATC, and shortly before they were supposed to contact Ho Chi Minh ATC for enroute clearance.

I wish I could remember precisely where I saw this -- odds are better than even it's someone James Fallows at the Atlantic was corresponding with at the time -- but it reminded me of one key fact. Pilots always have an alternate airfield in mind. No matter where they are in their flight plan, they always know the closest airfield they can make for if something hits the fan. And MH370 made a beeline for Penang, the closest airfield at the time that could accommodate them.

The question becomes: Why?

I'm having a hard time convincing myself that it was anything but a fire in the cockpit, possibly an electrical fire of some kind. In that case, standard procedure is to turn off anything that might be feeding the blaze. Radios, transponders, whatever; if it draws power it's got to go down, until you have the fire under control. The right turn at Penang confused me, though. Then, I went and did some digging. Not much, Googling for "penang approach chart" turns up all kinds of useful information. The details are here if you should care to see for yourself. The pertinent bit is shown below.

At first glance, then, it looks as if they set their autopilot to make a beeline for the BIDMO meter fix, and then join the inbound traffic for runway 04/22. They might even have programmed their autopilot to make the base leg turn ...

Under this theory, they failed to control the fire, and were no longer conscious when they got there. I'd even hazard a guess that no one onboard was. There are no airtight bulkheads on an airliner. Toxic air will get to everyone eventually.

Or it might have been decompression. We had a similar event, on a smaller scale, back in 1999 when Payne Stewart's private plane lost pressurization, and sailed across country until fuel exhaustion.

But this leaves one question unanswered: why did it turn south? If, indeed, it did turn south? Its last known course was more or less towards India. It had to have made a left turn in order to end up in a position for one of its parts to wash ashore on Reunion.

We still don't know. We won't know that until after we find the wreckage ... and we might not know even then. 

We may just have to get used to not knowing. While all questions have answers, we are not promised that all answers will be revealed.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The End of the Beginning

Fifty-six years, six months, and fourteen days.

That sounds like a long time, and in terms of a single human life, it is. But in terms of humanity's lifetime, it's barely a blink of an eye. And I think that's the proper context, because it's the length of an era that ended today. By the time I finish writing this, I expect that we will have heard, one way or another, about whether or not the New Horizons spacecraft survived its encounter with Pluto. That encounter brings to a close the first era of humanity's exploration of the Solar System.

I place the beginning of this era on the first of January 1959, with Luna 1's flyby of the Moon. Luna 1 had been intended to hit the Moon, not fly by. But since these were early days yet, barely more than a year after the very first Earth satellite, rockets and guidance systems weren't all that reliable. Nevertheless, it became the first man-made object to enter heliocentric orbit. It's still out there, somewhere.

Venus, being the closest planet to Earth, was an obvious choice for our first planetary mission. Mariner 1 was intended to be the first, but again, guidance systems were still fairly new and not entirely reliable. The range safety officer had to hit the big red button when the Atlas-Agena booster decided it wanted to go for an unplanned excursion. They'd learned a thing or two, though, and in those early days they tended to plan these missions in pairs. If one of them didn't work, the other one probably would. And so it was that Mariner 2 became the first to fly by Venus on the fourteenth of December in 1962.

Staying with the pattern, the next target became the next farthest planet from Earth: Mars. And the script looks remarkably similar -- Mariner 3 was intended to be the first, but ... No, it wasn't the guidance system this time. This time, the payload shroud failed to open properly, and the spacecraft couldn't get any sunlight on its solar cells. The spacecraft limped along on battery power for a bit, then died, and drifts in eternal Solar orbit. Again, though, this is exactly why they planned these things in pairs. Mariner 4 came off without a hitch, and flew by Mars exactly fifty years ago today, returning the first-ever close-up pictures of another planet.

From 1965 to 1973, there was a bit of a drought of "firsts", partly because Project Apollo soaked up a bunch of time, money, and talent... But also because the next steps were going to be really difficult. And besides which, they had something pretty clever in mind, and had to wait for the right opportunity.

The next pair of probes to launch were Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, bound for Jupiter. "Wait," you may ask, "isn't Mercury closer?" Well, sure. But Mercury is also really, astoundingly fast. And that makes it a fairly tricky target. They had an idea, but they weren't 100% sure it would work. Anyway, the Jupiter launch window opened up first in any case. In December of 1973, Pioneer 10 gave us our first close-up look at the biggest of the planets, its system of moons, and its terrifyingly powerful radiation belts.

But we hadn't given up on Mercury. No, even though we'd have to do some pretty fancy work with a pool cue to get us there. Mariner 10, the last of its series, launched in November of 1973, and pioneered a technique we'd use again and again in the future: the gravity assist. We couldn't build a rocket powerful enough to fling a probe by Mercury -- well, we could, but no one was willing to allocate a Saturn V to the mission -- so we'd hitch a ride by Venus and steal a small bit of its momentum to get us the rest of the way. This gives us a twofer: two planetary visits for the price of one. Four, actually; Mariner 10 flew by Mercury three times. First in March 1974, then again in September 1974, and again in March 1975.

This proved good practice for the main event. Remember Pioneer 11? Pioneer 11 followed up its Jupiter encounter with an encore at Saturn in September of 1979. But even that was merely a warm-up. Another pair of probes were coming through, and in scientific terms they were armed for bear.

Bar none, the single spacecraft that broke more trail than any before or since just about has to be Voyager 2. Both Voyagers flew by both Jupiter and Saturn. And both were launched at a very fortuitous moment ... a moment when the four giant planets line up in such a way that one trajectory can link them all. Voyager 1's Grand Tour was cut short, though, to give it more time to give Saturn's moon Titan a close-up look. It would be left to Voyager 2 to take it all the way home. In addition to Jupiter and Saturn, Voyager 2 flew by Uranus in January 1986, and Neptune in August 1989. No one has been to either one since.

After this, there was another period of drought ... for much the same reason. The outer planets are hard to get to. It would be almost a quarter-century before we finally got around to finishing out the initial reconnaissance of the Solar System. Dawn has been cruising around the Asteroid Belt for quite some time, first orbiting Vesta before flying over to take up station around Ceres. I won't dwell on that, though, especially since I've so recently written about it.

Which brings us to what we've been watching this last month or so.

Pluto has been, at most, a vague blob. What we didn't know about it was ... well, about everything. Once we'd found its moon Charon we could get some idea about its mass, but we were never entirely sure how big it was. Or precisely what it was made of. Or what it looked like. But even if we never hear from New Horizons again, what it's already found has utterly revolutionized our knowledge of the outskirts of our system. Even if we can't call it a planet anymore, there can be no doubt that these are worlds. Even if we never get another byte of data, what's already been gathered will keep scientists busy for years.

