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Post Churchill, FDR, and Machiavelli
Created by John Eipper on 12/02/13 2:12 AM

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Churchill, FDR, and Machiavelli (Robert Whealey, USA, 12/02/13 2:12 am)

I will agree with Eugenio Battaglia to the extent that Churchill and FDR invaded Italy in 1943 mainly for strategic reasons. It was necessary to defeat the weaker Benito Mussolini before the Anglo-American armies could even think of invading the Third Reich, controlled by the stronger Adolf Hitler. To that extent, Churchill and FDR understood the concept of the Balance of Power invented for the second or third time in 1513 by Machiavelli.

Nevertheless, the UK and the US had evolved toward democratic government at home since Machiavelli's day. Churchill and Roosevelt could never declare war on Mussolini without the consent of the House of Commons and the US Congress. It took the isolationist Congress and the appeasing House of Commons a long time, to 1940 and 1941, to convince public opinion in the two democracies that Italian Fascism and European fascists (better called the "radical right" after 1946) were a bigger threat to the democracies than Stalinism. International ideologues always follow the several interests of the nation-states.

JE comments:  How about a little Monday morning armchair generalship?  Why was it necessary to defeat the weaker Mussolini before attacking the Third Reich?  Once the latter was defeated, the former would have collapsed under his own weight.  Wasn't attacking Italy first merely a reprise of the failed strategy of WWI, where the Allies got bogged down in "soft underbelly" adventures in Turkey and Greece?

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  • Was it Strategically Sound for the Allies to Attack Mussolini before Hitler? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 12/02/13 12:54 PM)
    With reference to the interesting post of Robert Whealey (2 December) and John Eipper's comments, I am convinced that the decision of Roosevelt and Churchill to destroy Mussolini before Hitler, from their point of view, was extremely wise.

    WWII was not a war like WWI. The latter was still a 19th-century war, while the former was foremost an ideological war or a kind of religious war.

    Fascism and Nazism, even if allied and with some similarities in social policy, were profoundly different. The first was considered in the 1930s an ideology of modern clarity, while the second was an ideology of old obscurantism.

    Fascism is an original Italian idea. The fascist projected from the past towards the future, creating new ethical values living a superior (heroic) existence not bridled by space and time. He, in order to realize himself, should know how to sacrifice his personal interests for the good of the Nation, but also for the good of Humanity in a wider sense, understanding that it is his spirituality that gives him his human and social condition within the community. The Nazi was instead projected from the present to the past, impersonating the eternal values of his race (German). He believed that his self-realization could only be possible in the greatness of his race, fatally considering all other races as enemies or inferior, or even worse, as contaminating. However during the war, Nazism changed some of its most radical dogmas. Furthermore, while Fascism was widely influenced by the Catholicism, Nazism was influenced by the old pagan myths.

    Nobody has ever seriously considered that in case of common victory either Nazism would have evolved in a non-racist way, as it was possible to see in the second part of WWII, or that Nazism and Fascism would have had to fight each other until the destruction of one or the other.

    The above is merely to state that for the Allies, Fascism (Italy), even if much more materially weak than Nazism (Germany), was potentially the greatest enemy. In fact in the 1920s and '30s the world was full of Fascist movements from Finland to Portugal, from England to Rumania, as well as in the Arab World, the Indian subcontinent, in South America and just for curiosity the Golden Shirts of Pedley in the USA. As far as I know there were not important Nazi parties in the world, of course except for the areas where Germans were living, such as the Sudetenland, Austria, Danzig/Gdansk, etc.

    During WWII some leaders of such fascist parties asked for the support of Germany or Japan, such as the Mufty of Jerusalem or Chandra Bose, due to the lack of funds/materials from Italy.

    Interesting references to the above can be found in the writings of Maurice Bardeche about the unknown fascisms in the world, and of Anthony James Joes about the fascism of Mussolini.

    I use the word "race" in the sense that was understood at that time.

    JE comments: Lots to chew on here. For starters, how could one view Nazism as "evolving" beyond racism in the second part of WWII? One word that makes you quake: Endlösung. What evidence is there for an incipient post-racist Nazism, beyond the fact that the SS, out of desperation, allowed foreigners into its ranks?

    More interesting is Eugenio Battaglia's argument that Italian-style Fascism ultimately presented the greater threat to Liberal Democracy, precisely because it wasn't limited (like Nazism) to one national flavor.  I'm venturing beyond my expertise here, but do we have any evidence that FDR and Churchill actually thought this way when they decided on an Italian campaign before attacking Normandy?

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    • Was Nazism Evolving in a "Non-Racist" Way? (Alan Levine, USA 12/03/13 3:39 AM)
      I echo JE's question to Eugenio Battaglia's post of 2 December: "how could one view Nazism as 'evolving' beyond racism in the second part of WWII?"

      I recall that at the end of the war, even after it was clear that Germany would lose, the Nazis kept the trains running to the death camps rather than use the trains and resources to aid with movement of military related troops and materials--or for any other purpose among their numerous critical needs. To me, that suggests a prioritizing of the Nazi racial fixation all the way to the bitter end, rather than, as Eugenio suggests, "evolv[ing] in a non-racist way."

      JE comments:  In the waning months of the US Civil War, there was some discussion in the Confederate government about allowing African-Americans to enlist in exchange for their freedom.  Desperation really clarifies one's thought.  However, the Nazi death transports continued to run until the bitter end.

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  • Why Was Mussolini Attacked Before Hitler? (Robert Whealey, USA 12/03/13 3:47 AM)
    When commenting my post of 2 December, JE asked: "Why was it necessary to defeat the weaker Mussolini before attacking the Third Reich?"

    Churchill convinced FDR and General Marshall the US Army was still too small too invade France at any time in 1942. US troops could barely re-conquer the Solomon Islands from the Japanese. So a young Col. Eisenhower invaded an undefended Morocco and joined Montgomery in a two-front war to control the African coast. Rommel quickly retreated to Sicily.

    Historians do not waste much time on "what if, what might, what could" have happened, if somebody else's pet theory is tried. I used to tell students who asked, "could Hitler have won the war in June 1941 by invading Britain rather than invading the USSR?" I would reply: "the discussion is worth 2 minutes, but not an hour."

    I never heard of any Anglo-American plans to invade Greece in 1942. The British did invade Greece in the fall of 1944. The Balkan Mountains are no soft underbelly.  My final answer to speculation was a poem written by an Englishman about 1670:

    "If wishes were horses beggars would ride.

    If turnips were watches, I'd wear one by my side."

    JE comments:  Counterfactual questions are irksome to serious historians, but does this mean they have no place in the educational process?  I beg to differ:  to present a hypothetical outcome based on real evidence, and support one's thesis with arguments, is a valuable critical thinking exercise.  It also has a practical benefit:  exploring the "what ifs?" of history might allow us to avoid Santayana's trap of repeating it.

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    • On Hypothetical Historical Speculation (John Heelan, -UK 12/03/13 2:31 PM)
      When commenting Robert Whealey's post of 3 December, JE defended the educational value of counterfactual historical speculation: "To present a hypothetical outcome based on real evidence, and support one's thesis with arguments, is a valuable critical thinking exercise."

      I have some sympathy with professional historians like Robert Whealey. We look to them to tell us the facts of what actually did happen in the past. While their knowledge and expertise is invaluable in speculating what might have happened "if...," it still still an opinion, no matter how educated it is.

      Such opinions are exciting to us amateurs, but I can understand why the professionals do not want to waste much time elaborating their opinions. (I am reminded of attempting to answer impossible questions from my children when small, such as "Dad, what would happen if Martians landed?")

      JE comments: It has occurred to me that "if wishes were horses beggars would ride," cited today by Robert Whealey, is nothing more than counterfactual speculation!  How do we really know what beggars would do with the horses they wish for...?  A nice tartare de cheval is also a possibility--or more humanely, a loving pet.

