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Weekend Reading

Two really good essays, first from Lee Sandlin is Losing the War, a remarkable essay, perhaps the best available in English, about WWII. I copied the text and made a pdf, and read it off of an e-reader (it’s about 70 pages in MS Word). The second essay is about soil conservation and its role in human civilization (hint: more important than anything else). It was written by former asst. chief of the Soil Conservation Service Dr. WC Lowdermilk, titled “Conquest of the Land through 7000 years” and it chronicles the role soil conservation has played in the history of the rise and fall of empires. It’s eye-opening.


Trouble in Pallettowne

Pallets are the most boring, every day thing… right?

The origin of the pallet is unknown. Rick LeBlanc and Stewart Richardson, co-authors of the indispensable Pallets: A North American Perspective, believe that an early prototype was used to aid in the stacking of wooden barrels in a warehouse in Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, in the mid-eighteenth century.4 But the story becomes more certain only in the early twentieth century, when a machine resembling a heavy-duty golf cart appeared on the American warehouse scene. It was called a “lift truck,” and it had a large iron spatula protruding from its front.

Various proto-pallets, or “skids,” were used in concert with these early lift trucks. Some of the skids were wooden; some were metal; some had little iron legs, which allowed clearance for the spatula. Eventually, the iron legs faded into history—too extravagant—and were replaced by a pair of wooden support beams, called “stringers,” which gave the skid about six inches of height. Then the spatula mutated into a two-tined fork, and the skid, responding in kind, grew a third stringer along its dorsal spine. Around 1925, the skid gained a set of bottom deck boards, below the three stringers, and with this, the pallet had achieved its modern form. Functionally, this new bottom deck stabilized the pallet, which prevented stacks of goods from crashing down in the warehouse. Aesthetically, the effect was striking: the pallet had become a thing, alive and whole.

Although the technology was in place by the mid-1920s, pallets didn’t see widespread adoption until World War II, when the challenge of keeping eight million G.I.s supplied—“the most enormous single task of distribution ever accomplished anywhere,” according to one historian—gave new urgency to the science of materials handling. During the summer of 1941, at Fort Wayne, Indiana, the army staged a field test of various materials-handling contraptions, and the pallet–forklift combo trounced the competition. The Quartermaster General ordered a million pallets, and the domestic pallet industry was effectively born.5

There is a war brewing in Pallettowne. Read the whole thing.

Random Link



“Even after Berlin had become a nightmare, he still persuaded himself that his German education was a success. He loved, or thought he loved the people, but the Germany he loved was the eighteenth-century which the Germans were ashamed of, and were destroying as fast as they could. Of the Germany to come, he knew nothing. Military Germany was his abhorrence. What he liked was the simple character; the good-natured sentiment; the musical and metaphysical abstraction; the blundering incapacity of the German for practical affairs. At that time everyone looked on Germany as incapable of competing with France, England or America in any sort of organized energy. Germany had no confidence in herself, and no reason to feel it. She had no unity, and no reason to want it.” –The Education of Henry Adams

Lincoln, Days of Gladness Past



After the war was well on, a patriot woman of the West urged President Lincoln to make hospitals at the North where the sick from the Army of the Mississippi could revive in a more bracing air. Among other reasons, she said, feelingly: “If you grant my petition, you will be glad as long as you live.”

With a look of sadness impossible to describe, the President said:

“I shall never be glad any more.”

One of the most sobering passages in the book. Posted for reflection and meditative purposes.

Lincoln the Fascist?

From LINCOLN’S YARNS AND STORIES by Alexander Kelly:


During the Civil War, Clement L. Vallandigham, of Ohio, had shown himself, in the National House of Representatives and elsewhere, one of the bitterest and most outspoken of all the men of that class which insisted that “the war was a failure.” He declared that it was the design of “those in power to establish a despotism,” and that they had “no intention of restoring the Union.” He denounced the conscription which had been ordered, and declared that men who submitted to be drafted into the army were “unworthy to be called free men.” He spoke of the President as “King Lincoln.”

