In which Patrick Crozier tells me that the Americans could and should have won the Vietnam War

This was in the course of our latest recorded conversation, which we had over the phone (by which I mean my phone and his computer) last Wednesday, and which has just been posted at Croziervision, with further verbals from Patrick.

Which I recommend, even if you don’t listen to the thing itself. Patrick’s posting is even more informative and full of pertinent links than usual. In particular, I draw your attention to the link concerning the Case-Church Amendment, which Patrick identifies as the moment (it happened in June 1973) when an American victory, having been pretty much won on the battlefield, was then thrown away by the US Congress.

WHAM!

While searching the photo-archives for something else completely, I came across THIS!:

I photoed the above in the summer of 2016, in the Tate Modern gift shop.

Art galleries fascinate me, even though I often don’t like the Art that’s on show in them. And I am in particular fascinated by the gift shops that are now always attached to Art galleries. These places are often more crowded than where the Art is being shown. The above is only one of many, many photos, of Art stuff, that I have photoed in Art gallery gift shops.

In the case of this Roy Lichtenstein stuff, you can make a pretty good case for saying that those cushions, for instance, are as “authentic” Roy Lichtensteins as the “original” painting that the cushions were copied from. After all, the “original” painting was itself a copy, of something a lot like the cushions. And the original comic that Lichtenstein copied his painting from was mass produced, just like the cushions. Only the fetishism of the authentic unique object, by an officially recognised Artist, is holding back the dam of absurdity here.

I’m guessing that the business that Art galleries do in their gift shops, and in their equally vital coffee shops, is the difference between economic famine and something more like feast.

I also think that Art galleries are popular places to spend time in, again not because of the Art, but because of the quiet. Art galleries do not, on the whole, play annoying music, and talking in loud voices is considered boorish. The result is something a lot like a church.

That WW2 bombing offensive podcast – It’s up!

I’ve said it before, at the end of the last posting here, and I’ll say it again, at the beginning of this posting: It’s up. It being Patrick and me talking about the World War 2 bombing offensive. Patrick got it posted and listenable to less than a day after we recorded it. My salutations to him.

As you can see if you follow Patrick’s link, just by the notes Patrick offers, we meander a bit, as we do, but I hope not too intolerably.

I’ll add here a few things that Patrick doesn’t mention. Here are three blog postings by me, two here and one at Samizdata: The amazing Merlin; Dowding’s amazing lack of tact: The strange birth of the Avro Lancaster. Also, here’s a book that Patrick doesn’t mention in his notes but which I do mention in the podcast: A biography of Bomber Harris.

Our next phone conversation, we now think, will be about the Vietnam War. I made most of the running in this last one, but on the subject of Vietnam Patrick will be laying out the story, and I’ll be clarifying, or at least I hope I will. His basic thesis: The Americans won it, and then threw it away. My question, as of now, is: Did the rapprochement with China, and subsequent (consequent?) US victory in the Cold War, have something to do with the “throwing it away” bit?

You can listen to any, some or all of our recent podcasts by going here.

A recorded conversation by phone

Today, Patrick Crozier and I at last got around to doing the recorded conversation we failed to do earlier. About the Allied WW2 bombing offensive.

We did it down the phone rather than face-to-face, and doing it down the phone, what with the phone now being such an antiquated piece of kit, was what had caused the delay. (I am still trying to find the microphone that I swear I do own. Had I found it a fortnight ago, that would have saved Patrick a lot of bother.)

How satisfactory our conversation will turn out to be for others to listen to remains to be heard. I was a bit disorganised, not so much in what I said as in the order in which I said it. I tended to jump back and forth, or so it felt to me. But that wasn’t my phone’s fault, and communication between me and Patrick felt more exact and responsive than I had been fearing. Like most, I make constant use of my phone to keep in touch with friends and collaborators of various sorts, but mere communication is not the same as sharing a performance with whoever’s down the line. I did do performances like this on the radio back in the last century, but then I had no way to compare like with like, because each performance was different, and done with different people. This time I was able to make a more exact comparison, between this conversation with Patrick and previous conversations, of the same sort, also with Patrick. And, as I say, it felt more similar and less of a struggle than I had feared.

Accordingly, I very slightly revise my opinion about the efficacy of working at a distance. It is a little bit easier than I had earlier been thinking. Not that this will diminish the amount of work done in a city like London, and in particular in the centre of London. There is no fixed quantity of work, with more work moving to outside London automatically meaning less work being done in London. On the contrary, the easier it becomes to work outside London, the more busy London will be, keeping track of it all, placing bets on it, and generally doing its London stuff.

