Reflections on a Trip

Six years ago today, I published post number one, on Nebraska Energy Observer. As with many others, I tried to draw conclusions from observations. Those tend to be the posts I like best, although I simply don’t post things I don’t like. It’s been I long haul, six years, 2703 posts, over 19,000 comments and all. It’s also been a lot of fun, and I suspect it has been for some of you, as well.

We’ve commented often that so many bloggers who were around when I started have fallen by the wayside, I think probably three-quarters of the blogs I read now, didn’t exist then and 80% of those I read then are gone, and some that remain have changed completely. It’s not easy, but what worthwhile ever is? I find that I occasionally have to take breaks from it, but I feel incomplete when I do, and that’s why often I will schedule some older posts that keep drawing readers over my breaks.

I started the blog because I was bored, and needed something ‘productive’ to do, and was already (in 2011) completely fed up with Obama. I never thought it was going to make me rich. I wouldn’t mind, but it’s such I long shot that I don’t even try, and so I can stay true to what I believe. Neither did I think I would still be writing it today, but it has become a habit, maybe an obsession.

In any case, thanks for reading, and commenting here, it means more to me than you can imagine, and probably more than is good for me. This is the post published six long years ago, and still one of my favorites. It was titled “Reflections on a Train Trip”.


I recently had an opportunity to travel by train back to Nebraska from Philadelphia. As most of you who have ever travelled by train know, it gives you a fair amount of time to reflect on whatever crosses your mind. For some reason this trip (which I actually take roughly every year) caused me to reflect on the industrial powerhouse that was America. If you travel by train, you see a lot of industrial areas new and old.  What struck me this time was coming through Pittsburgh, northern Ohio and northwest Indiana was remembering these areas when I was a kid back in the 60’s, when it was very common still to see the black smoke and flames shoot into the air at the steel mills. These were the mills that industrialized America and made the steel that built the machines that won two World Wars and conquered a continent and fed the world.

It is commonly said that steel built the railroad industry and the railroads built the steel industry and it’s true; if one includes coal in the steel industry. What awesome plants they were, for instance, the main street of Gary, Indiana (itself named for a steel executive) ends at the main gate of US Steel Gary Works. And remember a basic element of US Steel; Carnegie Steel produced more steel than Great Britain in the 1890’s. Pittsburgh was much the same, only possibly more so. Here was the steel produced that made the railroads, which then made the largest common market in the world, and the steel for the agricultural equipment that still feeds the world, and the steel for the American automobiles and the weapons and transportation of the American military that won two World Wars  and the Cold War. Read more of this post

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Managing for Results Against the Employees Interests

The Battle of Terheide (1657), commemorating t...

The Battle of Terheide (1657), commemorating the Battle of Scheveningen on 10 August 1653 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ok, yesterday we talked about the abysmal mismanagement and non-leadership Obama has provided, and how our system got the way it is. I’m not going to review it again today, it’s too depressing, especially since we extended his contract in 2012.

Then we featured an Article from Ace of Spades that told you a lot about bureaucracy and what their goals are. Hint: It ain’t customer service. Ace says these are their goals:

  1. Protect our phony-baloney jobs.
  2. Protect the Phony-Baloney Jobs of Our Fellow Government Workers.
  3. Do as little work as possible.
  4. Expand turf, power, and responsibilities.

I see nothing to argue with there, and I note that in all cases the priorities are directly in line with human nature


I also note that the Civil Service Act, as amended (or not) does absolutely nothing to counteract these tendencies, in fact, I think it reinforces them. But then it was passed in the beginning of that time when we thought human nature was an uplifting moral force who would work its fingers to the bone for others advantage. We should have looked back to an earlier age, like the enlightenment and especially the writers of the Constitution, who knew perfectly well than men would be avaricious, lazy and seek power, and sought to write a document to keep that from happening. It worked too, as long as we ran the country according to it.

But there was an organization, 200 hundred years ago it was the largest in the world, that took the attributes of mankind, and designed a system that made men work for the organizations goals, even to the detriment of theirs. What was that organization? The Royal Navy in the age of sail.

Think about this, if you were the captain of one His Majesty’s ships in 1814, once you got out of sight of land, you became essentially God. You could fight your ship, or not, if you did, you could pick your targets, you could just about do anything you wanted, and still get paid. So how did the First Sea Lord maintain discipline, when his ships were out of reach.

