Octavo Dia

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Book Review: Death in the Trenches

Davis, William C. Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg. The Civil War. Alexandria, VA; Time-Life Inc., 1986.

I knew that there was trench warfare in the Civil War. I did not know, however, the scale of the entrenchments. The excavations were seemingly as elaborate as those of World War I. Speaking of which, why the heck did the generals of World War I become obsessed with the bayonet? If generals are always experts in the last war, surely they should have realized that attacking trench lines en masse was a fool's game. What is wrong with people?

The engineering challenge of pumping air into the tunnel for the ill-fated battle of the crater was brilliant. They made the tunnel air tight with a ventilation hole and pipe that allowed inflow only at the working end of the tunnel, and then lit a fire under the exhaust shaft to draw the air out. Simple and classic.

It also amused me that, after the 1864 election, Grant embarked on a purge of political generals--"Thanks for your support, but we won't need it by the next election, and we don't need you now."


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Book Review: Sherman's March

Nevin, David. Sherman's March: Atlanta to the Sea. The Civil War. Alexandria, VA; Time-Life, Inc., 1986.

So I discovered that my Civil War history was severely lacking. I had no idea that Hood led the Confederate Army of Tennessee north while Sherman made his march. I had no idea that Sherman hand-picked the men who went on the march, and sent them north under the Union's best defensive general, George Thomas. I had no idea that when the met outside of Nashville, Thomas routed the Confederates so that the Army of Tennessee effectively ceased to exist. All the history I've read has focused exclusively on Sherman.

I also hadn't realized that when Sherman cut away from his supply lines, no one knew what had happened to him for weeks on end. For all they knew, his army had been swallowed up in the strongholds of the Confederacy. It wasn't until he broke through to Savannah that they knew what became of him.

Also, for all of our deliberate misspellings of names, we're not nearly as creative as people were back then. I mean, who names their child "States Rights Gist"? (Sure, the baseball commissioner was "Kennesaw Mountain Landis", but he was a child of the Civil War.)

And a question for counter-factual historians: what would have happened if they put General Forrest in charge of infantry? In the east, General Stuart demonstrated that he was an able infantry commander in a pinch, so why not give Forrest a try as well?


Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Right to be Unhealthy

Everything you do effects your health. What you eat. What you drink. Where you work. How you spend your leisure. It all effects your health.

With healthcare, if "we" are paying the bills, "we" will also be involved in the healthcare decisions--which extend to all of life. Much of Europe's reduced healthcare bill is that Europe has had generations of collective decision making, and has eliminated many unhealthy options from people's lives.

I hope you are comfortable with collective control of your health.

Book Review: The Killing Ground

Jaynes, Gregory. The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor. The Civil War. Alexandria, VA; Time-Life, Inc., 1986.

So in a month and a half, Grant took as many casualties as McClellan took in his entire career. You can imagine why the troops were less than pleased with him. Of course, all of those soldiers were lost retaking ground that McClellan had taken, and then retreated from.

What I don't understand, however, is why no one thought that issuing machetes and axes would be a reasonable objective. After having fought in the Wilderness before, and discovering just how hard it is to fight when you can't cut a clear path to bring up reinforcements or remove the wounded, someone had to have thought of this. In Spotsylvania, they did issue axes to the first wave, that they could cut their way through the abatis, and it worked, but that lesson was lost on subsequent assaults. It seems nothing is more short-lived than a military innovation.


Book Review: Battles for Atlanta

Bailey, Ronald H. Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East. The Civil War. Alexandria, VA; Time-Life, Inc., 1989.

I've read the history of Sherman's march on Atlanta before, and I always considered how his double-flanking was strategic brilliance. (He would always attempt to flank his opponent in the battle, but he sent a reserve force in a long flanking march around--he'd flank both within the battle and around the battle--which force Johnston to retreat.)

This book, however, was focused on the individual side of the war, and just how much the constant marching and fighting sucked. I'm sure the soldiers caught in the thick of things wished that they had that extra corps that went marching off.


