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Post Churchill and Stalin, 1941
Created by John Eipper on 06/30/14 9:02 AM

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Churchill and Stalin, 1941 (David Pike, -France, 06/30/14 9:02 am)

Angel Viñas wrote on 30 June: "After June 1941, Churchill forgot about his vigorous anti-Communism and tried to repair relations with Joe Stalin." So Churchill tried to enlist Stalin's help. He needed Stalin. Stalin didn't need Churchill...

Really? Let's hear more of this. Let's hear next about Stalin's heroic Arctic convoys to bring aid to besieged Britain. Let's forget about convoys bound the other way, at a time when there was so little to provide. Let's forget about Stalin turning to the disgraced ex-Foreign Minister Maksim Litvinov because he needed someone who could speak English (Molotov couldn't), when he appealed on Radio Moscow for aid to London and Washington.

No, Britain was not alone between June 1940 and July 1941, that is true. It had Greece, and it had Canada. The sovereign state of Canada had made its own declaration of war, within days of the British and French. (It would have been nice if more attention had been given this month to the Canadians who fought and died on Juno Beach.)

As for Churchill turning to the enemy of his enemy, I would say that from 1936 he had got it right (as the French Third Republic got it wrong): Hitler was the immediate enemy, Stalin the hypothetical enemy. When Churchill told the House in July 1941 that in seeking an ally against Hitler he would go the devil himself, we cheered him for it.

And now I suppose we have to go back Square 1: the refusal of the British Conservative Government, and of Churchill himself from his seat in the wilderness, to provide aid in 1936 to the Spanish Republic.

JE comments:  To be fair to Ángel Viñas, I didn't read his comment as implying that Stalin didn't need Churchill or seek out his help.

As David Pike observes, Canada deserves its due.  The centennial of the Great War will be observed with much more intensity in Canada than in these United States.  I hope to be able to attend an event or two and report to WAISdom.

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  • Churchill and Stalin, 1941 (Angel Vinas, Belgium 07/03/14 3:30 AM)

    I am sorry that David Pike (30 June) has misread me. It was quite fashionable during the Cold War to minimize Soviet contributions to the defeat of the Third Reich. Not any longer. The book I mentioned (David Edgerton, Britain's War Machine) is quite explicit about the contributions made to the homeland (GB) by the Empire. Not to forget the USA. In my original post of 30 June, I didn´t bring the fate of the Spanish Republic into play.

    It seems to me however that Churchill was a ruthless Realpolitiker, although on the good side, and that he was only interested in preserving, to the extent possible, the UK's role in world affairs. He didn´t accommodate Stalin only, when it seemed necessary, but Franco as well, even when Franco could be discarded as an international player from 1944. The stability of the Iberian peninsula was predominant. He even bested the Americans in this regard. Needless to say, Stalin was no choirboy. He tried to maximize Western allied help and minimize its domestic impact. Ruthlessly, as he was wont.

    JE comments:  As a child in Cold War America, I took it for granted that we had beaten Nazi Germany, with help from good ol' England.  The Soviets were considered our bungling and treacherous ally, who with their winters and inexhaustible manpower had admittedly bogged down the Germans.  Only in my Dartmouth years did I hear that "the Soviets defeated the Germans."  At first I dismissed this claim as anti-American cant, ever fashionable in US universities.  But one statistic cannot be ignored:  at least 80%, perhaps as high as 90%, of the German combat casualties were on the Eastern Front.

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    • A "Bungling and Treacherous Ally" (Robert Whealey, USA 07/04/14 4:01 AM)
      I agree with Ángel Viñas (3 July) 100% on the use of the slogan of "anti-communism." Unlike JE's claim that the Soviet contribution to WWII was that of a "bungling and treacherous ally," anyone who listened to American radio from September 1942 (when I began to listen to the CBS, NBC and CBS) until the death of Hitler, never heard a comment of that sort. Considered "bungling and treacherous" by whom? I did not read the Chicago Tribune until 1947. The first time I heard any anti-communist remarks, at age 17, was from HUAC and its investigation of communism in Hollywood.

