Charles I, USS Monitor, FDR and Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day

In the name of true eclecticism, we’re talking about beginnings and endings today.  Still, there’s a lot to choose from for 30 January: Maryland ratified the Articles of Confederation in 1781, putting the Articles into effect as a framework of government; Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933; the Lone Ranger began on WXYZ radio in Detroit, also in 1933; and the Tet Offensive of 1968 began in Vietnam, which eventually turned public opinion against the American presence.  But today, we’ll forego National Croissant Day and Seed Swap Day and discuss that vital material, bubble wrap.

As an American I have bent my mind mightily around all the politics involved, but by many commentators it came down to the power of religion, churches, communions, kings, Parliament, guns, and money.

If you ever really want to be confused about English politics, try to study the English Civil Wars (there were three or so) of 1640-1651.  As an American I have bent my mind mightily around all the politics involved, but by many commentators it came down to the power of religion, churches, communions, kings, Parliament, guns, and money.  The House of Stuart became the ruling house of England and Ireland on the death of Elizabeth I in 1604.  The first Stuart, James IV of Scotland and James I of England and Ireland, was at least moderately popular until his death in 1625.  His son, Charles I, was actually the second son of James, the first having died at 12.  Even if Charles was an Anglican, he was married to a Catholic, Henrietta Maria of France, daughter of Louis XIII, which brought him under suspicion.  Pledged to England not to raise the suppression of Catholics but pledged to France to do just that, Charles led something of a double life, favoring his wife’s faith (that he came to share) more than the Anglican. Too, he raised taxes without the benefit of Parliament, which everyone resented.  Open war broke out between Parliament and the Crown in 1642.  By 1646, harried by money trouble and battlefield losses, Charles took refuge in Scotland, but they sold him to Parliament on 23 January 1647. In a squabble you simply can’t make up, the Army kidnapped Charles from Parliament custody in June 1647.  After more exchanges between squabbling interests differing primarily by religion,  Charles signed a secret treaty with Scotland to have him restored to the throne.  His Royalist supporters rose in May of 1648, only to be put down decisively in August.  After more negotiations, bribes, secret treaties and other nonsense Parliament was purged, Charles arrested and put on trial, and was condemned to death on 26 January 1649.  He was beheaded at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, the first anointed king of England to be executed.

Legend has it that the new ship was meant as much a check on Confederate naval ambitions as on an intentions of Great Britain to intervene in the conflict.

Among many other things, the Americans two hundred years later inherited many of the same animosities from the Mother Country that stemmed from religious outlook, but manifested itself in the New World as deep cultural divisions based on political economy: the value of land versus the value of capital.  When the American Civil War broke out in April 1861, the US Navy was not just small, it was microscopic.  A Swedish-born inventor named John Ericsson proposed the construction of an entirely new type of warship, a flush-deck, steam-powered ship not clad in iron but built entirely of metal.  Due largely to his tremendous reputation as an engineer, Ericson’s design was accepted and construction commenced at Continental Iron Works in Brooklyn 25 October 1861.  The new ship slid down the ways on 30 January 1862. The name Monitor, meaning “one who admonishes and corrects wrongdoers,” was proposed by Ericsson on 20 January 1862 and approved by Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus Fox. Legend has it that the new ship was meant as much a check on Confederate naval ambitions as on an intentions of Great Britain to intervene in the conflict.  Monitor fought her only major duel with an enemy vessel 8 March 1862 at Hampton Roads in Virginia, and foundered in a storm off Hatteras 30 January 1862.  Few warships have ever had such influence not only on naval architecture, but on naval warfare itself.  Today the word monitor is used for any low freeboard warship dominated by gun turrets.

As a youth, FDR attended all the right schools, benefitted greatly from the inherited wealth of one of the oldest families in New York, and went into politics in 1911, serving a term in the New York State Senate.