Naval officers were paid a salary, in fact a fairly good one, when they were at sea. They served for the duration of the mission and then the ship was paid off. And here is one of the clues.

There were always more Captains and Admirals in the RN than there were berths at sea. If you weren’t attached to a ship, you got half-pay, which is exactly what it sounds like. Kind of like unemployment compensation. But here’s a kicker, in 1812 there were 1017 ships and vessels in the Royal Navy but there were 1531 commanders, captains, and admirals. The surplus were on half-pay. And the RN could use any captain it chose, although seniority had some weight, but in truth, if the admiralty distrusted you, likely you would be on half-pay for life.

And that further meant you would never figure in on the wealth making part of the service: prizes.

And that was what motivated everybody from the powder monkey to the admiral commanding. Why? Because you could get rich. A merchantman might be worth £300,000, of which the Admiral would get ¼, the Captain would get ¼, the officers would get ¼, and the crew the rest. (These numbers weren’t cast in stone, sometimes the admiral commanding, or the captain would alter them, but this is close usually. And remember this is the old uninflated, worth its weight in silver, pound sterling. A prize could set you up for life.

But that’s not the answer either, the privateers, that were common in all wars in the age of sail could do commerce raiding as well, maybe better, than the RN could, and they did without expense to the crown. Pure private enterprise. The navy needed to blockade ports, fight warships and all the other things that navies did, and still do. The British did. Why?

First the Fighting Instructions. In 1652 Blake was defeated by the Dutch under Tromp, although Blake was outnumbered he blamed his captains for not engaging. This led to several things bearing on our inquiry. First because it was very easy in a meleé atmosphere, which was the common naval tactics at the time, for a captain to hang back and not closely engage, and thus reduce his personal danger, which was considerable. the solution was the line-of-battle, and that solution persisted as long as there were battleships. The other thing was the Admiral commanding was stationed in the middle of the line, and often there were subordinate admirals stationed in the van and rear. Obviously if a ship gets out of line it is fairly easy to notice by the admiral, and will not redound to the captains credit, to be court martialed for cowardice. And it happened too, about twice as many captains and above were court-martialed as killed in battle.

The other part of that was that the Fighting Instructions required the British to seek the weather gage, that is to start the battle upwind of the enemy, this made it very difficult for the captain to non obviously avoid combat, and so the problem was more or less solved. Parenthetically, only the British and Americans sought the weather gage, not incidentally, both were and are offensive minded. Although it was solved in a manner that made the fleet fight in a suboptimal formation much of the time .

British Captains were also required to attack any enemy ship that they crossed paths with. They were not too likely to be censured for not attacking a ship of the line with a 30 gun frigate, but they routinely attacked anything up to twice their own size, if fact,

The fateful meeting between the British Guerriére and the USS Constitution on August 19, 1812, demonstrates this reputation. Though the Guerriére was smaller (38 18-pound guns to 44 24-pounders, 1092 tons to 1533, 244 men to 460), in need of refitting, leaking, and recently hit by lightning, its Captain Dacres engaged rather than flee, with the inevitable result of defeat. In England the loss, the first of five ship-to-ship defeats against the Americans and the first loss in 9 years, caused massive media attention and the calling for heads.

The British public was as shocked at the news of the loss of the Guerriére as the American public was delighted. . . . The Press displayed uncalculating annoyance and dismay. There was even a hint of condemnation for Dacres because he had surrendered and had not gone down fighting. . . . Even the more sober press was startled and disappointed. The measure of the public interest is displayed in the amount of editorial comment devoted to this one frigate action at a moment when events of immense importance were happening elsewhere.
(Forester, 1960, pp. 56–57)¹

Which is all well and good, but how was the admiralty going to find out? A couple of ways, if you remember reading Hornblower when you were young, you know something about how the promotion system worked. When a boy was 12-15 years old he would sign on with a captain, who was usually a family friend, patronage is important all through this story, by the way. After five or six years, if all went well, the captain would let him sit for the Lieutenants exam, if he passed he would become (I think the term was) a passed midshipmen, and when his number came up, or he distinguished himself he would become a lieutenant. Then in something like 3-6 years he would be qualified to promotion to Post Captain. But there are two things about being a lieutenant, first the captain could not, unlike the other lower officers remove him from the ship, and second, he could spend the rest of his career as a lieutenant, further promotion was not automatic. In addition there had to be an opening, so one of the methods was “fleeting up” where your superior officers were killed or removed from command in one way or another. Once one was promoted Post Captain, if you lived long enough you would “rule the Queen’s Navee” promotion above captain was automatic.