      I read Churchill's 1946 Iron Curtain Speech only as a student of history in 1951. "Cold War" was invented by Bernard Baruch and Walter Lippmann as a metaphor in 1947. The expanded slogan replaced "anti-communism," because Hitler and Mussolini became the major anti-communists in 1919 to their deaths in 1945. Franco joined the Anti-Comintern Pact, drafted in 1936, only in 1939 when Franco proclaimed victory in Spain. Hitler also added Italy, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, all of which sent expeditionary armies into the USSR. All of this is footnoted in my book Hitler and Spain (1989).

      JE comments: "Bungling and treacherous" was my synthesis of how the Soviet war effort was portrayed in the United States, during the Cold War.  When the bullets were still flying, Ivan and "Uncle Joe" of course were our friends.

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    • German Casualties on Russian Front (Luciano Dondero, Italy 07/04/14 4:17 AM)
      John Eipper (3 July) mentioned that 80 to 90% of Germany's casualties during WWII occurred in the East. That's why in movies about WWII, German officers are often threatened with "the Russian front."

      JE comments: I think of Hogan's Heroes: who can forget the terror in Sgt Schultz's eyes when Colonel Klink threatened to transfer him to the Russian Front?  "I know nothing, I see nothing..."

      (How many of you knew that the Vienna-born John Banner, 1910-1973, was Jewish?  Ironically, in many of his acting roles he played a German soldier.)

      Master Sergeant Hans Georg Schultz, Hogan's Heroes

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    • But Stalin *Was* a Choirboy (David Pike, -France 07/04/14 7:37 AM)
      It was the turn of my good friend Ángel Viñas (3 July) to misread a posting of my own (30 June). I certainly do not minimize the Soviet contribution to the defeat of the Third Reich. I have always said that it was the Red Army that tore the guts out of the Heereswehr, and I think that after the war the US and the UK separated quite a bit over their recognition of the Soviet contribution. Probably the British people had been more exposed to the radio accounts of events on the Eastern front and felt a closer sympathy with the suffering of the Russian people.

      But all such discussion leads into pros and cons. Stalin complained constantly that he was not receiving enough aid. The aid to Murmansk and Archangel ran the gauntlet of U-boat bases on the north coast of Norway. Merchant vessels needed destroyer escorts. It boiled down to a difference in their respective regard for human life. Imagine Western Allied infantry units advancing with commissars behind each platoon shooting those who turned back or refused to advance.

      Then again, the notion of Britain standing alone in 1940-1941 does not belittle the global response of the Commonwealth and Empire. If I singled out the Canadians in that period, it was only because their first divisions arrived in the UK in 1940. Nor did anyone in the UK in spring 1941 fail to celebrate Lend-Lease, wondering all the same about how we would ever pay off the debt.

      As for the swap of the 100 US destroyers for the 99-year lease of British bases in the Caribbean, on which Franco gloated through his press, Eugenio Battaglia (July 3) goes off as usual, speaking of "Roosevelt... occupying Newfoundland, Bermuda, St Lucia, Bahamas, Jamaica, Antigua, Trinidad and Guyana." Do Italian historians of the Second World War actually write this stuff?

      A final comment. Ángel wrote "Stalin was no choirboy." But he was, and when the Vozhd was in Tiflis, to pay his mother a visit on her deathbed, she said, "It was such a pity that you did not make it as a priest." Singing in the choir was one more thing that Stalin had in common with Hitler.

      JE comments:  Come to think of it, I was a choirboy, as was Professor Hilton:


      "Moab was my washpot" (Psalms).  We never sang that one.

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      • But Stalin *Was* a Choirboy (Angel Vinas, Belgium 07/05/14 3:31 AM)
        I stand corrected. David Pike (July 4th) is right. In Operation Unthinkable, Churchill´s project to launch an assault on the USSR, it was recognized that it would rather difficult to convince both American and British opinion of its need. American and British media had written glowingly about the Soviet Union and the Soviet Army.

        As for Stalin not being a "choir boy," this was, of course, a manner of speaking. Certainly he had been. By the way, I was, too, for a few months.  I was a boy in the years of famine in Spain, and my parents had sent me to a village where one of my uncles was the priest.