The fundamental importance of face-to-face communication remains. In the case of me and Patrick, we know each other well. We’ve met often and talked a lot face-to-face, over the years, in London. Because we know each other well, communication at a distance also works well, and actually, somewhat better than I had expected.

LESS THAN ONE DAY LATER: It’s up.

Another Twitter dump

I had a Twitter dump earlier. It feels so good to be getting this stuff out of my system, so here’s another. Again, in no particular order, and not chosen for bang-up-to-dateness, just funness and interestingness.

It maybe makes things a bit clearer if I indent the tweet references, and then unindent at the end, at which point I’ll be having a bit more to say:

What concrete blocks are made of in China.

Ghostbusters.

The Battle of France in 44 seconds.

This family built a hug guard.

Baihe reservoir (白河水庫) in Tainan county is at once both shockingly ugly and stunningly beautiful.

BBC’s Jeremy Bowen says there haven’t been all that many terrorist attacks in Israel.

Everyone who was worrying he was a fascist now worrying he’s not fascist enough.

150-foot iceberg passes through Iceberg Alley.

My boyfriend cheated on me, but, I love him. What should I do? A Georgist: Implement a land value tax.

James Burke had only one chance to film this scene, and the result is possibly the best timed shot in television history.

Jeremy Corbin won the argument.

The lockdown is ending because the American people say it’s ending.

I miss those carefree pre-coronavirus days when nobody died at all.

In each of the above cases, you get most of the tweet, and sometimes all of it. So, if all you want to know is what the tweet said, no need to click. But if you want to know who else besides me thought the tweets in question to be funny or interesting, click away.

And that has actually done the trick. To my great surprise I have actually cleared out all this tweetery from my hard disc and from now on my computer will surely be functioning better, until such time as I need another similar dump. There remain only a few animal-related tweets which are already scheduled to appear this coming Friday.

When the only choice is between different risks

Alice Smith:

The opposite of risk isn’t safety.

The opposite of risk is another type of risk.

I don’t think “opposite” is quite the right word here. The truth is more that sometimes there’s a choice between risk and possible reward on the one hand, and not risk and not reward. However, there is often, as now, a choice between risks, as above. The reward of taking the right risk is that you get to avoid an even bigger disaster, and maybe also get rewarded, but maybe no disaster or not such bad disaster is your only reward.

(Think 1940. For Britain then, there was no safe or painless alternative. Both alternatives, war or surrender, were horrifying.)

But I know exactly what Alice Smith means. People often speak about health risks as if skill in avoiding a list of only the more obvious ones will confer immortality.

To talk, during a crisis, such as the one now winding down, as if the choice is between big risk and no risk is, as Alice Smith is surely saying, foolishness. If that was the choice, there would be no crisis. The definition of crisis is that there are no risk-free alternatives. Whatever gets done will have been a big risk.

I now favour the risk of ending Lockdown. But, it is a risk. I just think that keeping it going is a bigger risk.

To put it in Twitter speak, the argument is not about whether to kill your granny, but how.

Robot insects on the march

3D printed flexoskeletons. In English, that would be “a cheap army of robot insects”:

Engineers at the University of California San Diego have developed a new method that doesn’t require any special equipment and works in just minutes to create soft, flexible, 3D-printed robots.

The innovation comes from rethinking the way soft robots are built: instead of figuring out how to add soft materials to a rigid robot body, the UC San Diego researchers started with a soft body and added rigid features to key components. The structures were inspired by insect exoskeletons, which have both soft and rigid parts—the researchers called their creations “flexoskeletons.” The new method allows for the construction of soft components for robots in a small fraction of the time previously needed and for a small fraction of the cost. …

But what could an army of such robots actually do? The most obvious immediate applications would appear to be military. They could be what I’ve already said: an army. Of miniature kamikaze bugs, or some such horror movie type thing.

I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of a hive of these little thingies.

Another fun thought: See the second category in the category list below.

BabelColour

Simon Evans, whom I follow, did a tweet asking what is the greatest photo ever. Many excellent photos followed.

The Chosen One joined in the discussion:

May I humbly suggest @StuartHumphryes for your delectation? An amazing collection of superb photos

It certainly is. Cue more excellent photos, and excellent photographic restorations and history lessons. This is Twitter being brilliant. Twitter can be horrible. So, ignore the horrible and go with the brilliant.