      As for the Martian attack, contingency plans are never a bad idea.

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      • On Hypothetical Historical Speculation (Tor Guimaraes, USA 12/04/13 2:30 PM)
        In response to John Heelan (3 December), my sympathy for professional historians looking for the historical facts of what actually did happen in the past cannot be overestimated. We need to know the facts, the truth, so we can learn from them. Depending on the clarity and confirmation of the "facts," their knowledge and expertise is invaluable toward the historical truth. The more "facts" can be corroborated, the lesser the degree of speculation over what might have happened. Thus, the quality of opinions should be heavily dependent on the evidence supporting them.

        On the other hand, I share John Eipper's enthusiasm about "To present a hypothetical outcome based on real evidence, and support one's thesis with arguments, is a valuable critical thinking exercise." Exploring hypothetical situations is not only extremely entertaining, but also allows for a richer understanding about how things could have played out. Even though we might start with some "facts," obviously in this case we are dealing with possibilities and probabilities.

        JE comments: A general question for the Floor: should we value historians more for the "just the facts, Ma'am" factor, or for their enlightened interpretations?  Can the two ever be separated?

        (The first colleague to respond to our WAIS Wednesday appeal: Eugenio Battaglia via PayPal. Thank you/mille grazie, Eugenio! You were already on our 2013 Honor Roll, but now your name will go in boldface.)

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        • On Hypothetical Historical Speculation (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 12/05/13 5:30 AM)
          Some comments on history and historians issue raised recently (most recently, Tor Guimaraes, 4 December). I have been involved many times in debates about history and "historical facts," and my conclusions are that it is very difficult, if not impossible, very often to be certain of the facts of the past, even if they seem to be "documented" or in the best cases testified.

          I believe that history is sometimes written by people whose interpretations of facts are biased for what they want to believe, need or are forced to believe, by their motivations, subjective perceptions, own ethical or moral principles, ideologically or politically biased ideas.

          I respect and admire professional historians very much, but it seems to me when they make statements about past events, it is very difficult for anybody not to be subjectively influenced. The so-called historical facts, documents or testimonies need to be interpreted, and to a great extent, interpretation is stained with speculation, because it is impossible to know all the facts around an event. If you ask different people about what they just witness, most probably they all will have a different perception.

          I agree with John E. that historical facts and interpretations are very difficult to separate.

          JE comments: A couple of thoughts: interpretation is what we pay historians the big bucks to provide.  (!)  A case in point: the "facts" of the Great War are straightforward and unidimensionally bleak. What makes the conflict interesting are the interpretations:  why did it start? Was it inevitable? How did it impact culture, technology, politics, and thought? And finally, what is its lasting legacy, in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa? My second thought (more of a quip): bias in historical interpretation is always what the other guy or gal is guilty of.

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          • On Historical Speculation (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 12/06/13 7:43 AM)
            For sure, the post of José Ignacio Soler (5 December) and JE's comments are wise and realistic appraisals of history.

            History as written in the books is never the real truth, because even with the maximum good faith, when someone wants to write about history he or she is faced with thousands or millions of facts that happened. Not all can be reported, and the poor historian has to make a choice. Immediately after s/he has made that choice, s/he is no longer objective.

            After all, the great events of history can be compared to lightning, which happens only if millions of water droplets create the electric conditions for the discharge.

            JE comments: And yesterday, we saw the passing of one of the era's true bolts of lightning: Nelson Mandela.  I look forward to WAISdom's appraisals of his life and legacy.

            (Eugenio Battaglia called José Ignacio Soler and me wise. You've made my day, Eugenio, although all I did was offer the bland pronouncement that facts and interpretations are both really important.  I don't think anyone would disagree!)

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            • On Historical Speculation (Roy Domenico, USA 12/07/13 4:46 AM)
              At the risk of jumping in a little late on the historian/objectivity question, I've been teaching a "historical methods" class for a couple of decades now. We discuss a lot of this stuff and I wanted to make two quick points. One of the first things I say in class recalls Eugenio Battaglia's post of 6 December--that is, the mere selection of which facts to put down on paper constitutes a (subjective) choice. That said, one of my favorite maxims in this profession goes, "the historian has a duty to the truth." To me this reveals that history is indeed an art and not a science. "Has a duty" indicates a sincerity--but an element of failure or a back door exit always lurks there.

              JE comments: If the physician's first obligation is to do no harm, the historian's is to strive for sincerity. In both cases, potential traps are everywhere.

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              • Is History a Science or an Art? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 12/08/13 3:36 AM)
                No one can disagree with Roy Domenico's "the mere selection of which facts to put down on paper constitutes a (subjective) choice. That said, one of my favorite maxims in this profession goes, 'the historian has a duty to the truth'" (7 December).

                However, Roy's conclusions that "history is indeed an art and not a science" seems wrong. The line between art and science can become very blurry in any discipline. To push history towards a science requires commitment to the truth, methodical observation and measurement as objective as possible, and willingness to listen to alternative observations and conclusions. By their very nature the arts may have disadvantages as far as "the search for truth" is concerned, but the scientific method can still be helpful.

                JE comments: Can the scientific method be applied to history?  I see few problems with the observation and measurement part, but what about experimentation and (especially) replicability? 

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                • Is History a Science or an Art? (Roy Domenico, USA 12/09/13 1:47 AM)

                  Just a quick response to Tor Guimaraes's post of 8 December.

                  I can only point to JE's doubts.  History is simply not a discipline that can use the scientific method--experiments cannot be repeated, in fact, there can be no historical experiments. Maybe part of the problem is the common European term--"historical sciences" (scienze storiche in Italian). This is a semantic issue that should not cloud the discussion. Neither are there any laws in history--which formerly under-girded the idea of history as a science. Some used to cling to the old Marxist model of historical laws--but now hardly anybody does. I cannot think of any historian, here or in Europe, who still thinks of the discipline as a science.

                  JE comments: As a parallel topic, at Adrian College (and elsewhere, I presume) there is an institutional debate about where History should belong, in the Social Sciences or the Humanities.  Pardon the pun, but the discussion is not merely academic.  It has real-world implications for students' graduation requirements, the allotment of funding, etc.

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                  • History is *Both* a Science and an Art (Tor Guimaraes, USA 12/10/13 2:01 AM)
                    Regarding history as an Art or a Science, my final assessment is that it can be both. Further, in many cases "historians" can even turn it into a religion full of myths and superstition. I believe all truth seekers, historians included, have a duty "to push history toward a science." That is never easy, it "requires commitment to the truth, methodical observation and measurement as objective as possible, and willingness to listen to alternative observations and conclusions. By their very nature the arts may have disadvantages as far as 'the search for truth' is concerned, but the scientific method can still be helpful."

                    In many ways scientists are historians because they are seeking the truth about events in the past. How can one separate anthropology, archeology, etc., from history? Even the physical sciences are intertwined with history in many cases. Also, I disagree with the notion that experiments have no place in the study of history. Several documentaries have provided significant scientific evidence through experiments debunking or supporting "hypothesized" historical events. To me, much of the issue regarding how far can history be viewed as a religion, an art, or a science depends on the specific question or hypothesis being studied.

                    JE comments: This is not unlike what I tell my students about translation: it's 50% science, 50% art, and 50% educated guessing...

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                  • On Historical Experimentation; Can War Be Predicted? (Robert Whealey, USA 12/10/13 10:12 AM)
                    In response to Roy Domenico (9 December), experiments are not the only method used by scientists. Early scientists used mathematics to make more accurate observations. Isaac Newton, Charles Boyle, Jacques Charles, Galileo, and Charles Darwin used statistics to discover some laws of science. Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Karl Marx using statistics discovered a lot about economic behavior. Marx's statistics on child labor are still sound.

                    Where Karl Marx went wrong was his predictions of revolution based on three or four previous examples. The outbreak of revolution, like war, can be roughly predicted, but there is no law of inevitability.