        JE comments:  The choirboy club is growing:  Hilton, Viñas, and Eipper, not to mention Stalin and Hitler.  WAISers being a musical bunch, I'm sure we could add several more members.

        Ángel:  I would be honored if you shared a few personal memories of Spain's famine years.  The WAISitudes would find this very interesting.

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        • Spain's Famine Years (Enrique Torner, USA 07/05/14 4:24 PM)
          In response to John E's question (see Ángel Viñas, 5 July), I had not been born yet during Spain's famine years, but my parents were.

          They did not want to recall those dreadful years, but I remember my Dad mentioning that, on occasion, they had to eat rats to survive. I also remember that, sometimes, after having been in line at the grocery store for hours, by the time they reached the store, they were out of bread or other basic staples.

          JE comments: Such stories of Spain's destitution always bring up images of Luis Buñuel's Las Hurdes (Land Without Bread), which chronicled the Stone Age conditions in high-country Extremadura during the 1930s.

          Enrique:  what part of Spain are your parents from?

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          • Spain's Famine Years (Angel Vinas, Belgium 07/06/14 3:18 AM)
            I gladly accept John´s invitation (5 July) to write a few words on this rather neglected subject.

            I was born in Madrid in 1941. This was the year of Spain´s greatest famine in perhaps two centuries. Obviously I have no recollection of it. What I know about that year (and 1942 too) is what I have read and researched. I´m going to give a lot of information about this in a book due to appear in April 2015.

            Basically the famine was the outcome of a combination of four factors: incompetence of the authorities in handling the system of rationing put in place after the civil war; lack of elements to uphold domestic production of food; massive shipments to the Third Reich; economic warfare by the UK and the US in order to prevent Franco´s effective alignment with the Germans.

            This does not mean that all Spaniards shared the same difficulties. The black market mushroomed. If you had money or connections, you could get whatever you desired. Corruption reached astonishing levels. The roads to divert food to the black market were basically four: corrupt Falange officials universally hated; corrupt Army officers (the Armed Forces had their own system of distribution); companies which produced foods; people with connections to the Government.

            The working class, along with all the vanquished in the civil war, suffered most. People collapsed in the streets. Garbage was eaten. The conditions in certain prisons such as Córdoba were such that the rations given to inmates of Auschwitz had more caloric content than those given to Republican prisoners. A recent book by Francisco Moreno Gómez has illuminated it convincingly. (I have published three posts in my blog--www.angelvinas.es --documenting the pertinence of the comparison with Auschwitz.)

            My first recollections of the years of hunger date to 1946 or 1947. My parents had a little shop in Madrid. I remember how the "estraperlistas" (women black marketeers) all clad in black and all apparently pregnant, offered bread to passersby at a higher price than the ones established by the rationing system.

            One of my uncles got gravely ill. The only way to save him was by giving him penicillin. In Madrid you could get it at the bar Chicote on the Gran Vía only. It was a haunt favored by high-class prostitutes and shadowy dealers. My father took me there. He got the penicillin at an exorbitant price. My uncle was saved. I have never entered the Chicote bar again in my life.

            At home we did not suffer, but no crumb was wasted. Since that time I have been reluctant to leave food on the plate. We kids were sent to the village (in Cuenca) whenever it was possible, and certainly during the school holidays. In villages there was more food available than in the cities, because the peasants did not deliver all their production to the authorities.

            Not many novels have been written on the hunger years. A professor, Carlos Barciela, has devoted a chapter to "estraperlo" in his memoirs, which I reviewed in El País.

            JE comments:  Fascinating.  The common assumption is that Spain during WWII was licking its wounds from the Civil War, but at least it was at peace and slowly recovering.  I've read about "los Años del Hambre" and tell my students about it, but these are abstractions.  Ángel Viñas's family vignettes illustrate far more effectively how difficult life was for ordinary Spaniards.  

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            • US Black Market in WWII (Robert Whealey, USA 07/07/14 3:40 AM)
              I know Ángel Viñas personally and have had many private conversations with him about the abstract subject of economics.