It wasn’t long after Monitor began her short career that a future naval enthusiast was born not that far away in Hyde Park, New York. Franklin D. Roosevelt was born to the Hyde Park Branch (the Democrats) of the well-to-do Roosevelt family on 30 January 1888; the Oyster Bay Branch (the Republicans) produced Theodore Roosevelt, President from 1901-1908.   As a youth, FDR attended all the right schools, benefitted greatly from the inherited wealth of one of the oldest families in New York, and went into politics in 1911, serving a term in the New York State Senate. Taking up his cousin Theodore’s  old job as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1913, he served there until he ran for vice-president with James Cox in 1920, but was defeated soundly.  Stricken by polio in 1921, Roosevelt recovered enough by 1929 to win election as Governor of New York.  From there, he won cousin Theodore’s old job as President in 1932.  FDR’s tenure of office was the longest of any American, winning reelection three times.  He died in office 12 April 1945, just three weeks before the death of Adolf Hitler.  Criticized and admired, sometimes in the same breath, FDR’s imprint on the Presidency and the power and reach of the Federal government are undeniable.

…bubble wrap is that plastic sheet stuff that some people insist on popping endlessly, I believe primarily to be annoying, but is said to “relieve stress” (with little explosions?)

And finally, Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day.  Yes, there is such a thing, which is a thing, for reasons not obscure but that make the decisions to have “National anything” day seem sane.  Now, bubble wrap is a generic trademark that, properly, should be rendered “Bubble Wrap® brand cushioning sheets,” but nobody does. Sealed Air Corporation of New Jersey owns it and, apparently pursues its protection from time to time. Be that as it may, bubble wrap is that plastic sheet stuff that some people insist on popping endlessly, I believe primarily to be annoying, but is said to “relieve stress” (with little explosions?)  But I once again digress from the Appreciation Day, which is the last Monday in January, was started by WNVI-FM 95.1 “Spirit Radio” serving Bloomington, Indiana.  It seems they were unwrapping a load of new microphones on the air and one popped, much to someone’s amusement.  Anyway, the first “appreciation” day was held on Monday, 29 January 2001 with a popping relay, a sculpture contest, and a fashion design contest.  You can’t make this stuff up…oh, wait…somebody did.

Mount Austen, Papua, Tripoli and National Handwriting Day

Well, there’s a lot to say for 23 January.  The Ming dynasty of China began in 1368; Charles I was sold to the Parliamentarians by the Scots in 1647: Georgetown, Virginia was founded in 1789; Elizabeth Blackwell earned her MD in 1849, the first American woman to do so;  Kim Philby defected in 1962; and USS Pueblo was seized by the North Koreans in 1968.  But today, only 1943 in WWII, and National Handwriting Day…for what that’s worth.

The Japanese had dug in along Mount Austen’s many hills, forming a maze of bunkers, dugouts and caves they dubbed the Gifu.

As mountains go, Mount Austen isn’t much of one.  At 461 meters (1514 feet) it would qualify as a hill in most places, but it really wasn’t even that, but a series of hills and ridges that the Japanese called Bear Height, and the locals called Mount Mambulu.  But for the Solomons Islands, it’s the highest point for thousands of miles.  And in 1943, it was an anchor for the Japanese defensive line on that tropical rock that both Japan and the United States decided had to be fought over.  On their arrival on 7 August 1942, the American forces were resisted by a comparative handful of Japanese troops, which gradually built up into a force of about 20,000 by year’s end commanded by Hyakutake Harukichi.  The American 1st Marine Division was relieved on Guadalcanal at the end of December, and was replaced by two Army infantry divisions, a Marine division, an independent Army infantry regiment and assorted support units, the lot commanded by  Alexander Patch, adding up to about 50,000.  From August through November 1942, the Americans and Japanese fought savage battles over Henderson Field, the Matanikau and Tenaru Rivers, and scores of other places that nearly always ended in Japanese defeat. By the end of December the Japanese had decided to evacuate Guadalcanal, but in the nature of things in the Pacific War that was easier said than done, and wouldn’t be officially transmitted until 15 January 1943, the middle of the fight over the Mount Austen hill mass. The Japanese had dug in along Mount Austen’s many hills, forming a maze of bunkers, dugouts and caves they dubbed the Gifu. Gradually, painfully, the Americans dug the Japanese out of their excellent defensive positions as the Japanese gradually pulled back to the south.  By 23 January 1943, Mount Austen was secure.  After losing some 3,300 men in its defense to the Americans less than 300, it was fairly clear that the Japanese were either losing or giving up Guadalcanal.

After months of fighting … on 23 January 1943 the Papua Peninsula was more or less secured … after scores of company and battalion-sized fights over roadblocks, swamps, individual buildings and other minor terrain features that, in toto, reminds the student of WWII of a  tropical Stalingrad, with less rubble.