                    World War I was predicted by more and more observers from 1870, to 1898, to 1911 as more and more imperialists took greater and greater risks.

                    Churchill and Stalin were wiser diplomats that Hitler from 1933 to 1941 because of their experience in World War I. Hitler's observations on race were based not on science but pagan mythology.

                    Some predicted the US civil war as early as 1820, but it became inevitable some time between the election of Lincoln and the South Carolina legislature's decision to fire on Ft. Sumter.

                    I was surprised that Roy, so sympathetic to all things Italian, did not mention Galileo and Italian mathematicians who discovered that Arabic numerals were more efficient than Roman numerals.

                    JE comments: Aldona, Sis-in-Law Justyna and I will be visiting Ft Sumter this Sunday, as part of our whirlwind tour of the Old South (Charleston, Savannah, Gen. Sullivan's digs in Havelock, NC, and finally New Orleans). I'm a lifelong student of the US Civil War and have visited most of the major sites, but never the place it started. I'm looking forward to escaping Michigan's bitter cold, too.  Remember, Dear WAISers, how beautiful it was two months ago in Adrian?  This morning we have Siberian winds and 9 degrees F.

                    Of Stalin, Churchill, and Hitler, only the latter spent the Great War in the trenches. What does Robert Whealey mean by "experience"?

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                    • On Historical Experimentation: Churchill (Tom Hashimoto, -UK 12/11/13 4:21 AM)
                      I think it was Churchill who said: "A politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn't happen." I think we can modify this to: "a scientist needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it was an exception."

                      I believe that any research or thinking can be "historical," "scientific," or both depending on the way it is expressed. One can just simply record certain observations of what occurred prior to wars, or can add a claim that we can predict wars from these events. That said, academics tend to agree that a research project is more "scientific" if the interpretation can be shared by other scholars. In other words, "science" seems to be defined by robustness rather than predictability.

                      JE comments: Our observations on history could be applied to the dismalest science of all, economics. My favorite aphorism from that field: "when more and more people are thrown out of work, unemployment results." This quote has been attributed to Ronald Reagan, but I believe it first came from "Silent Cal" Coolidge.

                      Last week I received a jewel of a tautology in a student essay: "Gabriel García Márquez was born in Aracataca, Colombia. Therefore he is a Colombian writer."

                      Ha ha, and sniff--but absolutely correct.

                      How is life in Oxford, Tom?

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                    • on Historical Experimentation (Roy Domenico, USA 12/11/13 4:55 AM)
                      I feel that I opened a can of worms on the History position, but I also feel compelled to reply to Robert Whealey (10 December).

                      Part of this hinges on the semantics of it all. Lots of people identify (themselves or others) as historians. I'm talking--rather narrowly perhaps--about those professionally trained in the discipline. Almost by definition they are--more than anyone--the gatekeepers and the keepers of the flame. Who doesn't love Galileo? But he was no historian.

                      There have always been number-crunching historians, and there's nothing wrong with that. They're quantitative historians. But they're not scientists. Historians simply do not base their research on experimentation. From the other angle, I don't see how anyone would think of History a religion. It is an Art and as such it seeks truth--just as the novelist and the poet do. Historians just do it in a more clumsy fashion, hopefully warts and all.

                      JE comments: History is a very democratic field, just like film criticism. Everyone feels free to dabble in both.  We wouldn't say that about biochemistry, for example, or cardiology.  I'm not sure what my point is...

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                      • History and Anthropology: Science or Art? (Francisco Ramirez, USA 12/12/13 5:22 AM)
                        Some decades ago the History department at Stanford was split on the question of whether they were primarily humanists or social scientists. Economists, sociologists, and political scientists in the USA are much more likely to think of themselves as social scientists than as humanists. Psychologists may prefer the term behavioral instead of social. It is not so much the experiment but the idea of testing hypotheses that is the common denominator of a lot of these folks.

                        Though in general more qualitatively oriented, anthropologists were moving in this direction until postmodernity had its impact on this discipline. At Stanford this led to the formation of two anthropology departments, one called CASA (Cultural and Social Anthropology) and other Anthropological Sciences (surprise). Several years ago they were reunited as a single department. The reunification story has precious little to do with peace and reconciliation. Some would say that the proper analogy is an angry divorced couple being "persuaded" to get back into bed.

                        JE comments: The Stanford case is not in the least surprising. Academic departments, like nations, always prefer fragmentation over conglomeration.  The EU would be an exception to this rule--or perhaps it is not.

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                    • Historical Experimentation: Asimov, Krugman, Musk (Mike Bonnie, USA 12/11/13 9:25 AM)
                      This conversation calls to mind Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. In it, a fictional character spends his entire life devoted to developing a mathematical formula whereby the future could be predicted. The impacts of the film set off a flurry of fictional and non-fictional writings and sociological experiments. The key lesson to be learned from the series, perhaps, is to think for one's self or others will do that for them. The Wikipedia page for Foundation adds a new word to my vocabulary, psychohistory.

                      From Wikipedia:

                      In Learned Optimism, psychologist Martin Seligman identifies the Foundation series as one of the most important influences in his professional life, because of the possibility of predictive sociology based on psychological principles. He also lays claim to the first successful prediction of a major historical (sociological) event, in the 1988 US elections, and he specifically attributes this to a psychological principle.

                      Paul Krugman, winner of the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, credits the Foundation series with turning his mind to economics, as the closest existing science to psychohistory. Businessman and entrepreneur Elon Musk counts the series among the inspirations for his career.


                      JE comments: I'm interested in how a psychological principle predicted George H. W. Bush's victory over Dukakis. It probably had something to do with looking silly while driving a tank, or a concise, one-word explanation: "endive." Yet Krugman and Musk are high-powered thinkers.  If they are convinced by a theory born of science fiction, we might take a closer look.

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                      • Mike Dukakis (Robert Whealey, USA 12/15/13 4:59 AM)
                        In response to Mike Bonnie (11 December), I know Mike Dukakis personally, He now jokes about the "Tank Photo." In the rush of the 1988 campaign, he picked the wrong advertising agent to make that video. Both he and I think that psychology as a discipline is highly overrated. History and natural sciences are underrated. His father was an MD and his mother got a BA in history. Both his mother and Mike D were fans of FDR. His presidential run in 1988 was an experiment that failed. Since retirement, Dukakis has taught at several universities in the field of heath insurance.

                        Mike Bonnie's comment on Paul Krugman, who I assumed followed John Maynard Keynes, the economist, now causes me to read Krugman with less faith. I think Robert Reich of Berkeley is the better economist.

                        JE comments:  If Mike Dukakis gave the green light for the 1988 tank video, perhaps he shouldn't have been so eager to dismiss psychology!  When Robert Whealey has the chance, I'd like to know more about his encounters with Dukakis, who always struck me as a decent person caught in an unwinnable campaign.
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                        • Political Psychology: Martin Seligman (Leo Goldberger, USA 12/15/13 4:00 PM)
                          While there's a lot of junk published in the name of psychology, especially in the popular media, but also in the myriad of less than adequately peer-reviewed professional journals that abound these days, I would seriously question placing Martin Seligman's findings in that category. In my view, he is an exemplary social scientist and refreshingly willing to apply his ideas beyond the confines of the narrowly gauged experimental psychologist's orbit.

                          Aside from his seminal contributions to our clinical understanding of the role of helplessness in depression, he has made many other significant contributions, among them in political psychology, with his finding that that pessimism and rumination about bad events by a political candidates in their nomination acceptance speeches from 1948 to 1984 were highly predictive of the outcome of the election. A blind, reliable content analyses showed that the candidate who was more a pessimistic ruminator lost 9 out of 10 times--and this was not due to a poor showing in the polls at nomination leading both to pessimistic rumination and defeat. Partialing out incumbency and standing in the polls around the time of nomination, the pessimistic rumination difference correlated with the victory margin, a finding that was replicated for 1900 to 1944. The pessimistic ruminator lost 9 of 12 elections. Seligman and his collaborators posited three mediating mechanisms as causal: "(a) voter aversion to depressive personalities, (b) the appeal to voters of hope, and (c) candidate passivity."

