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Of steel, low-background steel, and my father’s bones

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — low-background steel is no longer so necessary, but the remains of naval lives lost at sea are still of passionate concern ]
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With all this talk of tariffs on steel, I was reminded of the rare steel salvaged from sunken warships at Scapa Flow, in Indonesia and elsewhere. I read about “low background steel” in this Guardian title: Lost bones, a mass grave and war wrecks plundered off Indonesia. As you’ll note, bones — the long-inaccessible remains of sailors — are also part of the story.

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Let’s tackle the steel first. Here’s how the Guardian explained it:

As well as brass, copper, and bronze, one reason the salvaging has gone wholesale is the ships are a source of “low background steel” – produced before the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945.

Virtually radiation-free, low-background steel is used in sensitive medical and scientific instruments. These old sunken warships are among the few remaining sources.

Cecil, however, knowledgeable as ever, tells us that supposedly rare and invaluable subset of steel isn’t anything we need to concern ourselves with:

Sorry, the market for old steel is now pretty much sunk. Reduced radioactive dust plus sophisticated instrumentation that corrects for background radiation means new steel can now be used in most cases. There’s some lingering demand for really old maritime metal, though. When researchers at one national lab wanted shielding that emitted no radiation whatsoever, they used lead ballast retrieved from the Spanish galleon San Ignacio, which had been lying on the bottom of the Caribbean for 450 years.

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That more or less leaves the bones..

The Guardian has been following different aspects of the story, and the bones come in focus in their article, The world’s biggest grave robbery: Asia’s disappearing WWII shipwrecks:

Dozens of warships believed to contain the remains of thousands of British, American, Australian, Dutch and Japanese servicemen from the second world war have been illegally ripped apart by salvage divers, the Guardian can reveal.

An analysis of ships discovered by wreck divers and naval historians has found that up to 40 second world war-era vessels have already been partially or completely destroyed. Their hulls might have contained the corpses of 4,500 crew.

Governments fear other unmarked graves are at risk of being desecrated. Hundreds more ships – mostly Japanese vessels that could contain the war graves of tens of thousands of crew killed during the war – remain on the seabed.

And from the first article:

“You can imagine the massive outrage if someone drove a bulldozer through the big first world war Commonwealth war grave at Saint Symphorien,” [British naval historian Phil Weir] says, referring to a military cemetery in Belgium. “But taking apart a shipwreck doesn’t seem to have the same effect. It is kind of out of sight, out of mind, I fear.”

Let’s put it this way. I don’t care.

But if HMS Sheffield had been sunk with my father aboard by the Hipper’s superior guns [8″ vs Sheffield’s 6″] at the Battle of the Barents Sea — a not implausible alternate history — you can bet I’d be up in arms if divers harvested Sheffield for its steel, with my father’s remains trashed as worthless in the process..

Oh, except that if my father had gone down with the Sheffield, I’d never have been conceived. Thank God, things didn’t work out that way.

The trouble with Providence

Friday, June 16th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — the Virginia shooting — providence, like grace, is whole cloth, or it is nothing ]
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The basic paradox: I thank God Steve Scalise is still among the living, may he fully and speedily recover

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The trouble with Providence is that it makes more sense to the survivors than, on the whole, the deceased or those who grieve them. My father, gunnery officer on the British light cruiser Sheffield, survived the superior firepower of the German heavy cruiser Hipper in the Battle of the Barents Sea, and no doubt that was providential from my own perspective — I was born around elevn months later. Providential, too, it must have been on a larger scale — the Hipper was crippled:

When told of the news, Hitler flew into a rage. He referred to his ships as useless and decided on the spot that the High Seas Fleet should be scrapped. Admiral Raeder, commander of the Kriegsmarine, tended his resignation and was replaced by Admiral Dönitz.

My father’s guns, along with those of the Sheffield’s companion cruiser Jamaica, together disabled the Hipper.