In the Southwest Pacific Area, the Domain of Douglas MacArthur (Guadalcanal was in the South Pacific Area, the Domain of Robert Ghormley until William Halsey took over) the Papua peninsula of New Guinea was fought over by American, Australian and other Commonwealth troops beginning in February 1942.  The Japanese were after Port Moresby on the southern coast of the peninsula.  From two different directions they tried to get there.  The first, an amphibious landing, ended with the battle of Coral Sea in May 1942, where the Japanese fleet was turned back.  The second was an overland campaign across the Kokoda Track, which ended in failure in September 1942. As the Australians pushed back along the Kokoda, the Americans and Australians pushed north and west from Milne Bay.  After months of fighting the jungle as well as the Japanese, on 23 January 1943 the Papua Peninsula was more or less secured with the fall of Buna on the north coast, after scores of company and battalion-sized fights over roadblocks, swamps, individual buildings and other minor terrain features that, in toto, reminds the student of WWII of a tropical Stalingrad, with less rubble.

The Torch landings on 8 November 1942 had been anticipated, but when the French defected and Morocco became an Allied base, the Axis position in North Africa was doomed.

On the other side of the world, Commonwealth forces were fighting in a much different climate: the Western Desert.  After Erwin Rommel’s line broke at El Alamein on 4 November 1942, German and Italian forces rolled back as the had before, but this time there was an Anglo-American army on the other end of Africa.  The Torch landings on 8 November 1942 had been anticipated, but when the French defected and Morocco became an Allied base, the Axis position in North Africa was doomed.  By early 1943, the German 90th Light Division was at about half strength but was grimly holding on on the coast road from Egypt west to Tripoli.  Pushing west were the British 51st Division and 7th Armored Division.  Outflanked again and again, the 90th Light left Tripoli on 23 January 1943, a third minor but vital Axis loss on the same day.

The loss of so many men would be nearly impossible for the Nazis to hide, while the samurai leadership could publicly ignore the 25,000 lives that the late 1942-early 1943 campaigns would cost.

After Guadalcanal and Papua, the Allied defense of Australia was fairly secure.  Japan’s big striking force had been decimated, their surface naval force was being frittered away in futile resupply efforts, and their land forces were being bled of leadership and vitality.  At the same time, the Germans in the Mediterranean Basin seemed to be floundering as North Africa was rapidly lost in late 1942 and early 1943.  But more ominously, the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad was nearly finished, as the last flight out of the Cauldron was on 23 January, 1943.  The loss of so many men would be nearly impossible for the Nazis to hide, while the samurai leadership could publicly ignore the 25,000 lives that the late 1942-early 1943 campaigns would cost.

And finally, National Handwriting Day.  Now, you may ask, who in the name of all that’s holy would ever even think of a “handwriting day?”  Well, apparently there’s this outfit called the Writing Instrument Manufacturer’s Association  (I can’t make this stuff up) which, in 1977, declared the anniversary of John Hancock’s birthday (born Braintree, Massachusetts on 23 January 1737) to be National Handwriting Day.  Now, with the current hubbub about schools not teaching cursive anymore, such an observance may be timely.  Frankly, as bad as my handwriting has always been, it’s remarkable that I got as much as I did done as I did (which wasn’t much, but I got by) before the computer could hide my poor penmanship.

 

Refrigerator Cars, Prohibition, Bandaid Surgery and National Without a Scalpel Day

OK, work with me here.  There’s a lot to say about 16 January: Octavian became Caesar Augustus in 27 BCE, the Ostrogoths sacked Rome in 550, the battle of Cape St. Vincent (aka the Moonlight battle) was fought in 1780,  and Khrushchev claimed to have a 100 megaton thermonuclear weapon in 1963. But, today, we talk about saving lives.

The mechanical means of refrigeration that followed soon became not just practical for railroad cars, but for stand-alone refrigerators (as opposed to ice boxes) that began to appear in 1913.

On 16 January 1868, Detroit meat packer George H. Hammond inaugurated the use of ice-cooled boxcars–called reefers–to ship meat to New England.  While this early experiment was ultimately a failure (not because the idea didn’t work but because the cars were unbalanced and derailed several times), it did inspire other work in the area of whole-car refrigeration as opposed to insulated cars that had been in use since the 1840s. The mechanical means of refrigeration that followed soon became not just practical for railroad cars, but for stand-alone refrigerators (as opposed to ice boxes) that began to appear in 1913. While ice boxes lasted until the 1950s in the US and somewhat later in the developing world, the powered refrigerator led a revolution in food preservation that led, eventually to the invention of the supermarket and the TV dinner.