Such utterances at this time, when the Government was exerting itself to the utmost to recruit the armies, were dangerous, and Vallandigham was arrested, tried by court-martial at Cincinnati, and sentenced to be placed in confinement during the war,

General Burnside, in command at Cincinnati, approved the sentence, and ordered that he be sent to Fort Warren, in Boston Harbor; but the President ordered that he be sent “beyond our lines into those of his friends.” He was therefore escorted to the Confederate lines in Tennessee, thence going to Richmond. He did not meet with a very cordial reception there, and finally sought refuge in Canada.

Vallandigham died in a most peculiar way some years after the close of the War, and it was thought by many that his death was the result of premeditation upon his part.

Whenever I hear complaints about the “authoritarian” federal government (or Nazi-fascist-racist-Vader-evil-doers when Republicans own the presidency) I have to remind myself what real fascism looks like. A humanities professor I had once laughed and openly mocked a girl (he was very outspoken) in one of my classes after she complained about the “fascist” government after it shut down a local tobacco store in Dinkytown after it failed to pay rent and was linked to international groups that sent money to terrorists under a humanitarian guise.

This humanities professor was not conservative in any way. More accurately, he was a democratic socialist. He lived through true fascism in Nazi Germany in WWII. From his perspective, the fact people weren’t being hung in the streets was proof enough the US was not fascist.

While that’s a pretty low bar when it comes to civil liberties, it is a good perspective to take currently. Glenn Beck worrying about H1N1 flu shots being forced on people? Legitimate concern? Sure. American Liberal Fascism? Not really, Government has a legitimate role in public health. Real fascism? No.

Whenever other conservatives warn about too much government power, I generally agree. But we should be careful not to label these encroachments improperly. (I don’t know if Beck has used the f-word when it comes to Obama yet, because I don’t watch him, but he’s well on his way.)

Lincoln suspending Habeus Corpus, arresting and confining a citizen for his viewpoints, these are authoritarian and cause for concern, even in times of war.

But we’re still a long way away from fascism.

Heck, as far as forced flu shots go, we’re a long way away from Lincoln.

Lincoln the Hack

From LINCOLN’S YARNS AND STORIES by Alexander Kelly (via DailyLit):


In October, 1864, President Lincoln, while he knew his re-election to the White House was in no sense doubtful, knew that if he lost New York and with it Pennsylvania on the home vote, the moral effect of his triumph would be broken and his power to prosecute the war and make peace would be greatly impaired. Colonel A. K. McClure was with Lincoln a good deal of the time previous to the November election, and tells this story:

“His usually sad face was deeply shadowed with sorrow when I told him that I saw no reasonable prospect of carrying Pennsylvania on the home vote, although we had about held our own in the hand-to-hand conflict through which we were passing.

“‘Well, what is to be done?’ was Lincoln’s inquiry, after the whole situation had been presented to him. I answered that the solution of the problem was a very simple and easy one–that Grant was idle in front of Petersburg; that Sheridan had won all possible victories in the Valley; and that if five thousand Pennsylvania soldiers could be furloughed home from each army, the election could be carried without doubt.

“Lincoln’s face’ brightened instantly at the suggestion, and I saw that he was quite ready to execute it. I said to him: ‘Of course, you can trust want to make the suggestion to him to furlough five thousand Pennsylvania troops for two weeks?’

“‘To my surprise, Lincoln made no answer, and the bright face of a few moments before was instantly shadowed again. I was much disconcerted, as I supposed that Grant was the one man to whom Lincoln could turn with absolute confidence as his friend. I then said, with some earnestness: ‘Surely, Mr. President, you can trust Grant with a confidential suggestion to furlough Pennsylvania troops?’

“Lincoln remained silent and evidently distressed at the proposition I was pressing upon him. After a few moments, and speaking with emphasis, I said: ‘It can’t be possible that Grant is not your friend; he can’t be such an ingrate?’