                          Anyone taking the time to actually read the series of carefully executed studies conducted by Seligman et al. will surely be impressed by the application of science to psychology. Needless to say, the quality of the studies under scrutiny matters, whatever the discipline. I am sure Robert Whealey (15 December) would agree.

                          JE comments:  Here's the Wikipedia entry on Martin Seligman:


                          Seligman's studies prove what we already suspected--that the US public demands hope and optimism from its presidential candidates.  Probably the best example of this is Ronald "Morning in America" Reagan.  Pessimists (Ron Paul and Ross Perot come to mind) tend to attract a passionate nucleus of supporters, but they do not win elections.

                          It's always great to hear from Leo Goldberger.

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                        • Stelian and Michael Dukakis (Robert Whealey, USA 12/16/13 4:17 AM)
                          JE wrote on 15 December: "If Mike Dukakis gave the green light for the 1988 tank video, perhaps he shouldn't have been so eager to dismiss psychology!"

                          "Perhaps"--no indeed. Both Mike and I had four years of psychology at the BA level. I majored in history; he majored in political science. He had 3 years of Harvard Law. I had 1 year at the University of Michigan in law, plus 1 year at Oxford. I had 2 years in the Army (one in Germany). He had dead-end years in the Army of Occupation in South Korea. He also had 40 years experience in observing the practical psychology of devious politicians. I had 40 years of research in history, politics, military, economic, religious and psychological books.

                          I met Mike Dukakis when he was a junior in high school. I had the good luck to have had his older brother Stelian as my roommate in our sophomore year of college. We were both in the class of 1952. Unfortunately Stelian had a bad case of manic depression in his junior year. Mike, his father, mother and I discussed Stelian's problems for many years. Stelian was run over by a hit-and-run auto in downtown Boston in 1972 when I was living in Ohio. Cheap politicians exploit the poorly understood problems of the mental health of their competition. Note what Richard Nixon did to Sen. Tom Eagleton of Missouri in the 1972 campaign.

                          Ronald Reagan in 1988 on TV tried to blame Mike for Stelian's problems. It was one of the worst bald-faced lies I ever heard on TV. TV propaganda is worse today than in 1988. It was probably worse in 1988 than in 1972. Every class of BA students gets dumber than the last. I think the best liberal arts degree peaked about 1969. The CIA, FBI, and NSA do not hire historians. They want to hire English majors and psychologists. US propaganda is called psychological warfare. Their results have produced a few mice and no lions.

                          JE comments:  The public has become more tolerant of mental health challenges since the Eagleton days of '72, but manic depressive candidates (unless they hide their condition) probably have no better chance of election.  (See Leo Goldberger's post from earlier today on the work of Martin Seligman.)

                          Yet the great Lincoln battled depression his whole life, and his wife was probably manic-depressive.  Back then such afflictions were classified in more poetic terms:  Melancholy.

                          The CIA and NSA seek out English majors?  I always assumed they prefer techies.

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                          • What Academic Majors Do the CIA Recruiters Prefer? (Miles Seeley, USA 12/17/13 3:26 AM)
                            Robert Whealey (16 December) mentioned that the US intelligence agencies prefer recruits with English and psychology majors.  When I was recruited by the CIA in 1951, there was a deserved reputation that the Agency wanted (and got) recruits who had a good prep school and an Ivy League university in their resumes. But this was the time of both the Cold War and the Korean "Police Action," and CIA recruiters changed quickly and dramatically. They needed techies, certainly, but they also needed some pretty tough guys who could serve in some countries where much of life was mean and dangerous. Richard Helms--who in my opinion was by far the best Director--wanted a real cross-section of clandestine services case officers.

                            I think things changed again later, when a couple of DCIs were tech-minded, but they went too far and neglected the real world of espionage. The right human agent can tell you not only the number of tanks the target has, but what he intends to do with them.

                            Of course I am generalizing here in a major way. There were plenty of Ivy Leaguers who were tough and capable, and techs who had excellent social skills. Still, I well remember the man who recruited me (a prominent academic) who said my being from the Midwest earned me points, but my cowboy skills were very much needed.

                            JE comments:  I wonder if being a Midwesterner still earns you points in The Company's recruiting process.  Does this somehow make you more trustworthy?  Real-world?

                            Greetings to all from Michael and Nicole Sullivan's lovely home in Havelock, North Carolina.  We drove in from Charleston (SC) yesterday evening, and our dinner and conversation lasted until the early hours.  Today, a busy day of exploration awaits!  I'll definitely share a photo or two with WAISworld.

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                            • What Academic Majors Do the US Intelligence Agencies Prefer? (Leo Goldberger, USA 12/17/13 3:45 AM)
                              Robert Whealey (16 December) seems to decry the absence of history majors among the recruits for jobs with the CIA, NSA and the FBI---in favor of psychology and English lit types. I have no factual evidence to dispute that this may be so--though hearsay has it that the FBI, at least under Hoover, favored young upstanding, clean-cut Mormons for their reputation of obedience and conformity. Be that stereotype as it may, I just wish to point out that by contrast the OSS (the original American spy enclave of WWII) had some of the most prominent Harvard scholars and alumni gracing its rolls, including a healthy number of historians, such as Arthur Schlesinger, H. Stuart Hughes, Robert Lee Wolff, Clarence Crane Brinton, John K. Fairbank, and William L. Langer--not to mention anthropologists and future diplomats such as Hugh Montgomery, Cora Du Bois, Carleton Coons, among others.

                              James Miller and Henry Murray were perhaps the sole representatives of academic psychology, whose responsibility was primarily that of selecting secret agents based on their personality assessment methodology.

                              This is just to set the historical record straight.

                              JE comments:  I've also heard (anecdotally) that Mormons are highly favored for the US Foreign Service, due both to their language skills and their ability to resist temptations of the flesh.  Is there any truth to this perception?

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                              • CIA's Hiring Practices; Kim Roosevelt (Clyde McMorrow, USA 12/18/13 2:49 AM)
                                Just a note on the CIA and their early hiring practices, but first a little background. My daughter and her husband were AID workers for several years in Afghanistan (they are now working in Mozambique), so I started reading about this very interesting part of the world.

                                First modern Afghanistan, then the history of what is now Afghanistan, this led to the -Stans in general, then the British involvement in India and the Middle East, the Khazars, the English withdrawal from the Lavant, and I am now reading America's Great Game by Hugh Wilford. This is the story of Kim Roosevelt, grandson of Theodore, and one of the founding Arabists for the newly created CIA. Wilford discusses the Harvard, Brinton, Groton connection and the reasons for the CIA interest in Psychology and English Lit recruits. This book is expanding my interest horizon, and brings up many questions I hope to present to WAIS in the future.

                                JE comments:  It's great to hear from Clyde McMorrow; best Holiday wishes to him and his family. 

                                Kermit "Kim" Roosevelt Jr. is probably best known as one of the architects of the 1953 coup that ousted Iranian president Mohammed Mossadegh and brought the Shah to power.  Here are some more details:


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                              • Thoughts on Undergraduate Language Majors (Charles Ridley, USA 12/19/13 3:29 AM)
                                Let me express a few thoughts on undergraduate language majors.

                                Over the years, the undergraduate language majors most likely to yield employment as a secondary school teacher have included French, Spanish and German. Students of more "exotic" languages such as Chinese and Japanese face a more difficult employment market, although there are increasing numbers of high schools teaching these languages, with Chinese being the better bet.

