Thursday, November 28, 2013

Seventy Years Ago: Thirty-One Knot Burke

Thanksgiving eve, 1943, Admiral Halsey ordered Captain Arleigh Burke, Commander Destroyer Squadron 23, with five Fletcher class destroyers, to intercept a Japanese squadron of five destroyers near the island of Buka in the Northern Solomons. One of Burke's destroyers had a minor engineering problem, previously reported, which limited speed to 30 knots instead of the normal top speed of 38 knots. Captain Burke reported to Halsey that he was proceeding at 31 knots. Halsey directed him to proceed to point Uncle: “THIRTY-ONE KNOT BURKE GET ATHWART THE BUKA-RABUL EVACUATION LINE ABOUT 35 MILES WEST OF BUKA….”

Thus was Burke's "Little Beaver" squadron dispatched to the Battle of Cape St. George and into US Naval history.

A little more than a year earlier, near Guadalcanal, the night of August 8-9, 1942, Japanese Admiral Mikawa hastily assembled a force of seven cruisers and a destroyer near Buka to counter the US/Australian invasion force of eight cruisers and fifteen destroyers at Guadalcanal. Mikawa's force lacked radar, while the allied cruisers and several of the destroyers had radar. But the Japanese had trained for night combat and they were equipped with the world's best torpedoes. US torpedoes had not been adequately tested and proved unreliable and ineffective.

When the clash began, it took about a half hour for the Japanese to sink four allied heavy cruisers, damage two destroyers and kill over a thousand allied sailors. Japan escaped with minimal damage and a loss of 58 sailors.

It was the US Navy's worst defeat ever in a sea battle.

Captain Burke's destroyers were all equipped with radar and knew how to use it at night. The problems with American torpedoes had been fixed. By late 1943, the crews were battle-experienced and, more important, the officers knew how to effectively use the new equipment.

Burke's squadron found the Japanese, sank three destroyers and damaged another, pursuing them in a long stern chase. Burke withdrew before daylight, as the squadron was well inside range of Japanese land based aircraft.

When Arleigh Burke later became Chief of Naval Operations, he wrote a personal, characteristically modest, account of the Battle of Cape St. George for Parade magazine here.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

John Warner Cox: August 13, 1941 - November 26, 2013

My brother John fought pancreatic cancer for nearly three years. He taught us how to live through such a time. How to seize the day for whatever the day offers. An inspiration to us all. He lived his life from beginning to end with great good humor. When he learned there were no further treatment options, he began planning for the end, including writing his obituary. When I visited him last month in Utah, he was still refining it. Now it is finished and is on line here:

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Affordable Care Act - Medicaid

In a recent New York Times op-ed piece, columnist Timothy Egan describes the refusal to expand Medicaid as the South's new "lost cause." He makes it plain that this is irrational, but he rather dances around the reason motivating southern states to reject an obviously good deal.

Ed Kilgore, writing in the Washington Monthly, is more direct. Calling the decision to reject Medicaid expansion the "pure meanness litmus test," Kilgore explains what this is about: "...states refusing the Medicaid expansion are doing so on grounds that they don’t want their own citizens to benefit from it. And since opposition has centered in the South, there’s not any real doubt a big motive has been a continuation of that region’s longstanding effort to—choose your verb—(a) reduce dependence on government among, or (b) keep down—those people."

In the 1930's, it was the same region, then in thrall to racist democrats (who have since become republicans),  that made sure the new social security program would exclude "agricultural workers."

There will be serious collateral damage inflicted on an already strapped health care system in the South. The health care industry understands this.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Seventy Years Ago: At Sea Off Tarawa - USS Liscome Bay

From initial action until the end of the battle, it took America's forces 76 hours to conquer the tiny but well-fortified island of Betio at Tarawa. Over 4,500 Japanese perished in the assault. 1,696 Americans lost their lives. Forty percent of Americans killed died the morning of November 23, when a Japanese submarine launched a torpedo, striking Liscome Bay near its store of aircraft ordinance. She sank in 20 minutes, carrying 687 officers and men with her.

The war in the Pacific was still very much a naval war.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Seventy Years Ago: 20-22 November 1943 - Marines On Tarawa

The assault on the island of Betio, Tarawa Atoll, began November 20. Betio, in the Gilberts, was to be a stepping stone to the Marianas, from which new B-29 heavy bombers could attack Japan.

Rear Admiral Tomaniri Sichero, an experienced engineer, had nine months to build elaborate defensive works. He was replaced in command by an experienced combat officer, RADM Keiji Shibazaki. The Japanese had over 4,500 troops in carefully prepared positions.

Attacking forces were the largest invasion force yet assembled in the Pacific: 17 aircraft carriers, 12 battleships, 8 heavy cruisers, 4 light cruisers, 66 destroyers and 36 transport ships with 35,000 troops.

After a heavy bombardment of the island by aircraft and guns, things began to fall apart when the Higgins boats approached the landing beaches. Tidal predictions were inaccurate and the boats grounded well offshore. Withering Japanese fire killed many marines as they struggled in to the beaches.

It took three days to win the battle for Betio.