              In response to Ángel's post on Spain's Famine years (6 July), I will add a modest footnote to my experience with the World War II black market in the US. My lower middle-class father working on a small sales job in Nassau County, New York, made $100 cash on a short hauling trip to the Pocono Mt resorts with black market gasoline in 1945-46, when gasoline was still rationed. He used jerrycans of gasoline for the return trip. Second case: My rich uncle who worked for tractor-trailer motor line (80 trucks) gave my father a case of black-market butter (2 gross) in 1946 when NYC had a temporary butter glut at the retail grocery level due to demobilization screw-ups.

              The big black market deals on Long Island were made from bootleg whiskey and wine from French and Canadian launches six miles off shore delivered to the dozens if not hundreds of fishermen, along the 100-mile coastline. This business was big from 1920 to 1933 when the "temperance experiment" turned into Prohibition. My father knew of at least two bootleggers in the town of Baldwin, NY in the 1920s.

              As a idealistic student, 1947-1960, I met three capitalists who told me how they made money. One had his own pinball machine in his private cellar bar. When his guest went to refill his drink or go to the men's room, the manufacture host pressed a secret button under the machine. "The bells rang, the lights flashed but the total score in numbers was slightly lower than previously."

              At age 23, I hitchhiked a ride to Las Vegas. I spent three hours walking around casinos, watching the players work. Or was it play? I never spent a quarter, and continued hitching eastward at 8:30.

              Capitalist number 2 told me in 1950, how he made money as a highway contractor, even though he only had a high school education. He answered. "The governor of this state is a friend of mine who I knew from high school."  Point two, "I can always hire brains."

              Capitalist number 3: an electronics manufacturer. "I'd rather pay my workers more than the minimum wage just to keep the union out. Therefore I can invent my own technological advances without interference."

              Since 2000 the corruption on Wall Street is so widespread, the survival of the US, EU and China are now in grave doubt. If nobody believes in Christian, Jewish, liberal, democratic or socialist ethics, the global market may going back to a tribal period of self-destruction described by Thomas Hobbes.

              JE comments:  Why do we hear so little of the US black market during WWII?  Is it because it was not that prevalent, or have we become accustomed to viewing the "Greatest Generation" as too selfless and honorable to engage in such a thing?  My mother tells stories of ration book shenanigans, such as her father exchanging unwanted coffee coupons for a neighbor's gasoline, but I've not heard of any family dealings in the black market.

              Class A drivers were limited to three gallons of gas per week.  Miss Leech, Mom's elderly neighbor, didn't take the old air-cooled Franklin out much, but she did enjoy her coffee.

              I hope other WAISers who lived through WWII will join this conversation.

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              • US Black Market in WWII (Henry Levin, USA 07/07/14 5:57 AM)
                On the black market during WWII (see Robert Whealey, 7 July), I was in elementary school, but remember none of this.

                As with other families with many children (5 at the time, a 6th later) in a small industrial town in New Jersey (about 1,200 souls), there was little evidence of cheating when I would accompany my mother to the local shops. My mother had taken old fabric and sewn small bags to hold the myriad tokens and ration stamps for a family of seven and a live-in teenager who watched us while Mom and Dad both worked. I believe that there were even rations for shoes for the children and adults.

                Once we ran out of fuel oil in the cold winter. We had to get the local police to come and put a dip stick in the tank to confirm its barren state before they would authorize refilling it and the heat would resume. We had an old Packard sitting in the driveway, completely immobilized because we had no ration for gasoline. I do not recall my father making any attempt to argue for an A stamp. We dutifully cut the ends out of the tin cans and stamped them flat and tied them with twine as well as stacking newspapers in piles to be picked up. We also were conscientious about not throwing out the fat from cooking which was put in a large tin can and also picked up by a man who asked each week or two if we had a "fat can," his bit of humor.

                Our milk for such a large brood was delivered by a horse and wagon, whose trail could be traced by the water dripping from the melting ice placed between the bottles in their crates. Mr. Terhune gave the brood a ride in his wagon for "being good." We had regular "air raids," meaning that with a siren in the night almost all lights were extinguished and cardboard was placed in the windows to block out even a cigarette or match that might be lit. The "wardens," an organized group of volunteers in each town, never knocked on our door to tell us that they could see a light in the windows. Local freight from the railroad station (Rahway Valley Railroad, a spur between more important lines) would be delivered in an open, horse-drawn wagon by Mr. Stein, an old immigrant who knew horses and ancient wagon maintenance.