                                If I were advising a young student intent on a language major, I would recommend French and Spanish as the best bets as far employment at the secondary school level is concerned. German has also been a fairly good choice in the past, although it has been falling into disfavor in recent years.

                                Scientific and business translation is available in a wide variety of languages. Here the situation differs from that of the secondary school teaching market. As a large number of students study French and Spanish, translation agencies are besieged with applicants desiring to work in these languages and usually require applicants to pass extremely difficult translation competence tests. In translation, there are considerable opportunities in Chinese and Japanese, with even better opportunities for those able to translate into these languages at a native-speaker level. There is also a good market for those skilled in into-German translation.

                                Again, French and Spanish are the best choices as undergraduate majors for secondary school teaching. I'm not sure how Latin fits into the picture. On my discharge from the Army after being recalled to active duty when the Berlin Wall went up, I was hired to teach English, French and Latin (one student) at a small-town Maine high school for the remainder of the school year (February-June).

                                JE comments:  As a person who trains high school teachers, I'd say that Spanish is the only European language that presently offers good job opportunities. In terms of overall job growth, I'd place Chinese at the top of the list.

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                                • Thoughts on Undergraduate Language Majors (Randy Black, USA 12/19/13 7:21 PM)
                                  Charles Ridley wrote an interesting post on 19 December about the best languages to take as undergraduates pertaining to secondary teaching careers.

                                  At least from my perspective as a substitute teacher in one of Texas's largest high schools, I would agree that Spanish and French are useful is one is planning to teach a high school language. In Texas, teachers earn a stipend additional to their salary for teaching languages, math, science and a few other hard-to-recruit-for subjects. I assume the same applies in other states. Ditto for those teachers with Masters and PhDs. I worked for a physics teacher last week who even has a JD diploma, having retired from the legal profession but who had a Masters in the sciences dating back decades. Borrowing from the Dos Equis commercials, he is one of the most interesting men in the world of people I've met in my travels.

                                  The language specialty trend seems to be towards Mandarin as I survey other area schools. My nephew is taking Mandarin at Highland Park High School, a wealthy, inner-city Dallas suburb. HPHS is the area's premier high school and has been since the 1930s, at least among public schools in Dallas. I also graduated from HPSH about a thousand years ago, and while my grades were not stellar, I can attest that they prepared me well for college.

                                  At Allen HS where I work about 100 days each year, it is rumored that the district is attempting to recruit a Mandarin-certified teacher for the coming school year. I know one thing for certain. In our district, the days of a substitute being simply a "warm body" to take roll and sit in the back of the room reading a paperback novel are over. A large percentage of our subs are state certified teachers, with no experience, trying to get their foot in the door to a permanent job. A few of us are professional subs who are semi-retired and simply want a part-time job that gets us out of the house and offers interesting work. Personally, if I did not truly enjoy the joy of teaching motivated kids, I'd be on a plane to a beach destination a lot more often. Life is too short.

                                  My motto: I am motivated to help kids learn. When I occasionally run across one who is not motivated, I try to find out what motivates them and play to that motivation.

                                  I tell people that as a Social Security recipient, I only have three jobs to keep me busy. While my wife would prefer me to get a "real" job as a full-time teacher, I've made it clear that I really enjoy the ability to pick and choose the days I'll work at the high school and for whom. For instance, If I'd had a full-time teaching or any other real job, I'd probably not have had the opportunity to attend our recent WAIS conference in Adrian.

                                  Plus, as a full-time teacher, I'd be limited to teaching within my certification and heck, that would be no fun. As such, I work for a very limited cadre of about 12 upper level master teachers in French, Spanish, US History and Government, English Lit and even AP Physics. Sometimes I have to go to staff meetings, but they are few and far between.

                                  From my experience, if there is anything that "real" teachers detest, it's staff meetings where some administrator drones on for an hour about politically correct ways to treat their diverse student body.

                                  JE comments: Bravo to Randy Black for his motivation as an educator.  And yes, meetings are the bane of the academic's existence, although "assessment" reports are even worse.

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            • David Rieff's *Against Remembrance* (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 12/07/13 7:11 AM)
              Regarding the comments on history recently posted on WAIS, a book came to mind, David Rieff's Against Remembrance (Melbourne University Press, 2011). Perhaps other WAISers are already familiar with it. I understand this is a controversial book, because the ideas and reflections he proposed seem to collide with traditional history presumptions, or better said collective historical memory.

              I understand Rieff is an American historian (Princeton 1978), journalist, political analyst, and critic.

              Like many other books I am skeptical about, I started it from the end, but it turned out to be inspiring and revealing. It is very difficult to mention all the interesting ideas he proposes, but some quotes, notes and remarks deserve being shared for those who have not yet read it.

              "I learned to hate but above all fear collective historical memory."

              "In its appropriation of history...collective memory made history seem like nothing so much as an arsenal full of the weapons needed to keep wars going or peace tenuous and cold," he writes, about the way in which nations remember their collective past, since, as he says, we cannot cope anymore with the ambivalence of historical events.

              In the book, Rieff argues that the issue of remembrance, particularly of the great tragedies of the past, are politicized, somehow demagogically. Instead of ending wars, persecutions, injustices, etc., as we might expect it to, collective memory in so many cases lead us to a never-ending cycle of revenge and retaliation.

              Rieff explores the role of memory in historical events, war, postwar, ethnics and religious conflicts, persecutions and mass murders.

              "The memory of Auschwitz, sixty years later, has not inoculated us against the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur and the murder of one hundred seventy million men, women and children by their own governments."

              "To remember these and other moral catastrophes is to remember how little remembering does to change who we are and what we are capable of."

              "Collective national memory of a nation....is often actively dangerous."

              "Instead of remembering, ....shall we not forget the past?"

              "And if we remember only partially, how can our memories serve us, or our society, as well as we hope?"

              It seems Rieff is not proposing that we should better forget the past, quoting George Santayana's aphorism "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," but rather challenge the orthodoxies of most conflict-resolution professionals, academics, theorists and politicians, who strongly believe history is an essential component of peace processes, or post-war transitions. Rieff states that memory is "useless" or "counter-productive" when memories are not reconcilable, when opposing groups will never be able to agree on what really happened or on who was in the right or who was in the wrong.

              It seems he is referring to the Forum´s previously discussed subject about "historical facts and Interpretations."

              I also believe that Rieff's reflections towards forgetfulness of the past are aimed at attacking the strategy of dealers of resentments, hypocritical politicians, and warlords. The collective historical memory is, unfortunately, very often understood and unfolded selectively, biased, manipulated, such as the concepts of "patriotism" or "nationalism," or "true religion," for the sake of ambitions and power by communities, nations, governments, at the expense of historical rigor. History should not put down to become a propagandistic instrument of political or ideological ideas.

              JE comments:  There is no shortage of opportunists who exploit "memory" for their personal gain, yet Rieff's argument, if taken to the extreme, would eliminate history altogether.  Henry Ford ("history is bunk") might have been pleased, but HF also founded one of the world's best historical museums.  Without reading Rieff's book, it seems that his appeal is always to take a critical view of history.

              I wonder what Rieff said (or would say) about Nelson Mandela's "Truth and Reconciliation" approach.

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          • An Essay on the Great War (John Heelan, -UK 12/07/13 4:08 AM)
            When commenting José Ignacio Soler's post of 5 December, JE asked: "What is [The Great War's] lasting legacy, in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa?"

            By coincidence, I have just attempted a short essay on the subject, "How did the industrialisation of war change the relation between state rulers and civilians?" as part of an excellent online course on history presented by Princeton University that I have been following for some weeks.

            The outline of my amateurish argument (which probably will earn guffaws from professional historians) is that the industrialisation of warfare started with the Great War with its modern weapons, mass conscription, mass slaughter, etc. Mass conscription denuded the domestic workforce, resulting in women having to take up the shortfall, with the British and German empires having to seek manpower--to replace the incessant mass slaughter of the military--from their colonies. The former resulted in the drive for post-war female emancipation while the latter provided the seedbed for later demands for independence from their rulers by colonials.