Here is an account of the struggle.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mark Thoma Reminds Us Of The State Of The Labor Market


We have a lot of headline activity every time the "unemployment rate" goes up or down. But what matters much more is the overall percentage of working age population that is employed. Here is that picture, and the ratio is going down.

Then there is the issue of wages and salaries. As Jim Hightower observes, "It isn't about jobs. Slaves had jobs!"

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Difficult Is Done At Once; The Impossible Takes A Bit Longer

Some say it was the US Army Corps of Engineers during World War II who adopted the slogan, "the difficult is done at once - the impossible takes a bit longer."

I can't vouch for that, but I can testify that the slogan accurately expresses the attitude of those who went off to that war.

No task is truly impossible.

My father's outfit, the 27th Air Depot Group, was set down in the jungle outside of Port Moresby, New Guinea, with a few bulldozers and a dismantled sawmill. That was in December, 1942. They built their own hangers, barracks, roads, runways, washing machines, and anything else they needed. At the end of the supply line, they dismantled damaged aircraft for spare parts and rebuilt, redesigned and improved the aircraft in their custody.

In October and November of 1943, they mounted sustained air attacks on the main Japanese base at Rabaul. Operation Cartwheel, it was called.

The original goal was to capture the base at Rabaul. By August, the concept changed into a plan to neutralize and bypass Rabaul. By the end of November, General Kenney's 5th Air Force operating from New Guinea and Admiral Halsey's aircraft carriers had neutralized Japanese air forces out of Rabaul.

Life Is Short But Art Is Long

Thomas Jefferson Scott, artist, architect and designer, was fond of quoting Hippocrates' observation that life is short but art is long. Our lives are richer because Tom Scott shared both his life and his art with us.

Tom's friends and family gathered last Sunday at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, to celebrate that life and share reminiscences of a life well lived.

It was a joyful time.

Here is a link to his obituary, printed earlier this year in the Baltimore Sun.

Liz and I were honored to be his friends.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Seventy Years Ago: November 14, 1943

November 14, 1943  

In a freak accident, President Roosevelt, Generals Marshall and Arnold, Admirals Leahy and King, plus scores of distinguished politicians, and army, naval and air force strategists came under fire while traveling to the the Tehran Conference on board the battleship Iowa. While running a torpedo drill, the US destroyer William D. Porter was targeting the Iowa's #2 magazine, a live torpedo was ejected and headed for the battleship. After maneuvering, the torpedo detonated 1200 feet aft of Iowa in her wake turbulence. When the incident was concluded, Air Force General Hap Arnold leaned over to Fleet Commander Admiral King and asked, "Tell me Ernest, does this happen often in your Navy?"

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Oriental Town Board Meeting November 13, 2013

I attended last night's meeting of Oriental's Town Board.

I'm not quite sure why I keep going. Possibly because I believe in democracy and think everyone should take part. Possibly because I remain puzzled about why so little of importance gets done, why so much of the activity is expended on trivialities and so little on planning for the future.

You can learn a bit by reading Town Dock's account:

"Oriental’s Town Board met last night. Among other things, the Board okayed, in a 4-1 vote, the lettering for a Town Hall dedication plaque that will list the Town Board members and the Town Manager at the time of the renovation. Cost: upwards of $875 (on top of the $160 spent on an earlier rendition the Board rejected.) Commissioner Larry Summers said after the meeting that he voted against it because “I don’t believe in self-aggrandizement.” He said it was also, “quite a bit of money.”

"Earlier in the meeting, the Board put off spending money on 20 chairs for the public to sit on the Town Hall meeting room. Some commissioners said they thought the price too high. The chairs, from Staples, were listed as $54 apiece.

"It was also stated at the meeting that the dock the Town got in the Chris Fulcher land swap cannot be extended now — it’s not CAMA that decides if it can be made longer, as first thought. Turns out it’s up to the Corps of Engineers, whose review is seen as a more onerous process. The dock will stop at 80 feet. The town’s already spent $12,000 to have planks laid and other modifications."

But that's not all. The board held a public hearing on an amendment to the GMO "for clarification," the mayor explained. Balderdash! The purpose of the amendment was to "get" one of our citizens. This was never clearly explained, but one of the commissioners let slip the true objective.

A good question to ask at one of these hearings about an amendment is: "what is the problem to which this is the solution?"

We should be about fixing the town's figurative and literal potholes, and not pursuing personal vendettas.

Is that too much to ask? Maybe it is.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

America's Eleven Nations: A Map

In an earlier post, I made reference to Colin Woodard's article analyzing his breakdown of the eleven nations into which he sees America divided. I might quibble with some of his analysis, but on the whole it seems close to the mark. How would I know? I have lived in and have family connections to ten of Woodard's eleven nations. What's missing? Only New Netherlands. Even there, I have ancestors who immigrated to New Amsterdam about 1628. My wife's ancestors immigrated to Nouvelle France about the same time. And our grandsons are native Americans.

So we have seen it all, up close and personal.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Seventy Years Ago: November 12, 1943 - USS Iowa (BB-61)

November 12, 1943, President Roosevelt and his senior advisers traveled on the President's yacht Potomac to the Norfolk area to board USS Iowa (BB-61). Destination: Teheran. Purpose: strategic meeting of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin.