By WWI, the chorus of voices wanting to ban alcoholic beverages altogether was thunderous.

Since the beginning of colonization of North America by religious refugees, the issue of alcoholic beverages has been a contentious area of public debate. The main issues were, at first, sale of intoxicants to the Indians, then of public drunkenness.  The taxes on liquor that started to pay down the national debts after the Revolution were seen by social reformers as “sin taxes” that would discourage consumption, and temperance societies began to sprout. Thomas Jefferson killed the tax early in his presidency, but moral objections to alcohol consumption continued to grow. States like Maine banned the sale of liquor, only to be repealed itself in an election cycle. Federal alcohol taxes were re-imposed in 1864, and by 1898 it was at 1.1 cents per gallon of beverage. By WWI, the chorus of voices wanting to ban alcoholic beverages altogether was thunderous. Amendment XVIII to the Constitution passed in 1918 before Congress passed enabling legislation called the Volstead Act, which was signed into law on 16 January 1920, when Prohibition began.  Much to the chagrin of the social reformers it simply didn’t work, being by and large unenforceable because the consumption of alcohol was so widely popular. The Great Depression helped end the popularity of the law, since about 14% of pre-1920 Federal tax revenues were from alcohol taxes. Amendment XXI repealing Amendment XVIII went into effect on 5 December, 1933.

While most of us would say “um…yeah” to such things today, this was a breakthrough that prolonged the first patient’s life for two and a half years, and probably saves tens of thousands of lives every year.

Venturing into completely unfamiliar territory, on 16 January 1964, Charles Dotter threaded a stent into the leg of a patient using only x-rays for guidance, saving the limb.  While today this sort of thing is regarded as routine, at the time it was Nobel-Prize territory.  Dotter is now known as the “father of interventional radiology,” a sub-field of medicine that covers direct-viewing medical imagery to guide surgical procedures.  While most of us would say “um…yeah” to such things today, this was a breakthrough that prolonged the first patient’s life for two and a half years, and probably saves tens of thousands of lives every year.  Non-invasive surgery has since expanded, with revolutions in fiber optic imagery, x-ray and fluoroscopy, and even ultrasonic imaging that now enables surgeons to save tens of thousands of hours of recovery time, millions of dollars in medical expenses, and billions more in the reduction of hospital contagions.

Though I know less about medicine than I do a lot of other things, I and my family have reaped the benefits of minimally invasive techniques for several years.

Which brings us to National Without a Scalpel Day, marked every 16 January since 2016 by The Interventional Initiative to commemorate Dr. Dotter’s achievement, and to expand awareness of minimally invasive, image-guided procedures (MIIP) that are now a matter of routine in medicine.  Though I know less about medicine than I do a lot of other things, I and my family have reaped the benefits of minimally invasive techniques for several years.  My hat’s off to the late Dr. Dotter (who passed in 1985), and to all the pioneers in the fields of medicine, surgery and medical imagery that he inspired.

The M1 Garand, the JCS, Luzon and National Clean Off Your Desk Day

It’s a new year, it’s Monday, and your redoubtable correspondent is once again hard at work bringing you….aw, you know all that.  This week there was the coronation of Philip V (the Tall) as King of france in 1317, France declaring war on Spain once again in 1718, the Ft Robinson revolt in 1879, and the end of the Gallipoli mess in 1916, but we’re going to explore three interconnected events in US military history, and the bane of office life: desk cleaning.

For the next seventeen years the Garand was the main issue rifle of all the American services, producing somewhat over five and a half million units at four different plants.

By the 1920s, the venerable M1903 bolt-action Springfield rifle was reaching the end of its useful life, by American lights anyway. Though reliable and accurate, American infantry  tactical doctrine was headed in a different direction, towards using more support weapons –machine guns and artillery–to do a bulk of the work while the soldiers maneuvered.  To that end John C. Garand (rhymes with errand) a Canadian born weapons designer at the Springfield Arsenal, developed a gas-operated rifle that used the same 30-06 Springfield ammunition as the M1903 Springfield and the standard M1919 machine gun.  This satisfied the parsimonious among the Army purchasing boards and the then chief of staff, Douglas MacArthur.  On 9 January 1937, after fifteen years of development and trials, the weapon was adopted by the Army, and designated the M1.  The rifle went into mass production after the fall of France in 1940. For the next seventeen years the Garand was the main issue rifle of all the American services, producing somewhat over five and a half million units at four different plants. Springfield and Winchester made M1s during WWII, Harrington and Richardson and International Harvester also made them from 1953 onwards.  Called by George Patton “the greatest battle implement ever devised,” the diversity and number of weapons in service was exceeded only by the Kalashnikov in the 1970s.

