Saturday, June 25, 2011

Americans and the past - Robert E. Lee: Reading the Man

I was going to write a book review of "Reading the Man: A Portrait of Lee" by Elizabeth Pryor - but found that 'William Vallante' at had said everything I wanted to say:

"There is indeed a certain childish willfulness in the American mind that insists on chastising the people of the past for not being like them, or else pretending that they were. Which is a certain way NOT to learn anything from history." ---Dr. Clyde Wilson

"Put it this way - if you are the type of person Dr. Wilson is describing, you're going to love this book! If not, you'll be wishing you had paid for it in Confederate bills instead of U.S. dollars.

The book itself contains roughly 175 pages of footnotes, bibliography and index. There are 50 pages of actual letters, some of which have already been published and others of which are not even by Lee, but by other people. If you're planning on seeing 500 pages of newly discovered letters, forget it. The fewer than 50 pages of new letters by Lee himself will leave you grossly disappointed. Finally, we have 425 pages of Ms. Pryor's perseverative and monotonous interpretations of those letters, which I suppose is the "meat" of the book.

According to Ms. Pryor, Lee did not release the Custis slaves immediately. The terms of the will specified "within 5 years" of the elder Custis' death (in 1857). Lee fulfilled that mandate by manumitting them in 1862. This apparently wasn't satisfactory enough for Ms. Pryor as she repeatedly drones on about Lee's failure to understand how the slaves felt.

Ms. Pryor is also critical of Lee for expecting the slaves to actually work!? Oh horror! Oh horror!

Of course, there is the matter of several slaves being whipped by Lee, something which has never been conclusively proven. Like a second rate shyster, Ms. Brown does her best to drum up the case against him.

According to Ms. Pryor, Lee had no appreciation of other cultures and saw nothing worthwhile in the Mexican culture when he was there during the Mexican war. I'm wondering what Pryor expected Lee, an educated, well-to-do man from one of Virginia's first families, to say when he was in Mexico? "Gee! What lovely mud huts!?" I'm pretty sure that Mexico didn't have Grand Melia and Paradisus or any other resorts at that time, so I can't figure out what Ms. Pryor expected him to see in the place? I suppose to understand her reasoning, or her expectations, one would have to refer back to Dr. Wilson's quote above.

Also, according to Ms. Pryor, Lee had "poor cross cultural communications skills", a term apparently taken from today's lexicon of multicultural drivel. In this case she was referring to his "communication", or lack of it, with the Comanches. I ran this past a native American friend of mine and he almost fell over laughing. I'm not sure there were too many folks at the time who had good cross cultural communication skills with the Comanches of that era, as this particular group wasn't usually given to such things themselves. Would that it were possible to transport Ms. Pryor back in time to the 1850s and observe how her "skills" with the Comanches would fare? I would be taking bets on how long she kept her pretty blond hair.

In sum, this book, touted though it is by most "contemporary" historians, is one more example of the sham that has become what we used to call, "the field of history".

Friday, June 10, 2011

Exports Unimportant in US growth 1929-1970

How often I've read some "economist" say something like this:

Our 40's and 50's economic hay-day was never going to last, the whole of the industrialized world was leveled EXCEPT America and we were the only place the rest of the world had to go both for the products they needed and the capital goods to rebuild their own industries. Definitely a good position to be in, but not one likely to be replicated or even maintained unless we want to start a new world war and level all the productive capacity Germany, Eastern Europe, India, S.E. Asia, Mexico, etc. (I don't think that would work out so well for us) We had a remarkable run of good luck...

The problem is - this is completely wrong. If you look at the historical statistics, you'll see that US Exports to the rest of the world (excluding Canada) were a minor factor in our economic growth. Here are the numbers:

US GNP -$100 billion
Merchandise Exports** - $4 Billion
Exports To Canada - $1 billion
US Budget - $4 Billion

GNP - $100 Billion
Merchandise Exports ** - $4 Billion
Exports To Canada - $700 Million
US Budget - $10 Billion

GNP - $285 Billion
Merchandise Exports ** - $7 Billion
Exports To Canada - $2 Billion
US Defense Budget - $24 Billion

GNP - $564 Billion
Merchandise Exports** - $15 Billion
Exports To Canada - $4 Billion
US Defense Budget - $53 Billion

GNP - $1,000 Billion
Merchandise Exports** - $35 Billion
Exports To Canada - $9 Billion
US Defense Budget - $95 Billion

** = excludes crude raw materials and food.

As shown above, from 1929 to 1970 our GNP increased from by almost $900 Billion dollars from approximately $100 Billion to $1,000 Billion. Our Merchandise exports increased from $4 billion to $35 Billion. Our Merchandise exports to the rest of the world (excluding Canada) increased from $3 Billion to $24 Billion.

So to recap. from 1929 to 1970 - US GNP increases $900 Billion, US Manufacturing exports (less Canada) increase by $21 Billion. That's 2 Percent of the increase. Even in 1970 our Merchandise Exports amounts to only $200 per person. Meanwhile, we were spending almost $1,000 a person just on the US Defense Budget.

Civil War Executions

Total Union executions during the war 267. For the following:
  • Murder - 64
  • Desertion - 159
  • Rape -22
  • Mutiny - 18
  • Spying & Other - 13
Executions for desertion only occurred in the last two years of the war. Accordingly to Alotta only 3 Union soldiers were executed for Desertion from April 1861-April 1863. Further, execution *merely* for desertion from May 1863-April 1865, seem to have been fairly rare. Usually those executed had deserted before, committed a crime while AWOL, resisted arrest, were bounty jumpers, substitutes, or were caught deserting to the enemy. The Bounty jumpers executed in the last year of the war seemed to have been almost all foreign, with a large number of Canadians involved.

