Monthly Archives: November 2011

Winter War

On this day 72 years ago today the Soviet Union invaded Finland in what became known as the Winter War.

In my tradition of marking the event, here’s a brief video of the war.

The experience of ‘New Europe’ in Afghanistan

This concludes my ongoing review of Hynek and Marton’s book on state-building in Afghanistan.

I combine the chapters on Poland. Lithuania and the Czech Republic not as a slight to the contributions of the three nations or any indication of fault with the  chapters but just that so many of the themes discussed throughout the book show up in these chapters and I don’t want to repeat myself too much.  So, please take as a given the general domestic and foreign considerations I’ve discussed in the earlier chapters as applying here as well except for the following.

Oddly enough, Poland seems to have resisted initial requests to join the war in Afghanistan and used its presence in Iraq as an arguement as to why it could not contribute forces to a second conflict.  This seems to be the opposite reaction most nations took and given that we are talking about the time period of 2003-2005 this sounds like a bad Polish joke (How’d the Poles avoid the dangers of going to war in Afghanistan?  They volunteered to go to Iraq.)

When they did decide to play a more active role in Afghanistan, the Poles sold it to their people as fulfilling their NATO obligation.  Despite all the nonsense spread here in the U.S. about ‘New Europe’ being more enamored with freedom than their Western counterparts, the Eastern Europeans were making a calculated play.  They were either new or perspective memebers of NATO and the prospects of a resurgent Russia was (and remains) a serious concern.  So, many adopted the strategy of participating in NATO’s wars as a way to ensure NATO protection.

Since the alliance hasn’t been tested (although the events in Georgia in 2008 must have made everyone quite jumpy) it’s not clear how effective that strategy was/is but it’s probably the best option they’ve had at guaranteeing their nationhood.  (btw, did you know that Baltic states don’t have any jet fighters in their inventory?  Shocking!)

Poland’s story seems to be one of coming to the party but not getting a seat at the table.  Despite having more than 2,500 hundred troops in country, they’ve not been able to parley that into direct influence in NATO.  That may be because Poland’s Afghanistan strategy has been (pure conjecture here) so explicit in describing it as a quid pro quo (at least in their eyes) for a guarantee to secure Eastern Europe.

The Czechs may be the one nation examined in the book to place economic considerations at (or near) the top of their list of reasons for taking part in Afghan operations.  The Czech Ministry for Business and Industry lobbied for a PRT in Logar to gain access to copper deposits there.

The Lithuanians seemed to bite off a bit more than they could chew, volunteering to run a PRT in Ghor province that they believed would be safe from the worst of insurgent and criminal activity.  They were disabused of that notion by 2008 and have also found that they weren’t able to provide the civilian component to the PRT and unwilling to pony up the cash required for reconstruction projects.

But, in one case their experience was similar to many other, larger coaliton partners:

On 19 Auguest 2009 (four and a half years after LIthuania made up its mind to establish and lead a PRT), after four and a half months of preparation and active discussions and adjustments by various institutions, the government of Lithuanaia finally endorsed [a national strategy].

Overall, the book is a well done look at the experiences of different national approaches to the war in Afghanistan and the domestic and international dynamics which shaped them.  While this book is probably aimed primarily for academic audiences, almost all the chapters would be a worthwhile read for those interested in the subject.  A hearty TwShiloh thank you to Peter for the opportunity to review this…definately worth the time.

Nordic News!

Wow…just, wow.  TONS of interesting news from way up North.

You may remember that last year there was a (semi)unsuccessful suicide bombing in Stockholm.  It now appears that the bomber called a phone number in Iraq the day of the attack and also received some funding from a dude in Scotland.  He also seems to have received some training in Syria and Iraq (apparently of highly dubious quality given the results of his attack).

Remember that weird murder I wrote about last month?  Sure you do.  An elderly couple were late for church choir practice and were found brutally murdered with little clue about motive.  Well, two individuals have been arrested in Poland for the crime.  There remain more questions than answers though.  The victims were bound with one dying from blunt trauma to the head and the other being strangled.  If this was a simple robbery AND the suspects wanted to kill the victims aren’t there better (more efficient) ways to kill than strangulation?

