Saturday, February 11, 2012

"Der Schwed" -- yesterday and today

During the 30 years war of the 17th century Gustav Adolf den store (Gustavus Adophus) led his Swedish troops to many great victories in Europe. Without him the Protestant cause may well have lost out to the Catholic South. His armies were at the time simply referred to as "Der Schwed" (the Swede), though they would have referred to themselves as the "Svea".

So we see that the Swedish martial spirit did not die out with the Vikings of the 11th century (Swedish Vikings mostly sailed up rivers into what we now know as Russia. It was left to the Norwegians and Danes to harass Britain and Western Europe).

And, strange as it seems in the light of their constant peacnikery of the 20th century, that spirit is still alive today. For good reasons the proximity of Russia gives everybody at the Eastern end of the Baltic the heebie-jeebies. Going by their invariant and very successful form since the 11th century, we would expect the English to deal with such a peril by forming alliances with other countries. Not so the Swedes. They cherish their independence. And they can realistically do that because of confidence in their military. They have been prepared to fight Russia alone if need be. The Finns did it under Mannerheim in the early stages of WWII so they have a successful example to go by. But the Swedish military has to be independent too -- so we come to the Swedish defence industries.

With a population about the same size as Israel, it is amazing what the Swedish defence industries have produced. The famous Bofors gun was used for antiaircraft defence by BOTH sides in WWII and is still in use today. And Bofors are not sitting on their laurels. I could go on to talk about Swedish military aircraft and submarines but I think that for the moment I will just say a few words about Bofors.

Aside from nuclear weapoins, the most fearsome thing about the old Soviet Union was their vast fleet of tanks. And Bofors produced an answer to that in the form of the BILL1, a fearsome antitank missile. Bofors turned out tens of thousands of them, quite enough to wipe out the entire Soviet tank fleet with a bit of luck. It is a guided missile that flies just a bit ABOVE the tank and fires a shaped charge down onto the turret of the tank at just the right time -- the turret being a tank's weakest point. That must be a considerable challenge to the missile's controller but the Swedes must be confident that trained operators can pull it off. Below is a video of it in action:

(Note: Some mischievous person has been circulating the above video together with a claim that it shows an Israeli missile using white phosphorous to destroy a Syrian tank. Israel has been much criticized for its limited use of white phosporous in Gaza but insists that it only used phosphorous in accordance with the laws of war. Using it in an anti-tank weapon would heap criticism on Israel so the false claim attached to the above video is malicious)

And to keep up with advances in tank technology Bofors have produced a BILL2 missile that is even more capable than BILL1. (The "B" stands for Bofors)

It seems sad that such an apparently effective weapon is not held in the arsenals of Western countries but Swedish neutrality forbids it. Only a few other "neutral" countries such as Austria and Brazil have it. So Sweden has had to bear all the costs of developing and deploying the weapon by itself -- a considerable challenge. Most armament manufacturers are keen to sell their stuff to all and sundry -- to help defray the development costs.

And even if Sweden did decide to sell BILL2 more widely, it might not get much uptake. I remember when I was in the Australian Army during the Vietnam war, we deployed the prime Swedish antitank weapon of the day, the Carl Gustav. But as soon as we entered the Vietnam war, the Swedes stopped supplying ammo for it! Tanks featured little in the Vietnam war so it was not a great setback but it was a salutary lesson in being careful about the source of supply of your weaponry. The Swedes have no worries on that score.


Obama throws a bone to Catholics

The typical Leftist belief that money grows on trees at work again. Does he really think that health insurers will be able to provide cover without charging for it? The companies will still charge Catholic organizations the same as before, even if contraception is not written down in the agreement between the organizations concerned. Catholics will still be paying for contraception as before. But I guess Left-leaning Catholics will see it as a real concession

The White House today announced a compromise for religious groups lambasting a recent mandate requiring health insurers to cover contraception as a preventive service. The federal government will now be extending an exemption of the mandate to religious organizations — including faith-based hospitals.

Under the new policy announced today, women will have free preventive care that includes contraceptive services no matter where she works. The policy also ensures that if a woman works for religious employers with objections to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan, the religious employer will not be required to provide contraception coverage but her insurance company will be required to offer contraceptive care free of charge.

The new policy ensures women can get contraception without paying a co-pay and addresses important concerns raised by religious groups by ensuring that objecting religious employers will not have to provide contraceptive coverage or refer women to organizations that provide contraception."



BOOK REVIEW: for The Reptile with a Conscience by Nathan Cofnas. Paperback. pp. 523. Available from The Ulster Institute for Social Research. Review by J.J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).