                My Dad bought as many war bonds as he could afford. We also had a small victory garden, but seemed to have little difficulty getting produce from local farms. Patriotism was very strong in our town. The Volco Brass and Copper Company was a block from our home, and we could see the bright flames of the furnaces casting artillery shells and other artifacts of war. There was no unemployment, zero. My uncle came to live with us and got a job immediately. By the way, all of this crowd lived in a two-bedroom home; perhaps a barracks would be a better description.

                JE comments: A most vivid recollection; thanks, Henry!  Although Europeans think of the Americans' relative comfort and plenty during the War, there certainly were sacrifices all around.

                I would imagine that the Levin's two-bedroom home also had just one bath.  Americans today wouldn't put up with that.

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                • Family Vignettes of WWII, London (John Heelan, -UK 07/07/14 10:26 AM)
                  My memory dump of a child's view of WWII In London and elsewhere:

                  Air raid sirens blaring: being dressed by my mother in a one-piece "siren suit" (Modeled by Churchill): taking shelter in the underground garage of a nearby apartment block until the All-Clear sounded.

                  Later my grandfather built an Anderson Shelter in our garden, sunk about 3 feet into the ground, covered with curved asbestos sheets and turf with a brick "blast wall" between the entrance and our house.

                  Nights in the shelter on bunk beds, listening to the aircraft overhead, distinguishing their identity by the sound of their engines (the Luftwaffe bombers had a more ragged engine sound than the Spitfires), being told that the sound of anti-aircraft gunfire was "thunder" or just "God moving his furniture about." A local target was a factory--about 500 yds away--that made engine parts for aircraft and was frequently the target of bombing raids.

                  Mornings after air raids, burning my hands on still hot pieces of shrapnel which we scoured in the street.

                  Noticing a house about 100 yds away had suffered a direct hit that cut it in half, leaving the double bed hanging out of the open side into the street.

                  Long journey north to Yorkshire in a train packed with soldiers when I was evacuated to a small mining village aged about four. (I lived with a family of coal miners who bathed in a tin bath in front of the fire after their shifts with the miner's wife scrubbing his back.)

                  Throwing apples from the garden to convoys of soldiers.

                  Being shot at by a lone German bomber. Some young friends and I were investigating frog spawn in a nearby pool. I can still recall diving into bushes when we heard the firing and the sound of rounds hitting the bushes.

                  Being warned not to pick up toys or kick footballs found in the road because they would hurt me. (I found out later that they were anti-personnel weapons dropped by German aircraft because there was an army camp nearby.)

                  Returning to London two years later with a broad Yorkshire accent (e.g. "I brat t'bullock oop") when talking about taking cattle back to the nearby farm. My London-Irish cousins never let me forget that accent! (A V1 "Doodlebug" landed opposite their house but, luckily for them, the blast wave went away from them, destroying many houses and taking lives. When we were older that bombsite and ruined buildings provided us with an exciting place--if a bit dangerous--in which to play.)

                  Being sent to collect the ration books for the family: the joy of being able to buy sweets and clothes when staying with relatives in Ireland without having to hand over "sweet coupons" or "clothes coupons."

                  And the worst memory of all: Aged about 10, waiting for a bus and letting out a cry of terror at the badly disfigured face of a woman who must have suffered badly in a bombing raid. Hearing my wail and seeing my terrified face, she burst into tears and fled back to her house. I still feel the guilt about the episode.

                  JE comments: This conversation is inspiring some unforgettable posts. Thank you, John.

                  Curious about the Anderson Shelter?  Wikipedia has a good description (scroll down a bit):


                  To the Yankee eye, they look like smallish Quonset huts.  Over three million were issued to British citizens before and during the war.

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                • Family Vignettes of the WWII Years; American Church in Paris (David Duggan, USA 07/08/14 5:40 AM)
                  Having been born in 1951, I of course have no memories of WWII rationing, and my parents having passed on, I can't plumb their memories.