            Between the wars, these tensions were raised further by global unemployment and Depression, finding their populist voices in the creation mass political parties of the right and the left starting the ongoing ideological battle between capitalism and communism.

            Similarly, WWII extended the industrial-scale slaughter to civilians and continued the mass conscription of males, not only exacerbating the eventual demands for equality and civil rights by women and African-Americans, the latter having experienced greater freedom in their military postings overseas. In the empires, demand for independence grew further and faster--e.g., some 45 African countries achieved independence between 1950 and 1970. Sometimes the claims for independence from colonial and quasi-colonial rulers (viz. dominions of the UK and client-states of the US and USSR) were resolved by negotiation, as in India and Pakistan, other times by violent revolutions, as in Vietnam, some African, South American and Eastern European countries.

            So this argument suggests the short answer to JE's question is that the seeds of today's political strife were sown in WWI and the subsequent Depression, fertilised by WWII and flourished from 1945 to the present day. One might well link the Arab Spring (2010) and the Prague Spring (1968) back to the Great War (1914-18).

            JE comments: Professor E gives Lifelong Learner H an "A." I've often said that the Great War continues to impact the world to a far greater degree than WWII. Note, for example, that WWII aggressors Germany and Japan are now the Gold Standard of upstanding world citizenship. WWI sowed the seeds of national self-determination and post-colonialism, and drew the boundaries of the Middle East and elsewhere. We're still experiencing the collateral effects of these sea changes. (Would there have been an Iraq war if Iraq hadn't been "invented" post-WWI?)  Also, the Great War forever changed thought and artistic perception.  In contrast, the primary outcome of 1945 was the Cold War, which would become irrelevant four decades later.

            My one quibble with John: industrialized warfare, mass conscription, etc., probably got its start in the US Civil War, although it was "perfected" in the trenches of Western Europe, 1914-'18.  (Trench warfare itself was introduced around Petersburg, Virginia, by 1864.)

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        • On Historical Speculation and Machiavelli: from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 12/05/13 7:30 AM)
          Ric Mauricio is a finance specialist and tax adviser in Silicon Valley, and has been following WAIS for some months. He sends this comment:

          First of all, I must commend all who contribute to WAIS. It is an enlightening experience. I believe that looking at what actually historically happened and also presenting hypothetical what-ifs is a truly useful endeavor. Being in the financial world, I take this approach when determining the optimum (yet not guaranteed) approach towards investing in a global perspective. One cannot ignore all the political and religious influences affecting global economics and how the influences correlate with specific investments. Most investors focus on what is familiar to them, so they if they live in the US, they will focus on the US economy, politics, and stocks. But today we do not live in a vacuum. Every move of the US, European, Australian, Latin American and Asian economies has a correlating effect on each other. So we look at what happened the last time Japan did this, and what happened after, or the US or the Europeans, then we do our what-ifs. One of the challenges we face is that the history is not so heavily redacted, that it is not an accurate history and therefore would lead to flawed hypotheticals.

          Regarding Machiavelli, I recall that it is a blueprint for those whose ambition is to climb political or corporate ladders; just as Sun-Tzu's Art of War is a blueprint for military leaders. I happened to have a hard time staying awake when I was reading The Prince. I guess I did not have the ambition to climb either one of those ladders, therefore it was of little interest to me. As it was, I became what I call a reluctant corporate ladder climber, climbing to Controller. I was always embarrassed at being called "The Boss." I found I would rather be called the mentor or coach. That is my two bitcoins' worth on Machiavelli.

          Thank you all for your insights.

          JE comments: And my thanks to Ric Mauricio for writing. I've exchanged e-mails with Ric, and he specializes in giving tax advice to US expats in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. This is a fascinating area I know little about, although a good number of US WAISers have set down roots in other countries. I hope Ric will teach us more about the arcane world of international taxation.

          Ric mentions the first new currency to enter the world economy since the euro:  bitcoin.  What are the tax implications for this untraceable e-money?  Were any WAISers fortunate enough to buy bitcoins just a few years ago, when they cost 30 cents?  (The last time I checked, they were trading at over $1000, each.)  I'm looking forward to the day when the first donation to WAIS comes in bitcoins, although I don't think we're set up presently to receive them.

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          • A Bitcoin in Your Christmas Stocking? From Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 12/27/13 5:06 AM)
            In response to my request of 5 December, our reader Ric Mauricio sends the following primer on the Bitcoin phenomenon:

            What is Bitcoin?

            Bitcoin is a decentralized peer-to-peer payment network that is powered by its users with no central authority or middlemen. Bitcoin is considered an alternative currency. It uses a triple-entry bookkeeping system.

            Who created Bitcoin?

            Bitcoin's beginnings as "crypto-currency" can be attributed to Wei Dai on the cypherpunks mailing list in 1998, suggesting the idea of a new form of money that uses cryptography to control its creation and transactions, rather than a central authority. Alternately, the idea has been attributed to Nick Szabo, when he proposed the creation of Bit Gold. The first Bitcoin specification and proof of concept was published in 2009 in a cryptography mailing list by a Satoshi Nakamoto, a mystery person or persons. The network has grown exponentially, with many developers working on Bitcoin. Satoshi's anonymity often raised concerns, most likely due to a lack of understanding of the open-source nature of Bitcoin. The Bitcoin protocol and software are published openly and any developer around the world can review the code or make their own modified version of the Bitcoin software. Just as with current developers, Satoshi's influence was limited to the changes he made being adopted by others and therefore he did not control Bitcoin.

            Bitcoins exist as software (although there are actual minted coins, currently not available) which contain the rules governing their supply. New bitcoins can be created only by solving complex problems embedded in the currency, keeping the total growth limited. Like any currency, bitcoin is designed to function as a means of exchange, a unit of account and a store of value. Satoshi addressed one of the biggest problems in online transactions: fraud. In the real world, it's the job of a centralized authority to prevent that from happening. But Satoshi figured out a workaround by cutting out that middleman: just make all transactions public, and have the entire community confirm that a transaction is legit. "We have proposed a system for electronic transactions without relying on trust," Satoshi wrote in his 2008 spec paper laying out the currency.

            Who controls the Bitcoin Network?

            Nobody owns the Bitcoin network. Bitcoin is controlled by all Bitcoin users around the world. While developers can improve the software, they can't force a change in the Bitcoin protocol because all users are free to choose what software and version they use. In order to stay compatible with each other, all users need to use software complying with the same rules. Bitcoin can only work correctly with a complete consensus among all users. Therefore, all users and developers have a strong incentive to protect this consensus.

            How does Bitcoin Work?

            Behind the scenes, the Bitcoin network is sharing a public ledger called the "block chain." This ledger contains every transaction ever processed, allowing a user's computer to verify the validity of each transaction. The authenticity of each transaction is protected by digital signatures corresponding to the sending addresses, allowing all users to have full control over sending bitcoins from their own Bitcoin addresses (wallets). In addition, anyone can process transactions using the computing power of specialized hardware and earn a reward in bitcoins for this service. This is often called "mining."

            Is Bitcoin really used by people?

            There is supposedly a growing number of businesses and individuals using Bitcoin. This includes brick-and-mortar businesses like restaurants, apartments, law firms, and popular online services such as Namecheap, WordPress, Reddit and Flattr. At the end of August 2013, the value of all bitcoins in circulation exceeded US$ 1.5 billion, with millions of dollars worth of bitcoins exchanged daily. It has been reported that 36 municipal government agencies now accept bitcoins, but I have been unable to confirm this. Now here is a question that I will throw out there regarding transactions using Bitcoins. Let us suppose you are a retailer. The cost of your product is $US 100. Normally, you will mark this up 100%, thus the retail selling price is $200. After your cost of goods sold and operational expenses, your profit is $US 50. If you are paid in Bitcoins the equivalent of $200 and the value of the Bitcoin decreases by 50% (as we have seen in the last few weeks), if you hadn't exchanged the Bitcoins back into US dollars, you would be losing money. And if this is happening on a daily basis, how can you control your business revenues? As far as I know, there are currently no Bitcoin hedging instruments available.