Security measures were elaborate. See the description here.

Iowa was fitted out with a bathtub in the Captain's quarters for the president's comfort. It remains aboard to this day.

This was not a peacetime cruise - German submarines and aircraft still menaced the seas.

USS Iowa - our newest, best armored and most powerful battleship, was the safest platform available for the president.

Monday, November 11, 2013

One Nation, Indivisible? Not Exactly

I wasn't pleased with the results of last Tuesday's municipal election in Oriental. That makes three elections in a row that I found disappointing, but I am not discouraged. My adult life has been spent defending democracy, and I still believe in it. But the older I get, the more I understand Winston Churchill's remark that democracy is the worst system of government, except for all the others that have ever been tried.

We need to remember, though, that our form of democracy is not the only possible form.

Can we get better (more democratic) results with a little tweaking, or do we need more fundamental restructuring? Maybe not.

Last week, I received in the mail my copy of the Fall, 2013 alumni magazine from Tufts University. It included an article by a 1991 graduate, Colin Woodard, entitled "Up in Arms." "The battle lines of today's debates over gun control, stand-your-ground laws, and other violence-related issues," the heading declared, "were drawn centuries ago by America's early settlers."

Woodard looks at all of North America, dividing it into eleven identifiable nations: Yankeedom, New Netherlands, The Midlands, Tidewater, Greater Appalachia, Deep South, El Norte, The Left Coast, The Far West, New France, and First Nation. The Washington Post asks, "which of the11 American nations do you live in" and includes a link to the article. It is well worth reading. Building on the work of historian David Hackett Fisher, whose seminal work of cultural history, Albion's Seed, calls attention to four original migrations from the British Isles, Woodard also cites later work by the social psychologist Nisbett, Robert Baller of the University of Iowa, Pauline Grosjean of Australia and others.

The most interesting feature of Woodard's article is a map depicting, county by county, the location of each of the eleven dominant "nations" today. It turns out that I have lived in eight of the eleven nations.

How does this play out in American political life?

Since 1990, I have followed the work of the Times-Mirror Center, now the Pew Research Center for The People and The Press. Following each presidential election for the past twenty-two years, the Center has surveyed the public for opinions on public policy. Each survey results in a "political typology," breaking down the population into anywhere from nine to eleven clusters of opinion.

The most recent typology, published here, breaks the population down into ten groupings. None is likely to correspond to First Nation, but I find it interesting that the number of the Pew Center's clusters is so close to the number of "nations" in Woodard's article. It would be very interesting to see a county by county breakdown of the Pew Center's typology.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Now The Town Of Oriental Has Three New Faces On The Board

It remains to be seen whether the outcome of yesterday's election is good news, bad news or just news.

I think the present board, which will be replaced next month, has not moved the Town forward in any way. It has been a disappointing board. It has been a disappointment both for what it has done and for what it has left undone.

The failings are those of individuals, but also failings resulting from the dynamics of small town politics.

Some of those failings can be addressed by changing the structure of Town government. It should have become clear over the last two years that the Board of Commissioners doesn't want to hear from the public.

We can change that. If we amend the town's charter so that at least a majority of the commissioners are elected to represent districts, every citizen would have at least one commissioner who would have to listen. It might also help to have the commissioners elect the mayor. That would certainly bedebatable, but we need to have that conversation.

Let's put the matter on the ballot by petition.

We can shoot for the May primary.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Tomorrow Is Election Day: Vote Wisely

I wish Oriental's voters could all have been at tonight's meeting of the Pamlico County Board of Commissioners. They would have seen the kind of board at work that the Town needs.

Those who have been following the issue know about Alan Propst's articles in Pamlico News and the Sun Journal exposing the effort of an out of state corporation to unlawfully convert a very large tract of land from wetlands to farmlands. If successful, this could result in vast profits for the firm and vast damage to the county.

The Pamlico County courtroom was filled with citizens concerned about the environmental damage this plan could cause.

As commissioner Chris Mele explained, the commissioners learned about the problem only two weeks ago. The last thing the county needed was the kind of dithering that has become routine in Oriental.

At tonight's meeting, the County Comissioners took three actions aimed at gaining control over the situation:
1. Approved a letter from the chair of the Board of Commissioners to the US Corps of Engineers detailing the reasons the Corps decision concerning the Trent Road parcel should be reexamined;
2. Referred a draft ordinance to the county planning board, which would require notification of such actions to the County Government as well as to state and federal officials;
3. Agreed to ask our legislators to seek a local bill clearly granting legal jurisdiction to the county over wetlands matters.

All three measures were unanimously approved. Clearly the commissioners had shared views with each other and with the county manager and had achieved a measure of agreement before the meeting. Only a few small details were discussed and quickly resolved.

Just as clearly, the County Commissioners were aware of public sentiment on the matter and arranged the agenda so that the problem could be presented to the board and the public.

It was a well-run meeting, addressing and engaging public concerns, and taking action.

Would that we had a mayor and Board of Commissioners in Oriental capable of such effective measures.