The Swedish army has decided to train some of its airborne soldiers in advanced tree climbing.  Why?  To set up get down if they parachute into trees?  To set up good sniper positions?  Well, no…

A Swedish airborne unit has decided to let soldiers take part in a course in advanced tree climbing, saying that the need to salvage unmanned drones from treetops requires them to be skilled climbers.

Fun fact:  If you treasure hunt in Finland, everything found more than 100 years old belongs to the state.  You can get reimbursed (around 20-200 euros) or donate the find and get a ‘certificate of honor’.

Awesome awesomenss (now with extra awesome!)

Since you’re going to have a extra long, TwShloh free weekend please entertain yourself with multiple viewings of the following:

Happy Thanksgiving!

No blogging until Monday…To my American readers, a very happy holidays.  Enjoy some good food, friends and family (well, as much as you can stand), and a weekend of good movies, sports or whatever floats your boat.
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To my non-American readers, you are among the many, many things for which I am thankful for.

May I recommend you consider yourself thankful you don’t have to worry about this nonsense…

Machiavelli – Now suitable for framing!

Don MacDonald is doing great work in his webcomic about Nicolo Machiavelli.  He also does offers Machiavelli fanboys/fangirls a bit of extra goodness through downloadable posters.

Don is a guy who takes his audience very seriously and so when I requested he use one of my favorite quotes from everyone’s favorite Florentine, he graciously agreed.  Here’s the picture but do yourself a favor and go to Don’s website to download the big version, suitable for printing.

Bzzz….bzzz…

So, last week I wrote about how threats can be seen (or misidentified, I suppose) in a couple of ways.  Adrian had an interesting comment that I thought deserved to be fleshed out a bit more.  So, his comment goes:

“Let’s say bees live in old tree stumps (I have no idea if this is true but let’s pretend). Assuming you want to eliminate the risk of bees permanently (rather than temporarily) from your area you could remove all the tree stumps in whatever radius bees travel from your house. If you’re the extreme type you could just pave everything over in a large radius, thereby not only denying bees a home but also getting rid of the flowers that bees are attracted to.”

i.e. ‘draining the swamp’

‘Draining the swamp’ implies (at least in my mind) ancillary benefits that will accrue, in addition to the primary one.

So, let’s assume that instead of bees we’re talking about mosquitoes.  Mosquitoes carrying a nasty bit of yellow fever.  We get the great idea to drain the swamp where the mosquitoes live (We won’t ask why we decided to live next to a swamp.  After all, lots of people made that decision.)  Hey, even if we don’t get rid of all the mosquitoes, though, we’re still to the good since we’ll have a whole bunch of fertile land instead of a nasty swamp.  Win-win.

We like to make all our projects to alter the environment swamp draining projects (ahem…) if we can’t make them about killing bears.  Sometime they may be.  But you never know.  I prefer to think of the Joni Mitchell song ‘Big Yellow Taxi‘.  Maybe you’ll get what you’ll want but maybe you’ll end up ruining everything.  Just sayin’.

LungHu follows up with the observation that bees can, in fact, be transformed into allies if you do another kind of environmental adjustments.  That adds yet another layer to the mix to consider.

 

Why the Swedish Empire collapsed…

First the Vasa, then the Mars…and now the Svärdet

The Svärdet was built in 1642 as one of the biggest warships of its day, according to Deep Sea Productions, noting that is “a prime example of richly decorated ‘gaudy’ ships, built largely to impress the enemy.

From Ocean Discovery:

The Swedish fleet was being chased by the Danish and Dutch armada. The Swedes chose to sail as close to the shores of Öland as they dared. The enemy sailed more to the east and overtook the Swedish ships using the wind. The Swedish fleet was more than likely sailing as proclaimed by the Swedish admiralty sail order regulations written 1676. This indicates that the Svärdet was in front of the Cronan thus further north at this time.