            How does one acquire bitcoins?

            1) From payments for goods and services; 2) By purchasing bitcoins at a Bitcoin exchange; 3) By exchanging Bitcoins with someone through a transaction; or 4) By earning Bitcoins through competitive mining.

            Why is the price of bitcoins so volatile?

            As with any item in the world, it is subject to human interaction, and thus subject to the same manic/depressive emotions that controls human transactions. It is no different than fiat currencies, commodities like gold or silver or oil, real estate, stock markets, tulip bulbs, cabbage patch dolls, or beanie babies. One can trade these items and make lots of money ... or lose lots of money. Here is my two bitcoins' bit of advise as taught by Sir John Templeton: "The time of maximum pessimism is the best time to buy, and the time of maximum optimism is the best time to sell." And remember, Bitcoins are created by anonymous computer geeks. Who's to say that one of these computer geeks or a hacker turns rogue? By all means, I wouldn't bet the farm or go all-in. Or, as Wall Street's Art Cashin would ask, "Can you say bubble?"


            Szabo, Nick. "Bit Gold" Unenumerated. Blogspot.  http://unenumerated.blogspot.com/2005/12/bit-gold.html

            Dai, W (1998). "b-money."  http://www.weidai.com/bmoney.txt

            Nakamoto, Satoshi (1 Nov 2008). "Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System."  http://bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf

            Sawyer, Matt (26 February 2013). "The Beginners Guide To Bitcoin - Everything You Need To Know." Monetarism http://www.monetarism.co.uk/the-beginners-guide-to-bitcoin-everything-you-need-to-know/

            "How Does Bitcoin Work?" http://bitcoin.org/en/how-it-works

            "Getting Started with Bitcoin" http://bitcoin.org/en/getting started

            "Business accepting Bitcoins" http://usebitcoins.info/

            Estes, Adam (28 March 2013). "Bitcoin Is Now A Billion Dollar Industry."  http://www.thewire.com/business/2013/03/bitcoin-now-billion-dollar-industry/63667/

            Ro, Sam (3 April 2013). "Art Cashin: The Bitcoin Bubble."  http://www.businessinsider.com/art-cashin-the-bitcoin-bubble-2013-4

            "BitBills Attempt to Patent Physical Bitcoins". Let's Talk Bitcoin!  30 June 2013.  http://letstalkbitcoin.com/477/

            "Triple Entry Bookkeeping System."  http://financialcryptography.com/mt/archives/001325.html

            JE comments:  My thanks to Ric Mauricio for taking the time to compose this informative primer.  I'm still in the dark about a few things Bitcoin:  1) What exactly is this mining, and more precisely, why was "mining" incorporated as part of the Bitcoin project?  Does it serve as a community-based check on the honesty of transactions?  Which leads to my second question:  2)  If all the Bitcoin transactions are public, then what is the advantage?  I thought the whole raison d'etre of Bitcoin was its de-centralized nature, which makes it an ideal medium for conducting business outside the reach of a given government or central authority.  Put in another way:  if you want to conduct shady dealings such as money laundering, isn't privacy your absolute first priority?  And finally, question 3):  if Bitcoin exists only as software, what is to prevent a brilliant computer geek from undermining the whole system--or at the very least, "minting" a few million Bitcoins for her or his own benefit?

            Here's an interesting link, which gives the US dollar exchange rate for Bitcoin in real time.  Note that the value per coin has risen to $740, about 50% higher than the last time we checked.  This, Friends, is one volatile currency, which undermines the single greatest property we seek in our money:  stability.  For now, I'll pass.  (But if you want to donate to WAIS in Bitcoins, let me know and I'll find a way to make it possible.)



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    • A WWII British Disinformation Operation: Greece (Paul Pitlick, USA 12/02/13 4:00 PM)
      I'm always a little leery of "correcting" an expert in his field, but in response to Robert Whealey's statement, "I never heard of any Anglo-American plans to invade Greece in 1942" (3 December), there actually was such a "plan," and it's an interesting story in many ways, including German-Spanish relations during the war. I was listening to NPR a few months ago, and they discussed a new book written about a successful British disinformation operation--I don't remember the name of the book, but our friend Wikipedia can help:


      In brief, the British dressed up the body of a derelict to look like a diplomat, then handcuffed a valise containing secret "plans" for the army they were amassing in North Africa to invade Greece. They dumped the body off the coast of Spain, and eventually it was found. The British expressed enough interest in the body to make the Spanish think the whole thing was real, but they did allow the Spanish to have enough time with the body to extract the information, which the British figured would then find its way to the Germans.

      So, all went according to plan, and the information worked its way up the German chain of command, who apparently believed it. The Germans had troops in Greece, Sardinia and Corsica, and were surprised and unprepared that the Allied target was actually Sicily.

      Getting back to the NPR show I heard, after they discussed the book and the story itself, there was a discussion about spies and spying, about how does one decide what to believe. At the end of that discussion, one could only wonder--"How much of the story of 'Operation Mincemeat' is actually true?"

      JE comments:  This is what I found:  "Dead Man Floating--World War II's Oddest Operation," from 2010.  The unfortunate stiff was a Welsh laborer who died in London after eating rat poison.  Why would he do that?


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      • Operation Mincemeat and "The Man who Never Was" (John Heelan, -UK 12/04/13 1:44 AM)
        Operation Mincemeat (see Paul Pitlick, 3 December) is a well-known WWII plot in the UK today thanks to the 1956 film starring Clifton Webb, The Man who Never Was, and BBC articles such as http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11887115 . See also the original Montagu book and the more recent Ben McIntyre and Denis Smyth books.

        There is a also good article in the Daily Telegraph on the plot at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-two/6923826/Historian-claims-to-have-finally-identified-wartime-Man-Who-Never-Was.html

        JE comments: Many thanks.  I'm sure Nigel Jones could add some juicy details to this topic.  The Telegraph article above identifies the dead body as that of British sailor Tom Martin, whereas NPR claims he was an indigent Welsh laborer, Glyndwr Michael.

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      • Operation Mincemeat (Robert Whealey, USA 12/04/13 2:06 AM)
        Paul Pitlick (3 December) is correct there was an Operation Mincemeat. But it was not a full-scale operation like Operation Torch, November 1942, or Sea Lion, April or May 1941, which Hitler put in the dead file, or Barbarossa of June 1941. What was missing from the hypothetical invasion plan to invade Greece and the much-different Mincemeat scheme is any date.

        After the Anglo-American armies drove Rommel off the African coast, it was obvious to Rome, London and Berlin that the Allies would next invade Sicily. British naval intelligence in Gibraltar put a fake letter on the body of an already drowned sailor dressed in a British Naval officer's uniform, alleging that the Allies would invade Europe in 1943 through Spain and not Sicily. The body with the fake war plan was found by the Gestapo or Abwehr in Madrid and hopefully would scare Hitler into diverting troops from Kesselring's Italian army to a German unit for Spain, as insurance. The Mincemeat story made a good movie called The Man who Never Was. I never heard that Hitler fell for the British naval bait, so like many stories about intelligence, it makes for exciting literature but real wars are won or lost by the land operation units, not gimmicks.

        JE comments: How about the "gimmick" of breaking the Enigma code?  

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        • Operation Sea Lion, Rommel, et al. (David Pike, -France 12/05/13 3:39 AM)
          To Robert Whealey re: WWII (4 December), Sorry, Bob, but you're writing too fast. Sea Lion was not April or May 1941. It was scheduled for 16 August 1940, then rescheduled for 16 September, then rescheduled and finally abandoned in November 1940.