And that’s important to the story as well. because in the age of sail almost anything at sea could be blamed on the wind, and nobody who wasn’t there could really disprove what you said.

But the lieutenants were charged by the Admiralty with maintaining a signed log of their own and turning it in at the end of the cruise. They were required to report all the details of the cruise for themselves and especially the first lieutenant who the captain was charged with taking completely into his confidence. Obviously, it would be difficult to maintain a conspiracy to defame the captain and so gain promotion, particularly since the master, who was usually close to the end of his career, had little to gain from it, and one can imagine how hard it would be to be promoted if you were caught trying to unfairly remove the captain, because he had a lot of influence on one’s promotion at all times.

And so the Admiralty designed a system that forced officers to work against their normal best interests, in the King’s best interest, while leaving them more than enough chance for improving their fortune to make sure that they worked diligently.

I probably should add that the penalty for almost any violation of regulations in this period was “death”, often without any choice.

He asked who the stout man was who had just been so ceremoniously disposed of. “He was an admiral,” they told him. “But why execute this admiral?” he enquired. “Because he had not enough dead men to his credit,” was the reply; “he joined battle with a French admiral, and it has been established that their ships were not close enough to engage.” “But surely,” exclaimed Candide, “the French admiral must have been just as far from the English as the English admiral was from the French!” “True enough,” was the answer; “but in this country we find it pays to shoot an admiral from time to time to encourage the others.”

Voltaire

Admiral Byng understood

Admiral Byng understood

And so now the question becomes how do we devise a system that just as efficiently forces an unaccountable bureaucracy such as the Veteran’s Administration to do our will, instead of following Aces’s ‘rules of bureaucracies’; because truly that is the trouble, and just firing political appointees is shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. We need a systemic solution, or we need to put these functions back in the private sector, where they truly belong, even if we merely have an open bid for coverage with private insurers’ every few years. That would, I think, be the ideal solution.

¹ And most of the information as well, in this article derived from “The British Navy Rules: Monitoring and Incompatible Incentives in the Age of Fighting Sail” (PDF) by Douglas W. Allen.

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Mary Rose to Missouri

As I was putting together White Ensign and Navy Jack earlier, I realized that my American readers probably hadn’t heard much about the Mary Rose. That’s unfortunate because it’s an interesting story about the first flagship of the Royal Navy. Since I ran across a bit more information I thought I’d share it with you. It’s interesting research and there’s a pretty big surprise at the end of the video as well.

And since we can, let’s have look at the epitome of the technology that came from Mary Rose, here is a tour of HMS Victory

Of course, Americans, fast learners that we are, advanced the state of the art a bit, with our first six frigates, which even the Royal Navy admired. You knew it was coming, here is USS Constitution

But Constitution was hardly the last of the great ones, as America grew, so did the line-of battle, and the ships to form it. Here is one of the last, USS New Jersey getting ready for Vietnam

Even this would not be the end because the greatest of them all, New Jersey, Iowa, Wisconsin, and  Missouri herself upon whose deck an empire surrendered would come back again to assist in the end of still another empire, the Soviet Union, and to help the Kuwaitis reclaim their freedom from the Iraqis.

From Mary Rose to Missouri, for half a millenia these were the protectors of the English Speaking people on the seas of the world, as we rose from an adjunct of Europe to the leaders of the free world.

 

A Global Force for Good

“It follows then as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious.”

General George Washington

237 Years ago a great tradition started. As always, it started with men. Men like :Dudley Saltonstall, Abraham Whipple, Nicholas Biddle and John Burrows Hopkins, the first captains in the service. Men like First Lieutenant John Paul Jones whom Catherine the Great would later call the “Greatest Admiral of the Russian Navy“. Men like Stephan Decatur, who won praise from no less than Lord Nelson. Men like Farragut, Dewey, Sims, Byrd, Halsey, Nimitz and many others not as well known.

Then there are the firsts:

  • First attack by a submerged submarine in 1776
  • First successful attack by a submerged submarine
  • First major amphibious opposed landing in modern history
  • First battle between Ironclad ships firing rifled guns.
  • First overflight of the North Pole
  • First overflight of the South Pole
  • First naval combat where the ships never sighted each other
  • First nuclear propelled ship
  • First submerged circumnavigation of the world.