I don't have to write any more about that hypothetical though. Because we have a hard lock on a healthy ship. And over the next sixteen months, at an agonizing 4K bits per second, New Horizons will empty its tape recorders into our data banks.

I can scarcely imagine what it's seen these last twenty-four hours.

Soon, I won't have to.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Puzzlement of Discovery

The defining exclamation of scientific discovery isn't "Eureka!"

Sometimes it works out that way. "Eureka" -- from Greek meaning, more or less, "I have found it" -- is supposedly what Archimedes exclaimed upon realizing, while sliding into his bath, that displaced water may be used to measure the volume of a solid object. He'd been having a dispute with a goldsmith, you see, and suspected he'd been cheated. He needed to find a way to prove it, and a solution presented itself to him.

"Eureka" moments are far more common in engineering than in science, actually. Inspiration for the solution for technical problems tends to strike at the weirdest moments. I've had them at the gym, in the shower, and while walking across the street to a convenience store.

But moments of true discovery? Those aren't marked with glad shouts. Those are more often marked with puzzled murmurs. Not so much "Eureka!" as "What the heck did we just see?"

We're seeing one of those unfold in real time. Dawn is settling down into its science/mapping orbit around Ceres. And Ceres is proving to be a very puzzling place.

The $100,000 Question here is: What are those shiny bits? No one really knows for sure. The closer we get, the better and clearer the pictures are, but so far that hasn't brought any real clarity. One article I read compared them to Las Vegas at night, as seen from space. No one takes that interpretation seriously, mainly because Ceres is a damned odd place for ET to build a casino.

There's no real proof yet, but most people have a sneaking suspicion that what we're looking at are ice sheets. And not just those two bright spots, they're starting to show up all over Ceres' surface. Which may mean ...

... that there's just a thin layer of dusty rock on top of a thick layer of ice.

If that's the case ... this is a find of unimaginable value. Gold in them thar hills? Feh. Don't bother me with such penny-ante stuff. Water is important.

If humanity is to have a future away from Earth, we'll have to find somewhere to get water. Beyond the obvious, water can be electrolyzed into hydrogen and oxygen. We need the oxygen to breathe, the water to drink, the hydrogen can provide power via fusion (once we figure out how to do that), and hydrogen and oxygen together can be used as rocket fuel ... or, the water itself can be used as the working fluid for a nuclear thermal rocket. But all this hinges on finding a place to get water that isn't prohibitively expensive.

Water is abundant here on Earth. But you have to lift that out of Earth's gravity well, boosting it ten kilometers per second to punch through the atmosphere, up to altitude, and then up to orbital speed. Then you have to boost it from low Earth orbit to wherever it is you need to use it.

Incidentally, this is why the movie Elysium never made any sense to me. Anyone with the technical savvy to build an orbital habitat would know better than to get their routine supplies from down here. The delta-V costs will simply eat you alive. But I digress...

Or maybe I don't? Because the problem is, if you can't get water from Earth, where do you get it?

Well, lots of places. Jupiter and Saturn have plenty of icy moons. Europa, Ganymede, Enceladus, and each of those have about as much water as Earth does, in the form of ice. The problem is, though, you have to lift that ice out of either Jupiter's or Saturn's gravity well, and that ain't exactly cheap. You're better off doing that than lifting it from Earth's surface, but not by a tremendous amount.

Ceres, now... In terms of delta-V, getting to and from Ceres isn't that hard. It takes a long time, but doesn't take much fuel. Remember that Dawn flew from Vesta to Ceres on about a fistful of rocket fuel. And fuel is the long pole in this particular tent. An enormous ice supply, located in the middle of the Asteroid Belt, is a Godsend for would-be colonists. It makes a ludicrous fantasy into ... well, still a very difficult enterprise, but at least one that's within shouting distance of feasible.

Or, it could all be smoke and mirrors. Something else entirely. Soon, we'll know for sure, one way or another.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Election 2016: Too Damn Early Edition

The clown car is now complete.

Of course, there's exactly zero chance that The Donald stays in the contest long enough to actually file disclosure papers with the FEC. He's got thirty days to do that, plus two more or less automatic 45-day extensions. With four months to play with, that takes us to October, by which time he'll have pulled the plug. In the meantime he gets exactly what he wants: the opportunity to strut and preen in the spotlight while people paid toadies pretend that he's meaningful and significant.

This does a disservice to the real candidates in the race. Candidates of substance, of experience, candidates who have real policy achievements they can point to. Whether or not those policy achievements were good things or not is open to debate. But people like Scott Walker, Rick Perry, and yes, even Mike Huckabee have earned a place at the table. Feckless nitwits like Trump haven't.

Be that as it may, though, it's that time again. Time for America's political parties, all across the spectrum, to club together and figure out who they're going to put forward for the office of President of the United States.

The stakes are high ... though not necessarily for the reasons you think. Yes, all the usual things are at stake: Supreme Court nominations, legislative action, the normal stuff. But there's also a historical dimension.

Whoever wins in November 2016 is going to get an absolute boatload of unearned credit.

Why, you ask?

Check out a time history of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, plotted on a logarithmic scale:

I'd like to draw your attention to the behavior since 1940. From 1940 to about 1965, there was a period of fairly steady expansion. Then from 1965 to about 1985, a period of leveling-off. From 1985 to 2000, another expansion. Since 2000, another leveling-off.

There are policy explanations, of course, and proponents of the policies in effect during expansions will surely tout them. But there are also longer-term cycles at work, and developments that political policy has little to do with ... and we're primed for another expansion. It will probably get underway sometime between January 20, 2017 and January 20, 2021. The party of the occupant of the White House will try to claim the lion's share of the credit, earned or otherwise.

So the question remains ... who will that someone be?

For now, the Democratic Party's contest looks simpler, so that's where I'll start. (Numbers from Pollster. To keep the lists to a manageable size, I'll omit anyone under the 2% threshold.)

Hillary Clinton, 59.5%. While party unity can be a good thing, there's such a thing as too much unity. There needs to be at least some fractious debate during a primary, or the candidate is weakened. But that's beside point anyway. My issue with Clinton is the same as my issue with Jeb Bush -- there's been a Clinton or a Bush in the Presidential conversation since 1980. 1980! Two families have dominated Federal electoral politics for nearly forty years. This. Is. Not. GOOD. If you don't want an oligarchy, you kind of need to stop voting for oligarchs.