11.00 Admiral Uggla commanding the Svärdet notices the Danish /Dutch fleet overtaking to the east. He fires a signal shot with his canon commanding his ships in front to close formations.

Admiral Creutz, the commander of the entire Swedish fleet aboard the Cronan misunderstood the signal and ordered his ship to be turned hard south even though he had full sails and open canon ports.

Uggla, on the Svärdet, noticed his commander’s mistake and turns his ship south to aid in an attempt to avoid a total disaster.

Cronan lists heavily due to the hard turn and takes in water through the canon ports. Fire broke lose and the powder stored in the lower decks ignited and she explodes and starts to sink.

During his turn south Uggla almost collides with the sinking Cronan and has to turn “away wind”. This move confused the rest of the Swedish fleet and led to chaos and disorder in the lines. This information indicates that the Sword was straight over the Cronan wreck site, a position known by us, at approximately 11.00.

12.00 After only a short time the Svärdet is completely surrounded by three Danish and Dutch admiral ships and an intense and furious battle follows. During this an hour and a half the Svärdet got her mast and sails blown away and takes three canon blasts under the water line. Uggla can no longer maneuver the ship as he likes and are now in the hands of the Danes and Dutch enemy as the ship drifts by wind, waves and the current.

14.00 A Dutch fire ship manages to hock itself onto the hull of the Svärdet and fire broke loose. Uggla does not command his crew to fight the fire. He did not want to let the enemy take over the mighty ship. Instead he intended to go down with her.

16.00 Finaly the Svärdet explodes, breaks up in two and sinks.

For want of a ship…the empire was lost.

Kvick Tänkare

When I was a child I once (it only takes once) gorged myself on Twinkies. For years afterwards I’d get nauseous even looking at them.  Even today, despite an incredible sweet tooth I never even contemplate eating the things.  Here’s the evolutionary reason why.  (h/t Mrs. TwShiloh)

Months ago YT recommended a Chinese film called Red Cliff.  I’m finally getting around to watching it (it clocks in at around 5 hours) and it’s great. From the Pedia of Wiki:

…a Chinese epic war film based on the Battle of Red Cliffs (208-209 AD) and events during the end of the Han Dynasty and immediately prior to the Three Kingdoms period in ancient China.

It’s got amazing effects and battle scenes and while you can see some traditional action movie tropes here there are many, many places where you see Chinese influences that simply never would make it into a Hollywood movie (and thanks to my multicultural literature class, circa 1991, for helping me clue in on some of those).  The movie obviously doesn’t strive for historical accuracy and I almost got the feeling it was a bit like ‘Troy’ should have been with heroic types.  Great film that has definite ‘rewatch’ potential.

Scandinavia isn’t exactly known for bright, sunny skies all the time.  So how the heck did the vikings navigate around foggy old England and get to Iceland and Vinland?  Well, researchers have an idea:

It was, in fact, a transparent calcite crystal known as Iceland spar. It’s found all over its namesake country, and Vikings could have used it to depolarize light, which means the crystal is able to split light along different axes.

That optical effect, amazingly enough, was all ancient navigators needed to locate the Sun, even when it was completely hidden from view.

I just started listening to The British History podcast by Jaime Jeffers.   and the TwShiloh team recommends it highly.  Jaime puts the history of Britain in an easily accessible, fun style.  I’m not totally convinced all the analysis and commentary meets a highly rigorous standard (but I might be saying that because I’m also listening to the most excellent History of Rome podcast which delves into much greater detail about the imperial period and I see some simplifications or small discrepancies between the two when they cover the same issues).  Still, Jaime delivers his product in a great style and it’s a very entertaining podcast.  Also interesting is how Jaime is ‘monetizing’ his work.  The core podcast is free and you’re free to donate (as is the case for most podcasts).  He does provide for a ‘subscription’, however, where (for as little at 2.99 a month) he provides ‘exclusive’ content.  Essentially bonus episodes that only subscribers get.  Really great idea…

Good Grief, Cthulhu!

Total win courtesy of i09