Then there are the battle honors

  • Bonhommie Richard v Serapis
  • Constitution v HMS GuerriereJavaPictouCyane and Levant.
  • Monitor v Merrimack (or Virginia)
  • Valcour Island
  • Mobile Bay
  • Manila Bay
  • Santiago
  • Pearl Harbor
  • Coral Sea
  • Midway
  • Marianas
  • Operation Neptune
  • Battle of the Atlantic (1917-18 and 1941-45)
  • Operation Torch
  • Vietnam
  • Iraq (twice)
  • And many, many more.

It’s a story written in heroism and blood for 237 years. But you know I want to talk about something else for a bit. We know they are always out there protecting America, and our trade. I’ve talked about it here and here as well as here. That’s all well and good, and it’s the mission as well.

But let’s talk about the real world for a minute here. Let’s say your an Indonesian villager or a Haitian, or a hundred other nationalities, who makes almost enough to feed your family. It’s hard for us to realize how common that is in our world still. Now an earthquake, flood, tsunami, or some other disaster strikes, and you lose effectively everything, maybe your family survives but all you have left is the shirt on your back. You’re obviously sitting around in shock, but maybe you can see the ocean, and you notice some bumps on the horizon. “Now what?” you’d undoubtedly think. What comes over that horizon is one of the greatest battle fleets in the history of the world, able to defeat almost any country all by themselves. What calamity is this you think, as you watch those ships drop anchor and all of a sudden helicopters and landing craft start issuing from that fleet. Think you’d be scared? I sure would be.

So the landing party lands, and you stand around gawking, as American sailors and Marines start giving away food, taking care of the injured, helping to find the missing, setting up tents, hauling in clean water, and everything else you could dream of. Yep, those imperialistic, war mongering Americans sent a whole battle fleet, halfway around the world to help your village get through your troubles, all of it courtesy of the US Taxpayers, who whine as we might about our taxes, never complain about this, because deep down this is who we are.

We do this mission because its who we are, we want to help, but in truth, it’s also good global politics. You think there might be legends in some of those countries about the way the Americans showed up, often even before their own government, to help in time of disaster, I do, and I’m very proud that we do it without thinking about that. We do it because it’s the right thing to do.

So, for the 237th time: Happy Birthday, Navy

Happy Birthday, Navy

First Navy Jack In use for the duration of the...

Image via Wikipedia

Today in 1775 the Continental Congress authorized the construction and administration of the Continental Navy which would become the United States Navy.  On December 22, Esek Hopkins was appointed the first commander-in-chief of the Continental Navy.

Congress also named four captains to the new service: Dudley Saltonstall, Abraham Whipple, Nicholas Biddle and John Burrows Hopkins. Their respective vessels, the 24-gun frigates Alfred and Columbus, the 14-gun brigs Andrew Doria and Cabot, as well as three schooners, the Hornet, the Wasp and the Fly, became the first ships of the Navy’s fleet.

Five first lieutenants, including future American hero John Paul Jones, five second lieutenants and three third lieutenants also received their commissions.

Thus was formed the first squadron of what would come to be known as: ‘Iron men and Wooden Ships’. This was the force that received the first salute given to the American Flag at Fort Oranje, St Eustatius.

This had to be a little worrisome to those men; being formed to combat what was by far the premier navy in the world: The Royal Navy, including some officers who would become famous like the future Lord Nelson, whose first war was our Revolution. If so, it never showed.

Those men went on to feats of arms that others only dream of Like John Paul Jones taking the Bonhomie Richard, 42 (which we wouldn’t trust to take us across a placid Hudson River) into battle with the HMS Serapis, 50 off of Flamborough Head (in sight of England, itself) and after uttering the famous line “Sir, I have not yet to fight” continued so long in the battle that the Richard sank out from under him, and he had to transfer to the surrendered Serapis. Not to mention the first attack by a submerged submarine in history.

Defence of Captn Pearson in his Majesty's Ship...

Image via Wikipedia

Defence of Captn Pearson in his Majesty’s Ship Serapis and the Countess of Scarborough Arm’d Ship Captn Piercy, against Paul Jones’s Squadron, 23 Sept 1779, by Robert Dodd

The Continental Congress being what they were (Broke!) disbanded the Navy after the Revolution.