Friday, September 24, 2010

A Heathen Reads the Bible

Noumenon linked me to the blog A Heathen Reads the Bible, which I am enjoying greatly. I'm not going to criticize it seriously, because it's not serious criticism, but I do have a few random comments:

why 'we can't just train all the animals to be vegetarian'

We can, sometimes. A lot of them have just lost the ability, or the particular plant species, to pursue that diet.

I always wondered why people didn't infer from this story that learning second languages is against God's will; mostly this thought came to me as a fond fantasy in the middle of Spanish class.

Now consider that God reversed the Tower of Babel at Pentacost.

but I have NO idea where Jacob got this silly branch idea..."Am I missing something huge or is this story just completely pointless?"

It seems that God launched the first "come as you are" party, and accepted all varieties of paganism in his converts (though that was rapidly purged out of them).

These random details do add realism to the story, though. The writer's adage, reality doesn't have to make sense, appears to apply. The striped sticks? Never referred to again. Why put it in there? Because it happened. Wouldn't you be much more suspicious of a Murder on the Orient Express style drama were the tiniest detail was crucial to the plot? A lot of butterflies flap their wings without causing hurricanes.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

An Open Letter to the Atheist Trolls

Dear Atheist Trolls,

While I recognize that your stunning intellect has allowed you to detect the seemingly glaring flaws in the Scriptures, after nearly two thousand years with the New Testament, and up to fourteen hundred more for the Old Testament, we have addressed these issues ad nauseum. Any criticism that you can discover in a translation, (and that without devoting years of study to it), has already been rebutted. Please consider that the skeptics before you, while not approaching your intellectual development (nor your wit or good manners), may have brought these to our attention.

Please find something new to talk about.



P.S. If I read one more person saying, "There are two contradictory creation stories..." I'm going to TYPE IN ALL CAPS.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Enemy of My Enemy...

Is both my friend, my enemy, and my enemy's friend. If there's one thing I've learned from Facebook, it's that if you look at people's actual positions, and not their claimed affiliations, they're all over the map. On any particular issue you may be deeply opposed too many of your friends, even though you both vote for the same candidates.

I think that you should ignore political parties entirely, and create your own "platform" by supporting multiple, single-issue groups that support your views, even if you'll be working against some of your friends in those organizations.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Irony of Keynesianism

It's ironic, isn't it, that of the developed world the Germans have come through the Great Recession the best? The Germans laid plans for the next downturn well in advance. The policies and procedures were created well in advance of the crisis, so when it came to implementation, it was a relative cakewalk--there was no need for a slapdash TARP, or a bailout, our any of the many things America has tried. And there is also not the loss of faith in a government which appears to be out of control as it practices Keynesianism.

So here is the irony of Keynesiasm: those who plan for it, don't need it; those who need it, can't do it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

20/20 Hindsight

In retrospect, it's obvious that the saying, "Invest in real estate--they're not making more land!" is foolish. It's not immediately obvious why that would be the case, however.

People were thinking of land as a purely physical thing, and not as an economic input. Land as an economic input, however, is what creates most of its value (desert land, for instance, isn't worth all that much, so it doesn't cost that much). Like most economic inputs, we use land more efficiently over time. For example, over the last two hundred years, the wheat yield from an acre of land has risen nine-fold. To produce the same harvest, we need only 11% as much land. How is that any different from creating new land? All of that land we no longer need to devote to wheat can be allotted to other purposes.

Iceland isn't the only place that can create new land.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Moral Calculus

"Woe to you who call evil, good, and good, evil." Isaiah 5:20.

In a believer's eyes, what is the greatest good, the good that trumps all others? Obviously, the immortal salvation of an unbeliever. Therefore, when there is any moral calculation, what will come out ahead? If you have to lie, cheat, steal, or kill to win converts, are those sins not wiped away by the good accomplished through the conversion? What barrier then remains? The Copts protest that their women and children are kidnapped and forcibly converted, yet that can be justified, as their immortal soul is worth more than their earthly relationships.