Providential, three — in that same engagement, shrapnel knocked one of the eyes of Captain Robert St. V. Sherbrooke, commanding a contingent of British destroyers from Onslow, out of its socket, such is war, an incident which Sherbrooke ignored in the interest of continuing his command, and for which he later received the Victoria Cross, such is war. Such is war, such is providence, forty of Sherbrooke’s men on the Onslow lost their lives in the same two minutes in which he lost his eye.

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I report all this because Glenn Beck just invoked Providence in the matter of the Congressional baseball practice shooting:

We have an amazing story to tell of what I believe is Divine Providence. I just — I want you to think of one thing. Imagine what America would be like today, if yesterday the leadership of the G.O.P. and the majority of the G.O.P., 10 percent of the G.O.P. and Congress were dead. If we had coffins that we were facing today instead of one coffin of the shooter and one still in critical condition, what would the conversation be like today?

I’ve often said, you’re going to wake up on a Monday, and by Friday, your country will be completely different. I believe that is coming. But I do believe we saw Divine Providence happen yesterday. So that didn’t happen this week.

So providence postpones what it can’t altogether prevent?

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Glenn Beck, apparently — because he’s a Mormon, or a Christian more generally, or a believer, even more ecumenically, or a human, or at least a sentient being — or because he’s a media personality? — can serve as a spokesman for Providence:

Barry, let me — let me take you now to Divine Providence.

Beck is addressing Congressman Barry Loudermilk, who was present at the practice, who was himself a target — unlike Glenn — shot at, and providentially spared. It’s providential that we have Beck’s voice to explain to Loudermilk what happened..

I will tell you — I’ve seen some bad shots in my life. But for as many targets that were out on that field — and to have a rifle, I believe, Divine Providence played a role in keeping, you know, people safe yesterday. It is remarkable the number of rounds that were fired and the — the low number of people that were hit.

Providence approves the critical wounding of one congressman and the avoidance of same in several other cases, eh?

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Look, if I was one of the congresspersons who survived, I’d be more than a little inclined to thank providence — and if I didn’t survive, I wouldn’t be around to blame it. So here’s a special case of “history is written by the victors” — “belief in providence is written by the survivors”.

The problem with providence as an explanation is that it tends to overlook those who didn’t survive its providential ministrations. And that’s a problem of cognitive dissonance, if one tries to extend providence past the individual usrvivor or group of survivors, to the world as a whole — or to the “next week” that Beck feels prrovidence is saving some potential victims for..

Ruthlessly applied, providence comes for us all, as it has first devised us all — and all’s fair in love and hate, war and peace.

Or unfair. Forget Glenn Beck, I’ll let you decide.

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In a companion piece, Beck offers The Entire List of Who to Blame for the Attempted Slaughter of GOP House Members. Providence doesn’t catch any blame — and neither does the NRA, not Obama:

Here’s the truth. The shooter is responsible, by himself — not the gun, not the bullets, not the gun industry … not the NRA, not the left, not the right, not the president, not the former president, not Hillary Clinton, not Antifa — no one. The shooter is responsible, period.

Whee! And while we’re not blaming, or its corrollary, blaming, Glenn also posted The New York Times Runs the Worst Editorial in Human History, Blames SARAH PALIN for Giffords Shooting AGAIN

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The SPLC reports:

Gunman Who Fired on Congressional Baseball Team Consumed by Anti-Trump Anger

There’s a specter here, if it’s not providence and it’s not any of the interested parties who are to blame. The specter is polarization.

But that’s for a follow-up post on The physics of politics, god willing.

Onward, Christian Soldiers

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — as sung by FDR and Winston Churchill in August of 1941 ]
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It seems only appropriate first to bring you the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers as performed by the Manchester Citadel Band and Yorkshire Chorus of the Salvation Army — Christan Soldiers and Salvation Army both having meaning that blends the military with the religious:

As regular readers here will know, the disjunction and conjunction of the spiritual and military is a central focus of my thoughts and posts here on Zenpundit.