One of Einstein's more famous sayings is: "No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong". That single experiment would now appear to have been done so is Einstein now old hat? Far from it. Just as Einstein's relativity subsumed Newton's mechanics, so the next generation of physics will have to cope with the observations that came from Einstein's work.

A failure that Einstein himself acknowledged was his failure to devise a "unified field theory". Einsten was of course Jewish so it is interesting that another brilliant Jewish writer, Nathan Cofnas, HAS attempted a "unified field theory". But this theory is not about physics. It is about ideology. Nathan has presented us with a theory that accounts for both religion and politics as being from the same rootstock.

And I can even tell you very simply what that theory is. Nathan points something out that seems obvious when you hear it but nobody previously seems to have thought of it. He takes Adam Smith's famous theory of markets -- the invisible hand -- and points out that religious people also see an invisible hand in the world about them: The hand of God.

You don't have to think about that for long, however, to start saying "Yes but ...". And that is why Nathan has written his book. He presents his theory in a much more subtle and careful way than my crude generalization above and proceeds to answer all the "Yes buts ..". He fleshes out how he believes both conservative thinking and Judeo/Christian thinking arise.

But this is not a book for scholars, philosophers and ideologues only. It does something that anybody interested in modern politics needs badly: It gives an systematic answer to the old Leftist retort to all facts and arguments that they dislike: "There's no such thing as right and wrong, anyway". The crazy thing about that assertion of course is that the same Leftists who say that will say in almost the same breath that racism or anything done by George W Bush is wrong. They contradict their own assertion almost as soon as they make it. So it is not only conservatives but Leftists too who need to get their minds clear on what is right/wrong and where that right/wrong comes from. And Nathan helps us greatly with that.

But WHY do Leftist deny right and wrong when it suits them? Doing so makes all their OWN doctrines, policies and beliefs look like empty vapour. It's a strange thing to do. So: The reason they do it is because most analytical philosophers say the same thing. And as John Maynard Keynes once said: "Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back”.

Analytical philosophers say: "If there is this objective property of "rightness", how do we detect it and where is it? Do we lift up a stone somewhere and find it there? And that challenge has proved hard to answer. Just what IS rightness and how do we know it is right?

In recent times, however, an answer to that has begun to emerge: We know some things are right because we have rightness instincts. Rightness IS located somewhere. It is located in our long evolution as social beings. It is somewhere in our primitive "reptilian" brain. But the "Yes, buts ..." come thick and fast to that proposition, as it is obvious that our higher brain (where "conscience" is located) has a role too and can make some things seem right to one person that another person sees as wrong. So how do we sort THAT mess out? Nathan goes through it systematically for us and leaves even atheists like me confident that there IS such a thing as a real right and wrong.

Nathan's book will not be the final answer on all the questions it addresses but, like Einstein's theory of relativity, future discussions in the field will have to take account of his arguments if they are to be well-informed.


An aggressive mutiny of black GIs in WWII

White Australian troops had to rein them in. It may be part of the reason why the U.S. army to this day rarely deploys black troops in frontline infantry positions

BLACK US troops mutinied in Townsville [Australia] in 1942 and turned machineguns on their officers, in a secret chapter of the war in the Pacific that has come to light through the papers of the late US president Lyndon B. Johnson.

The scandal was hushed up for nearly 70 years after being described in a report given to and apparently kept by Johnson as "one of the biggest stories of the war which can't be written, shouldn't be written".

The subject of rumour and speculation for decades in the north Queensland city, it has now emerged that the mutiny was probably reported at the time to the White House by Johnson, then a young and ambitious US congressman, after he visited Australia in June 1942 on a fact-finding mission for president Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The report Johnson took back to Washington, written for him by US journalist Robert Sherrod, tells how 600 African-American GIs seized their base and went on the rampage, trying to kill their white officers. Some terrorised local civilians.

Armed Australian troops were sent in at the height of the emergency on the US base. George Gnezdiloff, then a 20-year-old private in the north Queensland-raised 51st battalion, was told to block Ross River Road with his bren gun carrier. Other soldiers were issued with a password, Bucks, as they deployed to bottle up the Americans.

Gnezdiloff and his crew were ordered to shoot the mutineers on sight. "We had ammo, the lot," the now 90-year-old recalled yesterday from his home in Proserpine, 300km south of Townsville. "We weren't mucking around, I can tell you."