Simon Evans was already a fan of Humphryes, who calls his Twitter feed “BabelColour” (see above). But I’d never encountered the discoveries and recreations of Humphryes until now.

Following.

When Dowding said to Leigh-Mallory that he often couldn’t see beyond his little nose

I’ve just read James Holland’s account of The Battle of Britain. Holland has a very low opinion of Leigh-Mallory, who commanded 12 Group in the Battle in question, and famously tangled with Dowding and Park of 11 Group. Later, in his book about Big Week, Holland mentions Leigh-Mallory’s contribution to the bombing offensive against Germany, and he is again deeply unimpressed.

As Holland notes, Dowding and Park got their London statues, however belatedly, while Leigh-Mallory, in addition to getting himself killed in 1944, got no such recognition. As far as Holland is concerned, justice was, belatedly, done, both positively for Dowding, and negatively to Leigh-Mallory.

But I possess another book entitled The Battle of Britain, the one by John Ray, which tells the story of the battle but which particularly digs into all the feuding that happened on the British side. I only read this book very casually when I first acquired it, so I’ve been having another go, to see if Ray could explain things a little more from Leigh-Mallory’s point of view.

I didn’t have to read long. Here, on page 18, is an episode described by Ray that does a quite a bit to illuminate why Leigh-Mallory didn’t get on with Dowding, and in general why it took Dowding so long to get his statue:

There was a general view that Dowding could be prickly and difficult, lacking the golden virtue of tact. Even his obituary in The Times noted that he was not an easy man, and one to whom ‘slackness, hypocrisy and self-seeking were not peccadilloes, but scarlet sins’.” These views have been summarized by Denis Richards, author of the official history of the RAF, in referring to Dowding’s unclubbable and less than co-operative nature, often displayed to those with whom he disagreed. ‘Dowding was really very difficult’, in his opinion and, as several opponents appreciated, ‘tact was not a weapon in Dowding’s armoury’.

The relationship between Dowding and Leigh-Mallory, ADC, No 12 Group, was far from cordial and a factor in the later controversy over tactics. At a conference following an air defence exercise in 1939 Dowding spoke for over an hour on the agenda’s 56 items, then allocated only five minutes each to his two Group Commanders. Worse was to follow when Dowding, in front of several other senior officers said, ‘The trouble with you, Leigh-Mallorv. is that you sometimes cannot see further than the end your little nose’.

Bloody hell.

Ray agrees with Holland that Dowding deserved better than he got in the way of public recognition once the war had ended. But Ray also makes it clear how Dowding got his nickname: “Stuffy”.

Isn’t it one of Macchiavelli’s rules that you shouldn’t insult a powerful adversary unless you also crush them?

I’ve never been anywhere near a battle, but it occurs to me to guess that commanding an airforce could be such a difficult thing to do well because the skill of flying an airplane in a war is so very unlike the job of being a senior commander. You could be wonderfully clubbable, but that wouldn’t make you any better at flying, at killing enemy flyers or at bashing you way to a target and then getting back home again. Likewise, great air warriors could be decidedly eccentric, or worse utter bastards, when back on the ground. No wonder, when some of these guys got older and became commanders, they were often a lot better at instructing their awed subordinates in how to fight, than they were at getting along with each other when grappling with other more subtle and complex dilemmas.

Boadicea and Her Daughters with and without Things in the background

One of my favourite statues in all of London is Boadicea, with daughters, chariot and horses. Until lately, I have been in the habit of photoing her in this sort of silhouetted way, with the Wheel behind her, and cranes, like this, from October 2018:

But today, looking for other Other creatures stuff in the photo-archives, I encountered this photo of her:

No messing about, no clever linings up with other Things. No cranes. And no clue that we are even in the middle of London, across the road from Big Ben, next to Westminster Bridge, and surrounded by tourists. Well not tourists now, but usually.

I love that thing all the real sculptors know how to do with skimpy but wrinkly clothing on a body. Amazing. They make it look translucent, but with a totally solid object that they’ve made. There must be special classes for that in sculpture school.

And with cloudy weather to light her properly.

She dates from the late nineteenth century, so she’s Boadicea rather than Boudicca so she’s a quarter of a century bigger than these ladies, and over a century bigger than action heroines nowadays.