By 1942, with America just getting organized for WWII, military planners and their civilian counterparts realized that there was no true joint command of the US military like the British had, and it became difficult to even talk to their counterparts without some unified planning structure.

The US Army was late in coming to the idea of a general staff.  Both the Army and the Navy were run for decades by peculiar creatures called the Bureau System that, since before the Civil War, didn’t even answer to the Army’s top officer, the Commanding General, and the Navy’s senior commander was the Secretary of the Navy until 1915.  All that changed for the Army in 1903 when the last Commanding General of the Army, Nelson A. Miles, retired and Samuel BM Young stepped into office as the first Army Chief of Staff.  (Technically, Henry W. Halleck stepped into the role as Chief of Staff to Ulysses S. Grant in 1864, when Grant was promoted to LTG, and that role died when he retired in 1865). The Navy created the Chief of Naval Operations in January 1915 by regulation. From 1903 to 1942, the Army Chief of staff was the senior service’s senior officer. By 1942, with America just getting organized for WWII, military planners and their civilian counterparts realized that there was no true joint command of the US military like the British had, and it became difficult to even talk to their counterparts without some unified planning structure.  While William Leahy was Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief, he lacked both seniority and structure for any combined planning with the Army or the Air Forces.  To that end, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were formed on 9 January, 1942 as the head advisory body to the chief executive.  The first members were Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, Navy Chief of Naval Operations Harold R. Stark, Chief of the Army Air Forces Henry H. Arnold, and Commander in Chief of the US Fleet Ernest J. King.   While Leahy technically presided, and Stark was posted to London, the body was not in the US chain of command.  This changed in 1986 with the Goldwater-Nichols Act, which turned the US military into a far more combined force than it had ever been before.  The all-powerful bureaus were finally dead.

By 1944, the Joint Chiefs had come far from the early days of confusion and building, and the M1 Garand had gotten American forces to the front yard of the Japanese empire. 

On 11 March 1942, Douglas MacArthur committed the US to retaking the Philippines with his grandiose “I shall return” phrase to a group of Australian reporters.  The phrase, so hopeful and full of meaning from America’s senior officer, was flashed all over the world as a beacon of hope.  If asked, however, American planners would have bypassed the Philippines in favor of Formosa and the Pescadores off the China coast, but politically they were stuck with the Philippines.  By 1944, the Joint Chiefs had come far from the early days of confusion and building, and the M1 Garand had gotten American forces to the front yard of the Japanese empire. On 20 October 1944 MacArthur fulfilled his promise by stepping ashore on Leyte.  On 13 December 1944, American forces landed on Mindoro, within easy fighter cover range of Luzon, the largest island in the Philippine Archipelago. On 9 January 1945, American forces under Walter Krueger landed at Lingayen Gulf on the west coast of the island.  While the fighting in the Philippines would last until the very end of the war and even beyond, the Japanese defenders would fight beyond all hope of success.

In the words of that forever-anonymous wiseguy who made the first sign that read: “A cluttered desk is a sign of genius,” topped only by “A clean desk is a sign of a timid mind.”

And, since this is the second Monday in January, we get to celebrate/commemorate/ observe/ignore National Clean Off Your Desk Day! Legions of experts in business organization, industrial psychology and  website creation agree with the other blowhards meddling about among the real workers that a clean desk provides a sense of serenity and improves productivity.  However, as Einstein once quipped: “if a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then is an empty desk a sign?” In the words of that forever-anonymous wiseguy who made the first sign that read: “A cluttered desk is a sign of genius,” topped only by “A clean desk is a sign of a timid mind.”  Words to live by, indeed.  But, ultimately, who has the time to come up with these things?

But last Friday was National Cuddle-Up Day, and no one knows where that came from, either, other than it got to a high of 9 degrees above here in the Great Lakes, and it seemed like a good idea.