The Media’s Shameful, Inexcusable Distortion Of The Supreme Court’s Citizens United Decision

by Dan Abrams

One of the beauties of the transfer of power from major media operations to individuals, bloggers and tweeters is that they — we — can all serve as a sort of fact-checking peanut gallery. So it’s hard to imagine that, in this day and age, the mainstream media could repeatedly misstate the holding of one of the most significant Supreme Court decisions without being roundly excoriated. Not a matter of opinion or a partisan viewpoint, but, simply parroting a mistake or lie about the holding in that crucial ruling.

I have followed the Court’s Citizens United decision particularly closely because my dad, Floyd Abrams, was one of the lawyers who argued it (for free, incidentally) in the Supreme Court, on behalf of Senator Mitch McConnell. Their challenge was to a part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that barred corporations and unions from engaging in what they argued was classic political speech — producing and showing a movie on television that criticized a candidate for President and spending money for ads that support or denounce that candidate. They prevailed in a divided 5-4 ruling. Subsequently, and not surprisingly, the ruling became one of the most controversial opinions of our day, with many on the left denouncing the ruling as a fundamental threat to our democracy....

There are two media myths and inventions that are most commonly cited.

Myth 1: The Court invalidated disclosure requirements in political advertising, thereby allowing donors to remain anonymous.

Wrong. The Court ruled just the opposite and upheld, by an 8-1 vote, the McCain-Feingold requirement of identifying donors.

Myth 2: That the Court’s ruling in Citizens United opened the door to wealthy individuals like Sheldon Adelson to pour millions of dollars into PACs.

Wrong again. The Citizens United ruling had NOTHING to do with the ability of individuals to spend their money to support candidates. That had been decided back in 1976, when the Supreme Court decided that the First Amendment protected the right of individuals to make unlimited independent expenditures supporting or opposing candidates for federal office. In Citizens United, the Court ruled that corporations and unions were entitled to the same rights. It wasn’t that long ago, after all, that the Swift Boat ads, legally paid for by individuals, soiled John Kerry during the 2004 campaign.

But reading the New York Times, Washington Post and watching MSNBC in particular, it is hardly surprising that the public would be confused. On January 9, in a front-page piece on the influence of Newt Gingrich supporter Sheldon Adelson, the Times inaccurately reported that Adelson’s $5 million donation to a pro-Gingrich SuperPAC “underscores” how the Citizens United case, “has made it possible for a wealthy individual to influence an election.” On January 14th, a column by Gail Collins asserted that, “all these billionaires would not be so worrisome if the Supreme Court had not totally unleashed their donation-making power in the Citizens United case.” The opinion, in fact, did nothing of the sort. I don’t know if it’s sad or just troubling that the Times issued two corrections on the earlier piece, including the year Citizens United was decided, but none on its repeated and major error about the ruling itself.

The Washington Post has done no better. On January 11th, Dana Milbank, writing of Adelson’s $5 million donation to a pro-Gingrich SuperPAC, asserted that it was, “the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision which made such unlimited contributions possible.” And on February 5th, E.J. Dionne Jr. blamed Citizens United for permitting, “the brute force of millionaires and billionaires … to have their way.” The Post published a letter from Floyd Abrams today highlighting the error, but without a formal correction.

It seems this faulty analysis has worn off on MSNBC host Chris Matthews as well, since he, too, regularly misreports the case’s ruling. “Under this new court ruling, Citizens United, your opponent can run a terrible campaign and relentlessly destroy your reputation without putting your fingerprints on the ad,” Matthews said. “You don’t have to say, ‘I’m Mitt Romney and I paid for this ad.’ So now in Iowa, where the people don’t like negative campaigning, you can run the bombing campaign or destroy your opponent without having your face or voice associated with it. That’s what Newt wasn’t aware of. It’s his fault that conservatives like them have gone along with these court decisions, that have allowed big contributors, wealthy people to put unlimited amounts of money into negative campaigns without putting the name of their favorite candidate in the ad.”

This is a double dose of wrong, since the disclosure requirement in the law was upheld and the case had nothing to do with individuals. One might forgive Al Jazeera for getting it wrong and it’s not unusual to see partisan advocates misstate a ruling like this to further a political agenda, but the mainstream American media should have no excuse....

You may disagree with the opinion, you may think that expanding the ability of corporations to fund campaign messaging is a true danger, or just, as I do, that outside money is a major concern for our democratic system. But that doesn’t change the fact that the political chattering set ought to be far more concerned and outraged by the indolence, indifference or just bias, that has led to the widespread misinformation by the media about what the court actually considered and ultimately ruled.




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