But the world being the world this couldn’t last for a maritime nation like the United States and so the US Navy was reborn 1794 to provide protection from the Barbary pirates (some things never change)

 Congress ordered the construction of six frigates, which were designed to be heavier than anybody else’s frigates but, faster than a ship of the line.The six were: USS United States; USS Constellation, which was the first US Navy vessel to put to sea, the first to engage in combat, defeat, and capture an enemy vessel; USS  Constitution, Old Ironsides is the oldest floating commissioned naval vessel in the world; USS Chesapeake; USS Congress; and USS President.

These frigates were the wonder of the naval world and gave outstanding accounts of themselves in the Quasi war with France, in the campaign against the Barbary pirates and in the War of 1812, where Constitution particularly became famous after her battles with HMS Guerriere, Java, Pictou, Cyane and Levant. A lot of the reason for their success is due to Captain Thomas Truxtun’s insistence on the highest standards of crew training.

Constitution on her 213th birthday, 21 October 2010

During the Mexican War the US Army under GEN Winfield Scott performed that most hazardous of operations, an amphibious landing on a hostile shore at Vera Cruz in cooperation with Commodore David Conner who planned the operation.

During the Civil war the Navy conducted riverine operations on the Tennessee, the Mississippi and many other streams as well as maintaining the blockade of the Confederacy. There were famous landings in ports such as Mobile bay where ADM Farragut uttered the immortal “Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead“.

In the meantime the Naval academy had been founded and in the late 19th Century provided a home to Alfred Thayer Mahan while he was writing his masterpiece The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, which was influential not only in America but, also in Europe, especially Great Britain and Germany.

In this period the new US Navy (Steel ships and rifled guns) blew the Spanish fleets clean out of naval history at Santiago and Manila Bay. Shortly thereafter they painted there ships white and circumnavigated the globe, showing America’s new reach.

Connecticut leads the way for the Great White Fleet in 1907.

In the First World War the US Navy helped the Royal Navy with North Atlantic convoy duty and provided a battle squadron to the Royal Navy’s fleet.

In the Second World War after the surprise defeat at Pearl harbor, the Navy in record time refloated, repaired, and resume the offensive against Japan while simultaneously helping to defeat the U-boats in the Atlantic and marshalling the shipping for the invasion of Europe. This was the war where the aircraft carrier supplanted the battleship as the capital ship.

Enterprise earned 20 battle stars, the most for any U.S. warship in World War II

After the war the navy provided the control of our sea lines of communication all over the world while remaining a world-beating strike force of their own, as well as providing the ultimate deterrence force for America itself.

And today the Navy still supports our activities all around the world as they have for 236 years. A force not only for good, but a force for freedom, everywhere.

The USS Abraham Lincoln battle group during the 2000 RIMPAC exercises

This post is obviously very sketchy and overlooks many actions and actors in this epic of freedom.

What has made the US Navy the preeminent power all over the world? Hint, it isn’t the ship or the aircraft. It the men and the women and the leadership, who have transitioned from iron men and wooden ships all the way to nuclear powered steel airports the size of islands with a globe spanning striking range.

To my friends in the United States Navy: BRAVO ZULU

Reflections on a Train Trip

I recently had an opportunity to travel by train back to Nebraska from Philadelphia. As most of you who have ever traveled by train know, it gives you a fair amount of time to reflect on whatever crosses your mind. For some reason this trip (which I actually take roughly every year) caused me to reflect on the industrial powerhouse that was America. If you travel by train, you see a lot of industrial areas new and old.  What struck me this time was coming through Pittsburgh, northern Ohio and northwest Indiana was remembering these areas when I was a kid back in the 60’s, when it was very common still to see the black smoke and flames shoot into the air at the steel mills. These were the mills that industrialized America and made the steel that built the machines that won two World Wars and conquered a continent and fed the world.

It is commonly said that steel built the railroad industry and the railroads built the steel industry and it’s true; if one includes coal in the steel industry. What awesome plants they were, for instance, the main street of Gary, Indiana (itself named for a steel executive) ends at the main gate of US Steel Gary Works. And remember a basic element of US Steel; Carnegie Steel produced more steel than Great Britain in the 1890’s. Pittsburgh was much the same, only possibly more so. Here was the steel produced that made the railroads, which then made the largest common market in the world, and the steel for the agricultural equipment that still feeds the world, and the steel for the American automobiles and the weapons and transportation of the American military that won two World Wars  and the Cold War. Read more of this post

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