Bernie Sanders, 12.2%. Clinton's token opposition from the Left. I say "token", because I don't believe Sanders can pull enough support from the "center" part of the Democratic center-left coalition to win.

Joe Biden, 11.2%. Biden may make a race of it yet, but it's even odds that he decides to hang 'em up. The man is understandably heart-broken just right now, and may not have the fire and the thunder left for a hard campaign.

The Republican Party's list is considerably more active, and more interesting to talk about.

Marco Rubio, 11.7% No, pay attention. This isn't a continuation of the above list. It's just that there are a heck of a lot of Republicans going for the brass ring, and really, at this stage the polling really doesn't tell us much. The people at the top of the field probably have the "legs" to make a real challenge of it, but it's going to be a hard slog.

Jeb Bush, 10.9%. See? This is what I was going on about with Clinton above. We just can't seem to quit 'em. Although to be fair, as a former Governor, he's earned a right to be in the conversation. But I don't have to like it.

Scott Walker, 10.6%. And there's not a whole lot of daylight separating the top spots. Walker and Bush are duking it out for the "Seasoned Republican Governor" spot, while Carson and Rubio are still in the mix.

Ben Carson, 10.2%. And even amongst these four, their supporters only account for about 43% of the response field. It's going to be a wild ride, just like last time, with a succession of also-rans peaking and flaming out all through the Summer, Fall, and Winter.

Mike Huckabee, 8.8%. That said, while we're going to see some shake-outs from the Top Ten, I kind of suspect the Top Five will all be around for the Big Show in January. They've all rounded up enough financial support to make it through Super Tuesday, at a minimum.

Rand Paul, 8.4%. Sadly, I suspect Senator Paul will likely be one of the casualties. I say "sadly" because while I don't always (maybe even often) agree with him, I respect him. I respect a legislator who has the fortitude for an old-school, hold-the-floor filibuster. But since he doesn't have a "pocket billionaire" funding his campaign, he probably won't be able to go the distance.

Ted Cruz, 6.2%. So, we're all agreed now that "natural born" is perfectly well satisfied by jus sanguinis? By having an American parent? Sweet.

Chris Christie, 4.3%. He's not the lowest-ranked former governor in the race ... but he soon will be.

Carly Fiorina, 4.2%. I'll admit, I haven't paid much attention to Fiorina's policy views. I was too busy paying attention to her spectacular ineptitude at Hewlett-Packard. She took over an industry giant that made the finest hand-held computing devices known to Man, and left a smoldering pile of wreckage. Yeah, that's the kind of executive experience we really need in the Oval Office...

Rick Perry, 2.7%. Do not discount this man. His performance in the 2012 campaign debates was a bizarre anomaly. Expect him to bide his time, and quietly collect support from the flame-outs as they occur. He'll have swapped places with Christie on this list by the end of the summer.

Rick Santorum, 2.2%. In a normal GOP year, "It's His Turn" is powerful mojo. As the 2012 runner-up, you'd expect Santorum to be polling higher this time around ... except that this is no ordinary year. They've been out of office long enough for panic to begin brewing. The GOP is going to go one of two ways. They're either going to go for electability, or they're going to go for an ideological firebrand. I'm not sure Santorum fills either bill.

John Kaisch, 2.1%. OK, so Christie has room yet to fall to get to lowest-ranked Governor on this list.

The Donald, 1.9%. I include Captain Combover just to indicate that the bucket has clanged noisily off the bottom of the well. And there isn't any water down there. Well's dry, folks.

And that's where we are. The Democrats don't have enough candidates, and the Republicans have too many. It's liable to still be that way this Fall, when things begin to heat up in earnest.

And remember, as I always say: Vote early, and vote often!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sesquicentennial, Part L: Epilogue, Part 5: What Have We Learned?


"What have we learned, Palmer?"

"I don't know, sir."

"I don't &#!*@%$ know either. I guess we learned not to do it again."

-- Two CIA Officers from Burn After Reading

Fifteen decades later, what have we learned? Not nearly as much as the price on the box says it's worth, that's for damn sure.

The price ... the price was high. High enough to be nearly incomprehensible today. Even in purely monetary terms, it was staggering. Direct wartime costs amounted to $2.3 billion. Veterans' benefits -- benefits that, mind you, we were paying into the 1970s and 1980s to some wives and children -- amounted to $3.289 billion. Interest payments on the debt incurred during wartime came to $1.2 billion. The Federal debt at the end of the war stood at $2.7 billion, indicating that just about all wartime expenses were met by borrowing.

That's some serious cash. That's the Manhattan Project, Project Apollo, and just about everything in between, all rolled together. When you consider that the net worth of all slaves was in the neighborhood of $3.5 billion in 1860 dollars, it would have been cheaper -- far cheaper -- to buy out the slaveholders' interests. Cheaper, and far less bloody. Which brings us to the other kind of price.

Nearly three million Americans saw combat. Of those, over six hundred thousand died. About half that, three hundred thousand or so, were wounded. Right about a quarter of the South's men of military age were dead.

So ... what have we learned? I can hope that we have at a minimum learned not to do it again. But seeing all the Tea Partiers bleating "Secede!" at the least provocation, I despair of even that much.

But despair is a sin. The lessons are there, for those that care to look. I'm not going to pretend like I've got it all figured out -- I strongly suspect no one does --  but a few things have become clear to me over the last five years.

First, and this is no real surprise, the Lost Cause is utterly bankrupt intellectually. It hasn't the remotest basis in fact. Of the points listed in the article, the second is only tangentially true, and the fifth irrelevant. The others are hogwash, delusional fantasy, or outright lies.

(1) Southern commanders seemed better than their Union counterparts, but only because the South enjoyed the early advantage of putting their best officers in key posts.
(2) The Union's superiority in resources and manpower -- true, but this covers up the real reason.
(3) The loser's bleat -- we only lost because we were robbed. Buy a clue: Longstreet was right about Pickett's Charge, and Lee damned well ought to have listened.
(4) Horsefeathers. States' Rights to do what? The seceding States were perfectly clear why they seceded. This is an after-the-fact face-saving lie.
(5) Irrelevant. "Treason doth never prosper, what's the reason? For if it prospers, none dare call it treason." We say the American Revolution was justified, because we won. Secession failed, and therefore wasn't.
(6) I've actually never met anyone who could claim this with a straight face. We've made this much progress -- as recently as fifty years ago, a lot of people in the South took the hogwash that "slavery was a benign institution" more or less seriously.