You can only trust a believer if sin is always sin, regardless of the good it accomplishes.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Basel III: Pesto in the making

It's terribly ironic, the grand reveal of the new international banking rules. They have within them the seeds of their own destruction.

Business writing, which I normally despise, has an apt phrase--picking up nickles in front of steamrollers. You can do it for quite a long time, and pick up a good deal of money, but that one time you don't get out of the way in time, it's all over.

Basel III will give us (to make a prediction no one will ever bother calling me on) a good 40 years before the next major meltdown. What will happen is that it will guard against the most catastrophic confluence of events, and people will grow accustomed to "risk free" banking. Since banking is risk free, they will take on more risks in other areas. When it finally breaks, it will be devastating.

Tinkering with reserve levels, the definition of cash, cash-equivalency, liquid assets, etc., will never eliminate this category of banking risk entirely. Nothing short of 100% reserve banking would eliminate the risk, but no one is willing to take such a radical step (and surrender their control of monetary policy).

Saturday, September 11, 2010

God is Imaginary: #22 Rebuttal

This post is addressing the objections to the last post in this series, #22 Count all the People God wants to Murder.

"Deserved to die" is different from "wants them killed."

I concur, and Scripture even supports that interpretation. In Genesis 15:16, concerning the entry into Canaan, God said, "In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure." Though they already deserved to die, after all, "the wages of sin is death," it wasn't until generations later that they had become so thoroughly corrupted that God would command that they be killed.

In this case, the answer is as you say -- it's for the benefit of the believers carrying out the orders. Apparently murder builds character.

Once again it depends on who you are. A soldier who refuses combat is a bad soldier, whatever else he may be. A people who are commanded to rid evil from a land would be wrong not to do so.

Then ask yourself, 'Why am I comfortable worshiping a God who acts nice now, but in the past basically presided over a reign of terror?'"

I am comfortable because there is the ceaseless distinction between Law and Gospel. There's a story about Robert E. Lee having a soldier brought before him for a court martial. The soldier was quivering and Lee said, "Don't worry, son, you'll get justice here." The soldier replied, "I know, sir, that's what I'm afraid of." In the Old Testament, we saw the consequences of a just God. It is, and should be, enough to terrify us. In the New Testament, the pure mercy of Godis added to his justice, and as the hymn writer said, "All my fears relieved." It is very hard to understand how David could sing of the love of God with only the Old Testament to go on.

And that "It's logically impossible to keep the Sabbath but that's still your fault" is bullshit, as I've said before. That's the system designer's fault, not the occupants'.

By no means. The reason sin has become unavoidable is because of sin. It is both the cause and the consequence. Would you prefer that God ceaselessly intervene to prevent you from sinning, when he created a perfect world and we still failed?

Back to the 50 Reasons.


Book Review: Spys, Scouts, and Raiders

Flaherty Jr., Thomas H. Spies, Scouts, and Raiders: Irregular Operations. The Civil War. Alexandria, VA; Time-Life, Inc., 1985.

This one made you think. The only weapon the Union had against the irregulars was to throw more troops at them. That's still more or less our solution today. The only real difference between then and now is the regular forces respond faster. They get the information sooner and jump aboard helicopters to respond. You would think that in nearly a century and a half we'd have come up with something better.

When reading about the jayhawkers and bushwhackers in the west, and the atrocities they committed, it made me think that there must be something universal about how we abuse each other. If you stripped off the identifying information, the descriptions could have easily taken place in the Congo or Sudan or Cambodia.

Dealing with the media was a problem even back then. Much of what the Confederate spy network did was buy newspapers and send them via courier back to the Confederate generals. The Confederacy didn't have the same problem because the Confederacy didn't really have newspapers, due to a lack of paper, ink, and manpower to run them. (My two cents, for what it's worth, is that anything the media can discover a foreign intelligence service can too, so the media serves as a sparring partner for your counter-intelligence.)


Monday, September 06, 2010

God is Imaginary: #22 Count all the People God wants to murder

Count all the people God wants to murder.