                  One bit of family folklore may be of interest, however. My father's Uncle Joe Duggan, Colonel Robert McCormick's personal lawyer, was sent to New York City when the Colonel gained control of the New York Daily News under the terms of the McCormick-Patterson Trust which controlled both the Daily News and the Chicago Tribune. His family lived in Pelham Manor, New York, an upscale community in Westchester County, and though they had worshiped in an Episcopal Church in Chicago, the Presbyterian Church was closer so that is where they went. Their son, Thomas E. Duggan, went on to become a Presybterian missionary (to Thailand), and pastor of the American Church in The Hague, and later the American Church in Paris (probably as good a pastoral gig as you are likely to find: a parsonage on the Quai d'Orsay). His collection of sermons, Sermons Abroad, was published in 1999 and is available on Amazon.

                  JE comments: The American Church in Paris, which traces its origins to 1814, is the oldest US congregation in a foreign country. Certainly it's a plum assignment for a US cleric:


                  The American Church is not to be confused with the American Cathedral in Paris, an Episcopal parish, whose former Dean is WAISdom's own Ernie Hunt.  (Our colleague Robert McCabe, if I'm not mistaken, is a member of the Cathedral's congregation.)  Since we've been focusing on the WWII years, I'd be interested to know more about how both the Church and the Cathedral survived during the German Occupation.  Perhaps Bob McCabe can give us some details.
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                • A, B, C Gasoline Ration Coupons (Robert Whealey, USA 07/08/14 6:24 AM)
                  Henry Levin's family (7 July) probably had A gasoline coupons for their Packard. My father had C coupons for a ton-and-a-half truck through 1942. He then got a job delivering newspapers to boys and candy stores in 6 or 7 towns in suburban Nassau County, New York. The previous deliveryman had a 1932 Packard; so the publisher ordered a B coupon for that route. My father did the some job with a 1935 Ford pickup to save his gas to do extra delivery jobs and give an extra five gallons to his friends. OPA lasted into 1947 and was key to the Republican Congressional victory of November 1946.

                  I made a long-distance ride (as a helper) in June '46 to deliver a boat to the Poconos. Also forgotten by many is that gasoline rationing began in the spring of 1941, prior to Pearl Harbor.

                  JE comments:  OPA:  Office of Price Administration.  Henry Levin wrote that his family did not receive coupons for their wartime gasoline ration.  A question:  wasn't an A coupon (3 gallons per week; the lowest allotment) granted automatically?

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                • Family Vignettes of WWII, Southern California (Michael Sullivan, USA 07/10/14 3:20 AM)
                  JE asked me to reminisce about any WWII experiences I had growing up in Southern California. I was seven years of age in 1941. Some memories are very clear and others are a bit hazy.

                  First was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941. I remember neighbors running up and down the street in front of our home Sunday morning, yelling the Japanese had just conducted a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. My folks were visiting a famous violinist, Jascha Heifetz, on Harbor Island, Newport Beach, and called to see if we were OK. I remember asking my dad if he had seen any explosions, as I had no idea where Pearl Harbor was.

                  In 1942 things got antsy on the West coast, as there were two harmless shellings by a Japanese submarine, one in California and the other in Oregon. Then there was an air attack by a small aircraft that came over in a Japanese submarine. It was assembled and dropped two harmless bombs in Oregon. Because of this, authorities thought attacks were likely so we had constant air raid drills in school and periodically in the cities in the early years of the war.

                  My dad was an air raid warden. He was in his mid 50s and had served in WWl so he volunteered to do this community service. They issued him an old-style, metal helmet with a CD emblem on it, an arm band, a night stick and a flashlight. His job was to walk around his assigned area and ensure lights were out and blackout curtains pulled shut during air raids. We had several false alarms at night in 1942. We would gather in the dining room and get under the big dinner table.

                  I remember my mom and older sister going down several times a week to make bandages at the Red Cross. Everyone seemed to be involved in the war effort and we all saved tinfoil and made huge balls of it and then turned them in. My dad was always sending food and clothing packages to England, as the British civilians really had it very rough. My family kept in contact with a few English families well after the war ended.