Be that as it may -- down here in the South, you will always and forever run into people that will say the Civil War wasn't about slavery. A small part of me sympathizes. It's a hard thing to admit that your great-to-the-Nth grandfather fought for an evil cause. No one likes to think that. Nonetheless, it's true. Well, individual soldiers fought for a whole bunch of reasons. In the end, he ends up fighting for the man on his right and his left, because that's the way you come through with a whole skin. But their officers, their leaders -- as I've said before, and repeatedly, they were crystal clear about why they did what they did. Secession was about slavery. To believe anything else is to ignore everything the secessionists themselves said or wrote.

Second, this experience has reinforced a saying I learned many, many years ago during my days as an officer cadet: Amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics. General Scott's overall strategy for the Union was shrink-wrapped around logistics: secure the Ohio River valley and its railroads, secure the Mississippi, isolate and starve the enemy. It set a pattern we still follow. It was more or less irrelevant whether or not the Tiger was ten times better than a Sherman, because there was always an eleventh and twelfth Sherman. We seek to ensure adequate arms and supplies for our own soldiers, and just as diligently seek to deny the same to our enemies. If you've got plenty of food, ammo, and gas and your enemy is scrounging; well, that may not be victory, but you can sure see it from here. Had they ever been able to get England off dead center, and use the Royal Navy to guarantee free navigation to Southern ports ... but that was never going to happen. It was a faint hope until late summer of 1863, but a dead one afterwards. In any event, the South wasn't crushed by numbers, or the perfidy of some of its officers, it was strangled by a slow, patient encirclement. Just as General Winfield Scott intended.

Third, and this came as something of a surprise, the battles themselves were far less interesting than I thought they'd be. After a while, they all began to run together. That said, you do see a difference between how the armies moved as the war progressed. Early on, they'd just run pell-mell at one another. Then, in late 1863 or early 1864, they began to emphasize flanking movements and de-emphasize frontal attacks. That was an interesting development. Officers began to realize the power of the weapons they commanded, and how they must be employed on the battlefield. And you begin to see in the siege of Petersburg in late 1864 and early 1865 a microcosm of what would happen on a continental scale only fifty years afterwards. Even then, though, the movements and decisions between the battles were, and are, what have a lasting effect. As Sun Tzu once said, a battle is won or lost before the armies ever see one another. It's purely a pity Master Sun's wisdom wasn't widely available in 1860.

Fourth, and last, it's not really over. As Lincoln said at Gettysburg, it is still up to us to carry on the work left undone. It is still up to us to see to it that the words "all men are created equal" have real weight and meaning, and isn't just an empty phrase. That "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are things that each and every one of us can have and use. There are some who, upon realizing this, say that the war can still be lost.

I shun such defeatism. Rather, let us work to see to it that we truly experience a new birth of freedom. Six hundred thousand ghosts demand it. They expect us to take up the standard, worn and frayed though it be, and not rest until we've done our part such that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the Earth.

It's a worthy goal. And a life worthily spent. Truly, what more can a man want?

[Ed. note -- and that's a wrap. Thanks for taking this journey with me. In coming months, I'll be taking a spin through the articles, doing some light editing and fixing broken links.]

Monday, May 04, 2015

Sesquicentennial, Part XLIX: Epilogue, Part 4: The Curious Case Of Dade County


"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historical facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce." -- Karl Marx

And then there was the time, late in the War, that a county seceded from Georgia.

With respect to Georgia, Dade County defines remote. In the mid-19th century, swamps and forests make it impossible to reach Dade County by a road entirely within Georgia. You had to go through either Tennessee or Alabama to get there. And it's not like Dade County actually had anything worth having. For that matter, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia had a bit of trouble remembering to whom Dade County actually belonged to begin with. The County government thought it belonged to Georgia, though, and when Georgia's demand for troops became too onerous, Dade County adopted an Ordinance of Secession, and bolted.

There's no record that the Georgia Legislature ever noticed. To be fair, they were preoccupied with more pressing matters, such as being where General Sherman wasn't. Time passed.

The war ended. The Confederate armies surrendered, and the soldiers went home. But Dade County either forgot -- or deliberately declined -- to re-unify with Georgia. Maps of Georgia would commonly have a notch in the corner, where Dade County ought to have been. Beyond that, no one really cared.

More time passed.

Men from Dade County volunteered to fight in the armies of the United States, first against Spain, and then against the Kaiser. A few oldsters thought that funny, since so far as any of them could remember, they weren't strictly speaking part of the United States.

Still more time passed.

Someone decided that it'd be nice to have a road to Dade County that lay entirely within Georgia. The discovery of coal deposits probably had something to do with the decision. They built it. The citizens of Dade County paid Georgia taxes. Just about everyone had forgotten the unpleasant secession business, and men from Dade County again volunteered to fight for the United States against Germany and Japan.

It was more or less at this point that a county historian discovered the old ordinance, in a disused file cabinet.

The government of Dade County, circa 1946, was astonished to learn that they were still, legally, in a state of rebellion against a government that now held a global monopoly on atomic weapons. This was an ... alarming realization, to say the least. But hey, late reunification is better than never, right? They promptly adopted an ordinance of reunion, with both Georgia and the United States, and sent it along to President Truman.

Truman was a good sport about it. All's well that ends well, as they say. And now that Dade County is safely and legally reunited with Georgia, the map of Georgia is once again whole, and properly pointy in all the right places. No one would ever again leave Dade County off.

Ummm ... guys?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Sesquicentennial, Part XLVIII: Epilogue, Part 3: ... And Dropping Them


"I yield to no one precedence in love for the South. But because I love the South, I rejoice in the failure of the Confederacy." -- Woodrow Wilson, March 1880

Is it possible to lose a war but win the peace?

Of course it is. You need look no further than Germany or Japan. If you had told one of the survivors, starving in blasted-out ruins in 1945, that in only a few short decades their nations would stand near the top of the entire world in economic growth, they'd have thought you insane. Looking back from 1970, though, it was fairly clear: Japan and Germany, far from being impoverished conquered provinces, were very wealthy and very free. They both lost their war, and by 1970 no one was all that heart-broken about it.

(As an aside, it's ironic that a liberalized and democratized Germany and Japan have achieved most of the goals that their totalitarian masters had set for influence and prosperity. But I digress.)

So it was with the South, more or less. They lost the war for independence, yes. But the patience of the Northern taxpayer would not last forever. And there were projects the Northern taxpayer had no real interest in undertaking.

The failures of Reconstruction, then, can be divided into two broad categories. First, the things the Congress never really tried to do; and second, the things it did, but stopped doing after a while.