I'm going to start with the last two paragraphs first, and then hit the two examples I'm interested in addressing.

In the penultimate paragraph, they say, "Second, there is this fact: If God is an all-powerful being, he would kill them himself." I'm pretty sure they're just taking a cheap shot, but let me take it at face value. If God killed everyone who deserved to die, who would be left? James 2:10 says, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." There goes the neighborhood.

So why should God have human agents carry out His will? Is part of being good opposing evil? Should we expect God to keep us from evil with well-timed lightning bolts? Would such an ersatz electric fence keep us from sinning? How would that make us desire to do good? We as humans serve God not that he needs our help, but because we need to help.

And in the final paragraph, it says, "Notice that believers completely ignore these parts of the Bible." I'm afraid that they were misinformed, because (as is pretty much always the case with their objections) they ignore who was the intended recipient of a message. I am not building an ark because I was not commanded to build an ark. I am not stoning sinners because I am not commanded to stone sinners. I am instead commanded to let my light shine before men.

On to their examples:

Honoring the Sabbath

This question puts me in mind of 2 Kings 5:13 "If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” It's such a profoundly simple thing to do! Why not honor the Sabbath? It's not like He's asking you to whip yourself with blades.

But it gets much more profound than that. Let's turn to Luke 14:5 “If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?” This seems to be a conundrum, doesn't it? On the one hand, you're failing to honor the Sabbath by working for a rescue, but on the other hand, you're willfully allowing suffering if you do honor the Sabbath. Which option is sinful? I argue both. You sin by either neglecting your duties or by breaking the Sabbath. Trusting to our own strength, we are hopelessly sinful. That is why Isaiah said in 64:6 "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags". When you consider the difficulty in keeping the incomparably easy command of honoring the Sabbath, all you can do is to have faith in God's mercy.

As an aside, Billy Graham was asked about Luke 14:5 by a young man who claimed he HAD to work on Sunday. Billy Graham purportedly said, "If your ox falls into a well every Sunday, you need to tie up the ox, cover the well, or get a new ox."

Rebellious Teenagers

I have heard it argued that this was a liberal idea for the time. According to Wikipedia, the head of a household could execute a family member, or sell them into slavery. When I was reading the Kanun, it concurred that this was a common privilege. Bringing a civil authority in to arbitrate a dispute which would otherwise have automatically led to the death of the rebellious teenager is a vast leap forward. However, the last sentence demonstrates that this was pretty darn rare (if it happened frequently, why would it be news?).

As always, it's best to place this in context. If you were attempting to preserve a remnant from corrupting influences, who is most likely to partake of these "corrupting influences?" We can understand this law as God's mercy on future generations through the chosen people.

Always remember 2 Corinthians 3:6 when discussing the Old Testament: "He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."

Back to the 50 reasons.


Book Review: Moon-o-theism, Chapter 11

My volume is misprinted for chapter 11, so it looks like chapter 11 is only three pages long.

I don't have anything to say about this chapter. It seems to be a summation of the bits concerning mosque architecture that were scattered throughout the previous few chapters.

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Saturday, September 04, 2010

Book Review: The Fight for Chattanooga

Korn, Jerry. The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge. The Civil War. Alexandria, VA; Time-Life, Inc., 1985.

There must be a natural tendency to reinforce failure. Despite the victories in the West, the Union continually reinforced the Eastern theater and left the dregs for the western armies. All they really needed to do was put enough emphasis on the eastern front to keep the Army of Northern Virginia in Northern Virginia. Everything else should have been sent West.

I was also reminded of something that made me realize part of Freakonomics was most likely wrong. Freakonomics argued in one part that castles were placed not on the crest of the hill, but farther down, so they could better dominate the trade routes below. I'd wager that the castles were positioned on the "military crest" rather than the true crest. The military crest is the point that maximizes the line of site of a fortification. It may not be as high as possible, but it gives them the best vantage point.


Thursday, September 02, 2010

My One Sentence Healthcare Plan

Those who want free healthcare should join the Army.