“Lincoln hesitated for some time, and then answered in these words: ‘Well, McClure, I have no reason to believe that Grant prefers my election to that of McClellan.’

“I believe Lincoln was mistaken in his distrust of Grant.”

I found this story remarkable. Lincoln discussing using his influence over the military as President in order to win an election. An action ethically dubious at best.

(And let’s be clear, Lincoln did encourage generals of soldiers from states that didn’t allow military men in the field to vote absentee to furlough as many troops as possible for election day.)

The lesson?

Never forget that no matter who the politician is, they are a politician. Lincoln used powers at hand that his opponents didn’t have for his own political gain.

Always look upon any office holder with skepticism, even if you admire the person.

The September Campaign

It’s the 70th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Poland. I was originally hoping to write a series of posts on the invasion, but life and grad school got in the way. Instead I point you all to Mitch Berg’s excellent piece on the subject.

But, Mitch only scratches the surface. So, I’m requiring all of you to read up on the Invasion of Poland and admire the extreme bravery and tenacity of the Polish people.

(And I’ll point to some specific people to help out: There was a general who never never lost an engagement until his army ran out of ammo. There was the CIC of the Polish Armed Forces who, after escaping the ruins of Poland with his life, smuggled himself back into occupied Poland to help with the resistance. And there were the guys in the Modlin Fortress who held out for over two weeks until they were basically defending a pile of rocks with nothing but rocks.)

Panic Time?

From Wikipidia’s article on the 1918 Flu Pandemic (Emphases mine):

The influenza strain was unusual in that this pandemic killed many young adults and otherwise healthy victims; typical influenzas kill mostly infants (aged 0–2 years), the elderly, and the immunocompromised. Another oddity was that this influenza outbreak was widespread in summer and fall (in the Northern Hemisphere). Typically, influenza is worse in the winter months.

People without symptoms could be stricken suddenly and within hours be too weak to walk; many died the next day. Symptoms included a blue tint to the face and coughing up blood caused by severe obstruction of the lungs. In some cases, the virus caused an uncontrollable hemorrhaging that filled the lungs, and patients drowned in their body fluids (pneumonia). In others, the flu caused frequent loss of bowel control and the victim would die from losing critical intestinal lining and blood loss.[citation needed]

In fast-progressing cases, mortality was primarily from pneumonia, by virus-induced consolidation. Slower-progressing cases featured secondary bacterial pneumonias, and there may have been neural involvement that led to mental disorders in a minority of cases. Some deaths resulted from malnourishment and even animal attacks in overwhelmed communities.[citation needed]

Scientists have used tissue samples from frozen victims to reproduce the virus for study. Given the strain’s extreme virulence there has been controversy regarding the wisdom of such research. Among the conclusions of this research is that the virus kills via a cytokine storm (overreaction of the body’s immune system) which explains its unusually severe nature and the concentrated age profile of its victims. The strong immune systems of young adults ravaged the body, whereas the weaker immune systems of children and middle-aged adults caused fewer deaths.

What works?

In Japan, 257,363 deaths were attributed to influenza by July 1919, giving an estimated 0.425% mortality rate, much lower than nearly all other Asian countries for which data are available. The Japanese government severely restricted maritime travel to and from the home islands when the pandemic struck.

In the Pacific, American Samoa[28] and the French colony of New Caledonia [29] also succeeded in preventing even a single death from influenza through effective quarantines. In Australia, nearly 12,000 perished.[30]

Civil libertarians are invited to take a few months off from knee jerk reactionism. Otherwise relax. Stress weakens the immune system…or is that what we want? Sure wouldn’t mind a Surgeon General to give us a few hints.

Food Rationing

The only way the obesity problem will ever be solved in this country will be by using WWII-style food rationing.It would work. It would be a form of fascism. And I’d prefer it to most foreign-model healthcare systems.