The fundamental problem surrounding the abolition of slavery was this: aside from freedom, nothing had been given the freedman. He owned nothing, and had few to no skills. What was he supposed to do with himself? How would he earn a living?

There were half-hearted efforts by the Freedmen's Bureau to address this problem. Vocational training, for instance. And efforts to get them included in the Homestead Act. Get them a fair start with property and skills. Unfortunately the effort was starved and stymied from the start. The Freedmen's Bureau was basically gutted by 1869, and closed outright in 1872.

Even in its failure, though, there were successes. Schools and colleges were established all over the country, first simply to teach them to read and write, and then to address their needs for higher learning. And it was able to offer assistance and advice to freedmen who were adjusting to their new relationships, employee to employer rather than slave to master.

But this effort to address the fundamental issue -- that the freedman owned nothing and knew little -- was barely a drop in the bucket. And after 1872, Congress more or less forgot about the whole thing until the 1960s.

That leads us to the other reason for Reconstruction's failure: Northerners got tired of paying for, and staffing, a military occupation of the Southern states. You see, Lee was fundamentally right: the North would get tired of being on a war footing, sooner or later. It took ten to fifteen years to get there, though, far too long for the Confederacy to get any benefit.

In the immediate aftermath, the Republican super-majority in Congress could do what it damned well pleased. And often did, despite Jackson's veto. (Again, I think Lincoln would have handled this better ... but we'll never know.) The Radicals wanted, and got, a harsh version of Reconstruction that was essentially an army of occupation sitting on the South until ... well, until the North tired of the effort. While an army of occupation was sitting on top of them, they had to pay attention to things like the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. They had to pay attention to voting rights. That doesn't mean they liked it.

And so, to all intents and purposes, the minute the North looked away ... the South returned to a passable version of status quo ante. Black Codes were passed that were very little different from the Slave Codes they replaced. This system mutated a little over the years, to become the Jim Crow laws that basically ruled the South from the 1870s to the 1960s, 1970s, and in some places even later. The system that was in place by the turn of the century was very little different from that which had been in place forty years before.

There were a few differences, though. People were acknowledged to own themselves. And those who could get out, who could move North or West, found life a little more pleasant. Not a whole lot, because discrimination was rife in those places as well ... but once the soldiers left, the South re-imposed their preferred social order.

And so it was that by 1880 or thereabouts, a young Southerner could well celebrate the Confederacy's ruin. Well, not "celebrate" as such. But like Wilson, they could have both the advantages of being part of the Union, and enjoy the privileges of class that their fathers and grandfathers had known.

They had lost the war, but they had also won the peace.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sesquicentennial, Part XLVII: Epilogue, Part 2: Picking Up The Pieces...


"Laws are to govern all alike -- those opposed as well as those who favor them." -- President Ulysses S. Grant, March 4, 1869

Reconstruction meant a lot of things.

Politically, it meant the re-integration of the Union. Physically, it literally meant the re-construction of cities, rail lines, and other infrastructure that had been blasted to rubble. It had many other meanings as well, so many that it's probably a hopeless task to cover it in one, two, or a hundred essays. The fact that it's still a matter of contention a century and a half later should tell you how complicated and convoluted a matter it is.

If it was a failure, it was also a limited success. I'd like to talk about the successes first.

The longest-lasting success was a fundamental alteration of the nature of the United States. Originally, the United States were envisioned as a compact amongst independent, sovereign States; banded together for the purpose of securing and protecting their independence first from Great Britain, and then from anyone else who might take an interest. And, by and large, this was how the United States of America thought of themselves, up until the 1860s.

That nation died in the conflagration that began at Fort Sumter and ended at Appomattox.

The United States that emerged from the Civil War thought of itself -- unquestioningly and unflinchingly -- as a single Union. One nation. Indivisible. You've probably said those three words fairly often, and may not have given much thought to what they meant. It's an expression of a new national identity, an identity Americans didn't actually have before. The Union veterans who returned home still felt an attachment to their home States, to be sure, but they'd stood shoulder-to-shoulder with their brothers-in-arms from other States, and had fought and bled for the same cause. The former Confederates who returned home could say the same. Like Shelby Foote once said, North and South alike, they no longer thought of the United States as an "are", they thought of it as an "is".

More to the point, though, the War established the supremacy of the Federal government over the States. It's pointless to elaborate. What was Appomattox, if not the ultimate expression of Federal supremacy? While you hear grumbling from time to time about States' Rights, and while we still have clear divisions of power amongst and between the various levels of government in this country, where the Federal tier asserts supremacy, they get it.

The next longest-lasting success were the three so-called Reconstruction Amendments to the United States Constitution.

Constitutional Amendments are important. The Constitution is the Law of the Land. What the Constitution permits is allowed everywhere, what it forbids is allowed nowhere. So when an Amendment adds a new thou shalt or thou shalt not, that's kind of a big deal. The Reconstruction Era added three new chapters to our fundamental law.

The Thirteenth Amendment was the only one President Lincoln lived to see. This was the amendment that banned slavery, everywhere in the United States and for all time. It was presented to the States for ratification on January 31, 1865. Lincoln didn't see it come into force, though; with its ratification by Georgia on December 8th, it was declared to have become law by Secretary of State William Seward on December 18th.

The Fourteenth Amendment proved to be far more important, though, and far more sweeping. The first section of the Fourteenth Amendment is probably the most-litigated section in the entire Constitution. Citizenship, due process, privileges and immunities, equal protection -- all of those come from the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment. It, along with the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteeing the right to vote regardless of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude," were bitterly contested by the South. But both Amendments entered force anyway: the Fourteenth in 1868 and the Fifteenth in 1870. Whether or not the spirit of the law has always been observed is open to question .. but the law, once on the books, could be litigated by people demanding equal protection under the law.

Another of the successes of Reconstruction is less obvious. It's an old story. Revolution is followed by counter-revolution, coup, junta, in an endless cycle of recrimination and revenge. This was largely avoided after the Civil War. The soldiers were simply sent home, with none of them being tried for treason. Well, poor old Henry Wirz was hanged for commanding the Andersonville prison camp, held to account for the hell-hole it became. But besides him, not a single Confederate officer danced his last jig at the end of a rope. Lincoln didn't want to exact revenge, he wanted reconciliation. That is why he instructed Grant to offer Lee the terms he did, and Sherman offered similar terms to Johnson. The defeated rebels were simply allowed to pick up the pieces, and get on with their lives. Now, don't get me wrong, there was plenty of rancor in the hearts of ex-Confederates ... but with time, and generations, it does tend to fade. There's still ribbing between Northerner and Southerner, but it's verbal and not physical. We've managed to avoid the endless cycle of revenge that has riven so many countries over the years.