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It may seem entirely trivial in comparison with the stunning footage that follows, but the article that brought me to think once again of the military-religious nexus was a piece from Russia’s Pravmir today, titled Bishop of the Russian Church compares Russia airbase in Syria to a monastery:

“The situation is interesting in spiritual sense, it reminds of a big convent without Internet, television and almost without a telephone. All servicemen are involved in sport activities, they have a great demand in reading,” the hierarch said in his interview with the Pobeda radio.

The bishop noted that the servicemen participated in pastoral conversations with great interest.

“This informational blockade helps them refresh their conscience, in result they have a demand to talk about important spiritual moments. It impressed me much,” he confessed.

The church official said he saw “an absolutely new face of our military forces there.”

“Not only weapons and outfit, but their new way of thinking impressed me. It was seen in their discipline, in organization of service, which we witnessed during the week. It differed so much from all the things I saw before that I sincerely rejoiced,” the bishop said.

That’s worth pondering, you know, as we think about Putin‘s Russia and current events in Syria..

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The near-pacifist son of a World War II naval war hero in me was intrigued enough to go searching for Onward Christian Soldiers as a musical match for this article, and it was in search of an appropriate rendering of the hymn that I ran across the FDR / Churchill footage.

I am profoundly glad it did.

In my view today, the most riveting rendering of Onward Christian Soldiers must be the one captured on archival footage here, with Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt present on the Royal Navy battleship HMS Prince of Wales in August 1941:

The other hymn sung in that clip is the quintessential naval hymn, Eternal Father, Strong to Save with its refrain, O hear us when we call to Thee / For those in peril on the sea..

Holocaust Memorial Day, remember

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — still recovering from heart surgery, still a couple days slow on current affairs ]
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Holocaust Memorial Day might have passed me by completely had President Trump not decided to sign his executive order putting an initial ban on refugees — and green card holders — from seven Muslim-majority countries entering the US.

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The parallelism speaks for itself. In a single tweet:

Read all about it: Anne Frank and her family were also denied entry as refugees to the U.S.:

“The story seems to unfold in slow motion as the painstaking exchange of letters journey across continents and from state to state, their information often outdated by the time they arrive,” the New York Times wrote … “Each page adds a layer of sorrow as the tortuous process for gaining entry to the United States — involving sponsors, large sums of money, affidavits and proof of how their entry would benefit America — is laid out. The moment the Franks and their American supporters overcame one administrative or logistical obstacle, another arose.”

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See also the St. Louis Manifest Twitter feed.

The Smithsonian magazine describes it as “like a slow dirge, steadily announcing the names of the St. Louis passengers who were killed..”

A sample:

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Yet despite all..

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And that’s before we begin to consider the constitutionality, in a nation dedicated to having “no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, of executive orders that ban Muslims while showing preference for Christians, nor the likelihood that such orders will blow back on us, increasing IS and AQ recruitment.

Consider, for instance, this quote from an article subheaded ISIS aims to exploit Trump’s controversial rhetoric about Muslims to reinforce its propaganda, five current and former members told BuzzFeed News. “Trump will shorten the time it takes for us to achieve our goals,” one said.

ISIS also sees Trump as an ideal enemy for propaganda purposes, the former and current members of the group said, believing that his campaign’s heated rhetoric about Muslims will help the extremist group with recruitment by reinforcing its central narrative that America and the West are at war with Islam. “Trump announced his hatred of Arabs and Muslims and did not hide it as presidents did before him,” an ISIS official based outside the city of Palmyra said, speaking via an encrypted chat service.

When are look-alikes alike, eh?

Friday, September 30th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a questiom for Cath Styles and Emily Steiner ]
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It’s my proposal here that look-alikes are in the eyes of the beholder, perhaps more so than other forms of likeness.

Consider:

Do they look like Darth Vader and C3PO to you, frankly — or more like each other?

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One really does have to wonder how medieval monastics got hold of copies of Winnie the Pooh:

honey-bear-02-600

and:

honey-bear-01-600

With a double hat-tip to the immensely followable twitter feed of PiersatPenn

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And what about this?

It probably takes some historical knowledge to appreciate the similarities here — the comparison is not entirely visual.

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Are mathematically or verbally juxtaposable similarities equally subject to human comparative bias?


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