          Also, it was not Rommel who was driven off the African coast. He had been replaced by von Arnim in March 1943. There was to be no Dunkirk for Armeegruppe Afrika (commonly known by its original name Afrika Korps). Hitler knew that, and Rommel was too good to lose.

          JE comments:  That Hitler would have embarked on Sea Lion instead of Barbarossa is probably the most interesting "what if" of WWII, and for 20th-century history in general.  The questions are endless, beginning with the Biggie:  if the Germans had employed against Britain the massive resources they later used against the USSR, would they have succeeded?  And would the Wehrmacht rolling through England have drawn the US into the war a year earlier?

          We're not supposed to do counterfactuals on WAIS, but this one is irresistible.

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          • Could Sea Lion Have Succeeded? No (David Pike, -France 12/05/13 12:54 PM)
            When commenting my post of earlier today (5 December), JE asked if Sea Lion could possibly have succeeded. Please view the Sandhurst Military Academy War Games, Op. Sea Lion, featuring three distinguished German military umpires. Sea Lion would have been a total German disaster.

            For starters, try sailing hundreds of thousands of troops across the Channel on Rhine barges that can do just 4 miles an hour.

            JE comments: Yes, they would have been sitting ducks for the RAF and the Royal Navy. A question for our historians: what is the best book on Germany's military planning for Sea Lion?

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      • Operation Mincemeat and Glyndwr Michael (Nigel Jones, -UK 12/04/13 6:04 AM)
        John Eipper, responding to Paul Pitlick's 3 December post about the successful British WWII disinformation sting "Operation Mincemeat," asks why the Welsh derelict, Glyndwr Michael, whose body, disguised as the fictitious British Marine "Major Martin" was used to trick the Germans, would commit suicide by eating rat poison.

        In fact, Michael's life, as detailed by writer Ben Macintyre in his gripping account of the affair Operation Mincemeat (highly recommended to WAIS Hispanophiles as well as to those interested in Intelligence in WWII)--was one of unrelieved misery: dire poverty in his native Wales, the early death of his parents, low IQ, TB suffering and long-term unemployment, so that even eating phosphorus-based rat poison must have been a merciful release, though there is a possibility that he was so hungry that he did not realise the stuff was actually rat poison.

        "Mincemeat" was the precursor to a whole raft of Allied deception operations--collectively known as Operation Fortitude--whose object was to deceive the Germans as to the location of the D-day invasion of France. The purpose was to suggest that the invasion would come anywhere but Normandy: the Pas de Calais, the Riviera or the Atlantic coast of France were suggested targets.

        A forthcoming book (published in April) by my friend the Hispanophile writer Jason Webster, The Man With 29 Faces, details the exploits of a key player in Fortitude, the Catalan double agent Juan Pujol, (aka Agent Garbo and many other names) who constructed an entirely fictitious network of agents reporting to his Abwehr bosses, who apparently swallowed them all.

        JE comments:  I knew we could count on Nigel Jones to offer some rich detail!  Jones is a classic Welsh surname.  Can Nigel (or anyone else) guide us on how to pronounce "Glyndwr"?  Like Polish, Welsh never seems to have enough vowels.

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        • How do you Pronounce "Glyndwr"? (Nigel Jones, -UK 12/05/13 1:07 PM)
          JE asked (4 December) on the pronunciation of the Welsh name Glyndwr. My paternal ancestors were indeed Welsh hill farmers and I went to boarding school in North Wales, but I never managed to master the language. However, the unfortunate Mr Michael is pronounced Glyn-Dour Michael.

          JE comments: John Heelan also wrote in:

          It is "Glendower" in English pronunciation, probably something like "Gluhnd-oo-r" in Welsh. (But Southern Welsh differs from Northern Welsh!)

          I have often been tempted to learn Welsh so that I could read the excellent poetry in the vernacular, but so far I have only got as far of mangling the words of unofficial Welsh anthems, joining the magnificent crowds of thousands of Welshmen singing at rugby internationals, songs such as such as "Sosban Fach." (See http://www.omniglot.com/songs/welsh/sospan.htm )

          (JE again): My thanks to Messrs Jones and Heelan. In Yankee transliteration, I'll offer this: "Glunndoor." It's interesting that English dialects differ in how they pronounce vowels, whereas in Spanish the variations occur primarily in the consonants.

          History is full of individuals who distinguished themselves by how or why they died.  Poor Mr. Michael is one of the very few whose greatness occurred only after he was already dead.

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      • WWII British Scientific Intelligence: Prof. Reginald Victor Jones (Timothy Ashby, -Spain 12/06/13 2:16 AM)
        To follow on the fascinating WAIS postings about WWII British Disinformation Operations, I felt it appropriate to relate the largely unsung work of Professor R. V. Jones.

        Reginald Victor Jones, CH CB CBE FRS (29 September 1911-17 December 1997), was a British physicist and scientific military intelligence expert who is considered one of the main "wizards" of the secret war against Hitler. He developed many of the electronic counter measures (ECM) which helped to defeat the Luftwaffe. Professor Jones solved a number of tough Scientific and Technical Intelligence problems during World War II and is generally known today as the "father of S&T Intelligence."

        After completing a First Class honours degree in physics at Oxford, Jones worked for the Clarendon Laboratory, completing his DPhil in 1934. In 1936 he took up a post at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, a part of the Air Ministry, where he worked on problems associated with defending Britain from air attack.

        When the Second World War started, he became MI6's (today's Secret Intelligence Service) principal scientific adviser. Keeping up his Air Ministry connection for cover, his first important task was to discover how Luftwaffe pilots navigated when they overflew England by night, during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. He unraveled the Lorenz beam navigation systems they were using, and was sometimes able to jam, sometimes to divert their beams. On the night of the Coventry raid in mid-November 1940, Jones guessed correctly which wavelength they would be using. Unfortunately, a clerical error transmitted the estimated time wrongly to the jamming stations--a matter of seconds--and so helped to account for the raid's terrible destruction and civilian casualties. His daughter told me that her father felt such guilt about not preventing Coventry that he always wore two wristwatches to remind him to double check the time.

        Jones earned the confidence of Churchill by being unabashed about standing up to him. After the War, he became a professor of Natural Philosophy at Aberdeen University. When Churchill returned to office in 1951 he appointed Professor Jones as director of scientific intelligence at the Ministry of Defence--a short-lived posting due to his frustration with the MoD Bureaucracy. He famously said, "intelligence cannot usefully be organised in committees of fairly senior officers who know nothing about the subject in detail."

        On a personal note, although I never had the privilege of meeting Professor Jones, his daughter is my "significant other" and she has told me many stories about her father.

        JE comments:  I envision a film about the intriguing Prof. Jones, and of course this would have to begin with a historical novel.  Hint, hint, Tim!  My vote for the actor to portray Prof. J:  Clive Owen--although at 49, Clive may be a bit long in the tooth to play a 30 year-old whizz kid (Jones's age in 1941).

        Tim Ashby appended a couple of photographs, for my eyes only.  WAISers will have to take my word for it:  Mr. Ashby and Ms. Jones make a very handsome couple!

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      • WWII British Disinformation Operations: Michael Howard's *Strategic Deception in the Second World War* (Harry Papasotiriou, Greece 12/07/13 8:35 AM)

        For anyone interested in British deception operations during WWII (see Paul Pitlick, 3 December), I strongly recommend Michael Howard's carefully argued Strategic Deception in the Second World War.

        JE comments:  The subject line says it all!  Harry's recommendation sounds very interesting.  I presume Howard mentions the genius physicist R. V. Jones, whom Tim Ashby discusses in his post of 6 December.

        Wow, I just realized that this is the Day of Infamy (7 December).  A very appropriate time to discuss historical memory.

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