Of course, that masks some spectacular instances of post-War violence. But that's for next time, when we talk about Reconstruction's failures.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sesquicentennial, Part XLVI: Epilogue, Part 1 -- What If ...


"Buzzard's guts, man! I am the President of the United States, clothed in immense power! You will procure me those votes." -- President Abraham Lincoln (as portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis)

Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theater on April 15, 1865. And that's about all I have to say on that subject. A great deal has already been written about it, after all, and I don't think I have anything especially new or interesting to add to that conversation. Except ... for a curious observation.

Have you ever considered the fact that all of our Presidents who wielded sweeping wartime powers came to bad ends?

Abraham Lincoln basically invented the wartime Presidency.  Invented it out of whole cloth, if we're being truly honest about it. Certainly there's no explicit definition of the powers Lincoln wielded within the Constitution. There's a splendid scene in the recent movie Lincoln, where Daniel Day-Lewis waxes eloquent on his powers, and their somewhat dubious Constitutionality. I'm paraphrasing a little, but he says in effect, "I took an oath to protect the Constitution, so I decided that in order to uphold that oath, I needed to have these powers." And, for the most part, no one called him on it. No one called him on it, so it became precedent. In World War I, and again in World War II, Presidents Wilson and Roosevelt, respectively, laid hold of those same powers.

And the record shows: Lincoln was assassinated, Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke, and Roosevelt died scarcely a month before the victory in Europe.

It's almost enough to make you wonder if Someone didn't want them to last long enough to see peacetime...

And so we've never had the question answered: Can a President who's held so much untrammeled power come down the scale, and govern as a peacetime President?

It's probably just as well. The answer might have been "no." But let's assume the answer is "yes," at least in Lincoln's case, so we can move on to a very popular matter of speculation. To wit -- what would Lincoln's second term have actually looked like, were he not assassinated? Would Lincoln have fared better than Johnson?

The second question there is far easier to answer, so I'll answer it first with a confident and assured "yes." Lincoln was a damn sight better politician than Johnson, a better negotiator, and far more pragmatic. And more to the point, Lincoln, as the President who saved the Union, had an immense store of political capital upon which he could draw to get his way with Congress. The question that occupies us, and which brings us back to the first question above, is this -- on which issues would Lincoln spend that capital?

I have no real idea how to answer that question. I do know this, though; at least in its rough outlines, Presidential Reconstruction closely mirrored what Lincoln wanted. No harsh reprisals, and political re-integration into the Union as soon as practicable. He'd have run into Radical Republican opposition on this, just as Johnson did. But, Lincoln being Lincoln, he'd have done some horse-trading with them, giving them a little of what they wanted so he'd get most of what he wanted.

I think this is what Stephen Carter's book The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln gets a little bit wrong. I'm sure that Thaddeus Stevens would be angry enough at Lincoln to spit nails. But Lincoln is far too slippery, and far too pragmatic, to be caught so easily. Plus there's the aforementioned political capital, some of which he could spend defensively. He'd have a fractious relationship with the Radical wing of his party, but what else is new? Besides which, while the Republicans held a veto-proof majority in Congress, the Radicals didn't. Lincoln could play off the factions against one another long enough ... well, long enough. He only had to keep up the dance for four more years. Compared to the last four, it'd be a cake walk.

In this scenario, I think it's likely that Reconstruction wouldn't have been as extensive or as sweeping, but because Lincoln's reach didn't outrun his grasp, its effects may have lasted longer. I'm not sure exactly what form that would have taken. A better-funded Freedman's Bureau, perhaps, and/or a longer-lasting one. Smaller civil rights gains, but gains that actually bit and held, as opposed to being rapidly rolled back. Radicals chafed at Lincoln's "lack of vision", rather than seeing that Lincoln had little interest in that which could not be realistically achieved.

It would have been a contentious second term. Second terms almost always are. And Lincoln wouldn't have had any measurable appetite for a third one, so someone else takes over in 1868. Probably Grant, because he stood as high in everyone's esteem as anyone else did, and I don't see much of anything changing that.

But we'll never know. A disgruntled actor at Ford's Theater made sure of that. For good or ill, that's the world John Wilkes Booth left us. And so, we'll always wonder: What if...

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Sesquicentennial, Part XLV: The End, Part Two


"That was an order! Steiner's attack was an order! How dare you ignore my orders?!?"
  -- Adolf Hitler, 4/22/1945

On April 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln sat at a desk. This wasn't especially unusual. He'd done so just about every day of his adult life, either as a student, attorney, Congressman or President. The fact he was sitting at a desk wasn't especially unusual, but the details -- at which desk, in particular -- were. Because this desk was in a particular city, at a particular place ... the city, Richmond ... the building, the Confederate White House.

Davis had departed in some haste a few days earlier, and the Confederate armies were in headlong retreat along the Appomattox River. Lincoln was sitting at the desk so recently occupied by his intractable adversary, contemplating what would come after. The war wasn't over yet, but it soon would be.

Green Eagle brought up a point that bears some examination. It's arguable whether or not history repeats itself, but there are definitely echoes, if you should care enough to listen for them. Jefferson Davis' call for eternal resistance has echoes eighty years hence, when Adolf Hitler bellowed incoherently at his senior generals in the bunker, raving about orders given to armies that no longer existed, except within his imagination. Of course, Hitler was taking up to nine injections per day of a witch's brew called Vitamultin, a frightening concoction devised by his "physician" Dr. Morell. Methamphetamine was but one of the ingredients. So, if you ever wondered why the Third Reich's overall strategy looked like the work of a hobo on crank ... yeah. Turns out, there's a reason for that.

Davis had no such excuse. Well, maybe he got hold of some moldy rye bread. I've heard that can make you see purple monkeys, among other things. Or maybe it was just stubborn pride. Pride's a hell of a drug. It can make a man do -- and say --  incredibly stupid things.

Lee was also a proud man, and stubborn, but not to that degree. He still had an army of sorts, and the means to resist. While his army was reeling from hammer-blow after hammer-blow during the retreat, the retreat never quite degenerated into a rout. There were supplies ahead, and ammunition. Maybe even a defensible position.

It's purely a shame that Phil Sheridan got there first.

And, at long last, that tore it. Lee was willing to resist as long as there were the means for doing so. But now? A good many of his men were unarmed. Those that were armed were desperately short of ammunition. No one had much food to speak of. Arms, ammunition, food; an army must have these to function as such. He now had none, and no hope of obtaining more.