Since only 159 of the estimated 80,000 deserters were executed it seems that Union officials were using it as a deterrent.

There's also an interesting geographical disparity in the executions. Soldiers from the Middle-west were much more likely NOT to be executed. While the Midwest (Wisconsin (1), Iowa (o), Minnesota (0), Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio) furnished approximately 1/3 of the men for the union army, only 10 percent (25 of the 267 executed) were from those states. OTOH, Vermont & New Hampshire, with a large number of Canadians Bounty jumpers and foreign substitutes furnished only 2 percent of the Union troops but had 21 men executed.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Scott Adams - internet debates

Adams also offers these helpful internet debate tactics (see also his Reading Comprehension Test to show that someone is stupid:

Results Of Why I'm Stupid

If you are new to the Internet, allow me to explain how to
debate in this medium. When one person makes any kind of
statement, all you need to do is apply one of these methods to
make it sound stupid. Then go on the offensive.

1. Turn someone's generality into an absolute. For example, if
someone makes a general statement that Americans celebrate
Christmas, point out that some people are Jewish and so anyone
who thinks that ALL Americans celebrate Christmas is stupid.
(Bonus points for accusing the person of being anti-Semitic.)

2. Turn someone's factual statements into implied preferences.
For example, if someone mentions that not all Catholic priests
are pedophiles, accuse the person who said it of siding with

3. Turn factual statements into implied equivalents. For
example, if someone says that Ghandi didn't eat cows, accuse the
person of stupidly implying that cows deserve equal billing with

4. Omit key words. For example, if someone says that people
can't eat rocks, accuse the person of being stupid for
suggesting that people can't eat. Bonus points for arguing that
some people CAN eat pebbles if they try hard enough.

5. Assume the dumbest interpretation. For example, if someone
says that he can run a mile in 12 minutes, assume he means it
happens underwater and argue that no one can hold his breath
that long.

6. Hallucinate entirely different points. For example, if
someone says apples grow on trees, accuse him of saying snakes
have arms and then point out how stupid that is.

7. Use the intellectual laziness card. For example, if someone
says that ice is cold, recommend that he take graduate courses
in chemistry and meteorology before jumping to stupid
conclusions that display a complete ignorance of the complexity
of ice.

Monday, June 06, 2011

McClellan - The best commander of the Army of the Potomac?

From Edmund Palfry's, "Antietam and Fredericksburg":

These pages contain many outspoken criticisms of his [McClellan] military career. They are the expression of conclusions arrived at with deliberation by one who began as a passionate enthusiast for him, who has made his campaigns the subject of much study and thought, and who has sought only to compare the facts of those campaigns with the established principles of the military art. There is no occasion to repeat those criticisms here, but it may be well to add to them what the writer has said in another place in print, that there was in McClellan a sort of incapacity of doing anything till an ideal completeness of preparation was reached, and that the prevalence of the commander-in-chief idea was always pernicious to him, so that, from first to last, he never made his personal presence felt on a battle-field. With the further remark that he seems to have been totally devoid of ability to form a just estimate of the numerical strength of his opponent, our adverse criticisms come to an end, and it is a relief to keep silence no longer from good words.

It is little to say that his character was reputable, but it is true. He was a courteous gentleman. Not a word was ever said against his way of life nor his personal integrity. No orgies disgraced headquarters while he was in command. His capacity and energy as an organizer are universally recognized. He was an excellent strategist and in many respects an excellent soldier. He did not use his own troops with sufficient promptness, thoroughness and vigor, to achieve great and decisive results, but he was oftener successful than unsuccessful with them, and he so conducted affairs that they never suffered heavily without inflicting heavy loss upon their adversaries

It may appear a strange statement to follow the other matter which this volume contains, but it is none the less true, that there are strong grounds for believing that he was the best commander the Army of the Potomac ever had. No one would think for a moment of comparing Pope or Burnside or Hooker with him. The great service which Meade rendered his country at Gettysburg, and the elevated character of the man, are adverse to too close a scrutiny of his military ability. As for Grant, with his grim tenacity, his hard sense, and his absolute insensibility to wounds and death, it may well be admitted that he was a good general for a rich and populous country in a contest with a poor and thinly peopled land, but let any educated soldier ask himself what the result would have been if Grant had had only Southern resources and Southern numbers to rely on and use, and what will the answer be? While the Confederacy was young and fresh and rich, and its armies were numerous, McClellan fought a good, wary, damaging, respectable fight against it. He was not so quick in learning to attack as Joe Johnston and Lee and Jackson were, but South Mountain and the Antietam showed that he had learned the lesson, and with longer possession of command, greater things might fairly have been expected of him. Not to mention such lamentable failures as Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, it is easy to believe that with him in command, the Army of the Potomac would never have seen such dark days as those of the Wilderness and Cold Harbor.

At the same time it must be admitted that, in such a war as the War of Secession, it would probably have been impossible to retain in command of the Army of the Potomac a man who was not only a Democrat, but the probable Democratic candidate for the Presidency at the next election, and that his removal was therefore only a question of time. A growing familiarity with his history as a soldier increases the disposition to regard him with respect and gratitude, and to believe, while recognizing the limitations of his nature, that his failure to accomplish more was partly his misfortune and not altogether his fault.