It was more or less at this point that General Grant offered terms of surrender.

Once again, Grant here fails to live up to his nickname of "Unconditional Surrender", but this time it was at the behest of his Commander-in-Chief. Lincoln wanted him to offer generous terms. Officers could keep their sidearms. Officers and men who owned their horses could take them, too, and no one would examine that claim very closely. It was planting season, after all, and a surrendered population needs to be able to feed itself.

Lee said he'd rather die a thousand deaths than surrender ... but for the sake of his men, he accepted these terms, knowing he'd never get a better deal if he lived to be a hundred.

On April 9th, then, the Army of Northern Virginia stacked its arms and ceased to exist. Its men went home on parole.

Sporadic fighting would continue for months, here and there. But once word trickled through the South that Lee had given up ... Everyone was heartily sick and tired of fighting, of the privations of war. If Lee had surrendered, they they, too could surrender with their honor intact. But it would take time for the news to get around.

Joseph Johnston surrendered to Sherman later in the month of April. Other Confederate forces would surrender, in fits and starts as they got the news, all through the summer. The very last Confederate unit to surrender was the commerce raider CSS Shenandoah on November 6th. Importantly, Shenandoah surrendered to the Royal Navy rather than the US Navy, because her captain feared facing piracy charges.

Davis managed to evade capture for a while, but only for a while. Little more than a month after Lee's surrender, Davis was captured in Georgia.

What you called it depended upon whose side you were on. Some called it the Civil War. Others the War Between the States. But whatever you might have called it, it was over. Nearly three million Americans served, and over six hundred thousand died.

And now, the people who were left would have to clean up the mess.

[Ed. Note: There will be a few "Epilogue" chapters to come, dealing with Reconstruction and other things, so we're not quite done yet.]

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Cold Iron

by Rudyard Kipling

"Gold is for the mistress -- silver for the maid --
 Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade."
"Good!" said the Baron, sitting in his hall,
"But Iron -- Cold Iron -- is master of them all."

So he made rebellion 'gainst the King his liege,
Camped before his citadel and summoned it to siege.
"Nay!" said the cannoneer on the castle wall,
"But Iron -- Cold Iron -- shall be master of you all!"

Woe for the Baron and his knights so strong,
When the cruel cannon-balls laid them all along;
He was taken prisoner, he was cast in thrall,
And Iron -- Cold Iron -- was master of it all!

Yet his King spake kindly (ah, how kind a Lord!)
"What if I release thee now and give thee back thy sword?"
"Nay!" said the Baron, "mock not at my fall,
 For Iron -- Cold Iron -- is master of men all."

"Tears are for the craven, prayers are for the clown --
 Halters for the silly neck that cannot keep a crown."
"As my loss is grievous, so my hope is small,
 For Iron -- Cold Iron -- must be master of men all!"

Yet his King made answer (few such Kings there be!)
"Here is Bread and here is Wine -- sit and sup with me.
 Eat and drink in Mary's Name, the whiles I do recall,
 How Iron -- Cold Iron -- can be master of men all!"

He took the Wine and blessed it, He blessed and brake the Bread,
With His own Hands He served Them, and presently He said:
"See! These Hands they pierced with nails, outside My city wall,
 Show Iron -- Cold Iron -- to be master of men all."

"Wounds are for the desperate, blows are for the strong.
 Balm and oil for weary hearts all cut and bruised with wrong.
 I forgive thy treason -- I redeem thy fall --
 For Iron -- Cold Iron -- must be master of men all!"

"Crowns are for the valiant -- sceptres for the bold!
 Thrones and powers for mighty men who dare to take and hold!"
"Nay!" said the Baron, kneeling in his hall,
"But Iron -- Cold Iron -- is master of men all!
 Iron out of Calvary is master of men all!"

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Sesquicentennial, Part XLIV: The End, Part One


"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war will speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, 'the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'

"With malice for none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

-- President Abraham Lincoln, March 4th, 1865

By his second Inauguration, Lincoln was at long last able to begin thinking about after. Grant had Lee bottled up in Petersburg and Richmond. Sherman was marching at will in the Carolinas with no effective opposition. Sure, Joseph E. Johnston led a force shadowing Sherman, but while it was a force that marched with good order and discipline, its military capability was more theoretical than actual. Johnston had actually said as much in a letter to Lee after the Battle of Bentonville -- "I can do no more than annoy him."

The Confederacy was falling apart.

Its legislature had already essentially given up. On the 18th of March, the Confederate Congress adjourned sine die -- meaning, the Speaker adjourned without specifying a date they would reconvene. The dread secret no one dared breathe, but that everyone nevertheless knew, was that there would never be another session. Most of the Confederacy's civilian leadership was taking the opportunity the get gone while they still could.

Its army had, and hadn't, given up. Lee should have had about ninety thousand men to resist Grant's hundred-fifty-thousand. Should have, except that about two-thirds of them had deserted. This left Lee with thirty thousand men to hold just over fifty miles of line. An assault at three-to-two odds is a bloodbath for the attacker. An assault at five-to-one ... not so much.

By mid-March, Lee had one chance and one chance only. He knew that Sheridan was on his way from the Shenandoah with fifty thousand men, and Sherman was marching north from the Carolinas with sixty thousand more. If he waited too long, Grant would have well over two hundred thousand men at his command, while he would never have any more men than he currently had. If he was going to stage a breakout, it would have to be now.

Initially, the battle at Fort Steadman went well for the Confederacy. The forces under Confederate General John B. Gordon captured the Union works, and began directing enfilading fire on the Union trenches. But the Union counterattack was swift, sure, and effective ... so much so that Grant, who was a few miles away conferring with Lincoln, didn't know about the affair until it was all over. There were so many Union troops essentially sitting around doing nothing that it was a trivial matter to concentrate enough force to drive the assault back.

While that wasn't the final blow, it was very close to it. The Confederate army couldn't hold out much longer. When the end came at Petersburg, it came quickly.

The Battle of Five Forks would come a few days later, on the first of April. It was here that the Union finally turned the Confederate flank, and the Confederates simply did not have the manpower to stretch their line any more. The line caved, in several places. The position was no longer tenable, so Lee ordered a general retreat. He would try to lead his army west and south, along the Appomattox River, towards what he hoped would be a refuge, where he could find supplies for his men and a place to regroup.

Jefferson Davis, meanwhile, had entered a truly delusional state:

"Relieved from the necessity of guarding cities ... with an army free to move from point to point ... nothing is now needed to render our triumph certain but the exhibition of our own unquenchable resolve."

"Nothing is now needed" ... with the possible exceptions of food, munitions, and soldiers; all of which are conspicuously lacking at this point in the affair. I marvel at this passage. Davis cannot possibly have believed this drivel. And yet he committed it to paper as an exhortation to the people of the Confederacy ... at least, what was left of it. But on the other other hand, Davis wasn't a man known for lying ... leaving us with the inescapable conclusion that yes, he really did believe this bit of raving lunacy, meaning that yes, he has taken leave of his senses. Or equally possibly, his reputation for military acumen wasn't all that well-deserved after all.

A West Point man he was, but evidently, he slept through all of the lectures on logistics.

Lee hadn't. Which is why he was moving his army with all due speed to where he could resupply, with Grant and Sheridan dogging his steps the whole way ...

... one last roll of the dice.

Monday, February 23, 2015

What Could Have Been

Way back in the earliest days of the Apollo Program, they had no clue how to do the job they'd been handed. When President Kennedy laid down the gauntlet to put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade, America had a grand total of fifteen minutes and twenty-two seconds of spaceflight experience, and didn't even have a man-rated orbital rocket yet.

The most obvious, and in some ways the technically safest approach would be to build a ginormous rocket and lift the whole thing -- lander, earth-return stage, and capsule -- all in one heave. They called that approach Direct Ascent.

In the end, they decided against that approach. As it happened, if you split the earth-return capsule totally apart from the lander, you could save weight on both. That means you don't need such an enormous rocket, and the overall project cost is lower.

And besides which ... the Direct Ascent version of the Apollo 13 scenario is grim. No separate LM spacecraft means no lifeboat, and no lifeboat means three dead astronauts.

But we can still imagine what might have been. Seferino Rengel has used the Orbiter space simulator to visualize what it would have looked like.

Looks great ... but, on the whole, it's just as well we didn't go this route.

The great thing about Orbiter is that you can take a walking tour of designs that never were. You can appreciate the aesthetics, and sometimes come to a realization about why we didn't take that branch. Direct Ascent was just one example. Another example is the Lockheed Star Clipper. The pilot in me looks at that beautiful lifting body and drools ... but the engineer looks at that fuel tank layout and screams "Foam strikes ahoy!"

Another great thing about Orbiter is that we can imagine things that we could be doing, but for whatever reason aren't. Take the Grand Tour, for instance. When I was young, I assumed that this was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, that you'd never see such a fortuitous alignment again. Not so fast! For Jupiter and Saturn, at least, that alignment repeats every so often, and you can get one of Uranus or Neptune into the act as well. Such an alignment is available ... oh, right about now. Had we been more alert on the trigger, we could have something like Eris Explorer on deck and ready to go.

The mission plan is breathtaking in its vision, and optimism. The Eris encounter would be in 2051. I'll be 84 years old, making the bold and possibly unwarranted assumption that I last that long. When we go -- and we will, I'm sure of it -- the senior scientists and engineers on the project will simply have to accept that they won't survive to see the project come to fruition. They will have to hand it off to a new generation to bring it all together at the target. They'll have to assume that the organizations will still be viable entities throughout the entire duration of the mission. That the sponsor governments will stay the course, and provide funding for the whole course.

I find such optimism encouraging. When we plant a field that our sons and daughters will harvest, we make an investment in their future. And we can't invest in a future that we don't believe in.

National Engineers Week is February 22nd through the 28th. If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a veteran. But if you can read this on a computer, thank an engineer.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sesquicentennial, Part XLIII: Looking Ahead, Looking Back


One hundred years ago, the Western Front had settled down into an awful stalemate. A system of trenches stretched from the Swiss border to the North Sea, and the land in between the trenches had been turned into a churn of mud by the combined efforts of German, Austrian, French, and British artillery. The men in those trenches probably thought to themselves that surely, no such vision of Hell had been brought to Earth before.

Except that, if any of them had thought to cast their sight back fifty years in time and two thousand miles to the west, they'd see quite clearly that it had.

The Siege of Petersburg was, in many ways, a preview of coming attractions.

Trenches? Check. Massive artillery pounding the Hell out of everything in sight? Check. Crazy plans to dig mines under the enemy works and pack them with explosives? Good God yes, check. People had every right to feel despair, disgust, dread, or any number of other emotions regarding what the Western Front had become ... but they had no right at all to feel surprised. The Western Front was really nothing more than Petersburg scaled up to fit a continent.

Granted, the Western Front nightmare lasted a good bit longer. But that's partly because Douglas Haig wasn't fit to stand in the company of either Grant or Sherman.

True, Lee was keeping Grant's army out of both Petersburg and Richmond. He was also pinned down there, unable to do anything but hold those two cities. He was also unable to keep Grant from extending his lines around Petersburg to the south, and Richmond to the north.

That was eventually going to be a problem.

You see, there was more to Sherman's plan than simple bloody-minded violence. Part of that can be seen by a modification to a map of Confederate railroads (the original can be found here).

Sherman's approximate line of march since jumping off in Spring 1864 is shown in orange. By mid-February, Sherman had reached the city of Columbia in South Carolina. That encounter ... went poorly for Columbia. Sherman claimed that he didn't order Columbia burnt to the ground ... but he wasn't exactly sorry it happened, either. That's neither here nor there, though; the main point I want to make is that he was exacting the maximum amount of damage possible against the Confederacy's ability to move supplies from where they were to where they weren't. Where they were tended to be the farms where food was grown and the shops where goods were made, and where they weren't was the Army of Northern Virginia.

Lee had exactly one life-line left open. And that was the rail line from Richmond to Danville. This had been recently connected to Greensboro in North Carolina, so in theory Lee could draw on supplies from points south ... except that due to Sherman's efforts, there wasn't much further south from which to draw.

This is more or less the point in a chess match at which you'd resign.

You resign in a chess match when you see the inevitable outcome, and know that no matter what move you make, even if you make the best move possible from your current position, you will lose. Your opponent will put your King in checkmate, and there's nothing you can do about it.

But Jefferson Davis was at least in nominal control, and he wasn't in a resigning mood. Was this stubborn pride, delusional lunacy, or some mix of the two? Because Davis had to have known the jig was well and truly up. Had to. He was a West Point man himself, and had enough military experience out on the sharp end to know what's what. But pride ... his pride would not allow him to admit he'd been beaten. Nor would it allow him to breathe a word of defeatism to another living soul.

No, surrender wasn't a word in Davis' vocabulary. So long as it was up to him, he'd grind it out to the last desperate inch.

And so it would go.