                  I'd pull my wagon to the market two blocks away, and pick up items for my mom. She'd give me the ration book and the clerks would take out the appropriate coupons. I remember coffee, butter, sugar and certain types of meat products were rationed. No cash was involved, as it went on a tab which my dad paid every month.

                  Gasoline was rationed and you had an A, B or C sticker in your windshield. My dad had a "B" sticker as he used his car to get to work and there was no public transportation. A "C" sticker meant you used your car in your job and therefore, had a higher allotment.

                  The citizenry was very patriotic and rallies, parades, bond drives and returning war heroes' personal appearances seemed almost a weekly occurrence. I remember buying stamps to put in my $25 War Bond book, and it felt so good every time you filled a book and started a new one. I remember getting rides in military jeeps or half-ton trucks when I'd buy more stamps at the special events.

                  I collected military service emblems, rank insignias, unit patches and anything else a returning serviceman would give me. That was a big deal and would be comparable to trading baseball cards today. I remember the government from the President on down was popular, as were the military services, as the country was truly unified by a common cause. In 1942, I saw the movie Wake Island, and from then on I wanted to be a Marine fighter pilot, and I succeeded!

                  JE comments: And succeed you did, General!

                  These vignettes of the WWII home front have been outstanding.  One would imagine Southern California to be one of the best places to spend the war, but Michael Sullivan paints a vivid picture of the people's urgency and unease.  With their few Quixotic attacks on the Western US, the Japanese achieved what I assume was their goal:  to instill fear among the population, and to force the US to divert resources away from the war into civil defense.

                  I'm sure I'm not alone with my curiosity about Jascha Heifetz, who some say was the greatest violinist of all time.  Did you ever meet the Master yourself, Michael?

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                  • The UK Thanks You, Michael (John Heelan, -UK 07/11/14 6:26 AM)
                    Michael Sullivan (10 July) recalled that during WWII, his father "was always sending food and clothing packages to England, as the British civilians really had it very rough."

                    I remember my family receiving such a package and being introduced to such unknown delights as canned tropical fruits and Hershey Bars. So a belated thanks (70 years late!) to the Sullivan and other US families for their very welcome gifts that made our austere times a bit better.

                    JE comments:  Thanks for your thanks, John. Has there been a better example of US "soft power" than the Hershey Bar? Perhaps Camels and Luckys, and later Marlboros, but they are bad for you.  (Don't forget to wash down your Hershey with a Coke.)

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              • Savona's Black Market during WWII (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 07/07/14 4:07 PM)
                Oh my goodness, a black market in the United States! (See Robert Whealey, 7 July.) I never thought about that, even if I should have known better from the day when an elderly relative of my wife, who lived in New Jersey, responded to my tales of wartime famine with: "Here we had problems too; for instance it was impossible to find prosciutto!"

                During the final years of WWII in Italy, the black market was widespread.

                In Savona the black marketers were collecting wood from the forests, almost completely destroying them, or taking wood from the bombed-out buildings, worsening the situation, in order to build fires and make salt from the sea water. Then the salt was mostly carried inland and exchanged for flour and meat from the farmers. The salt was also exchanged for olive oil. The latter was carried in small curved cans hidden under the dresses of the women.

                In the newspapers there were calls to stand the black marketers before firing squads, but with a civil war on top of a regular war, if you start killing also the black marketers almost nobody is left.

                The authorities generally were doing nothing more than confiscating the goods.

                My mother, a strong patriot, never wanted to buy anything on the black market; of course the lack of money was helping her to reach this decision. We were only busy collecting grass and roots and occasionally walking through a minefield. (See my previous WAIS post on the subject, from January 2013:  http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=74618&objectTypeId=66256&topicId=165 )

                Anyway if I am not mistaken, a 25-kilo bag of flour could be exchanged for a gold British pound.

                At the end of the war in the barracks of the Black Brigade, we kids found a room full of the above-mentioned oil cans and we used them as targets for throwing abandoned bayonets.

                Another pastime we kids enjoyed was dismantling the big gun shells to recover the explosive that we later used to make our own rockets, our homemade V2.

                One of my friends lost the fingers of both hands, and two died in a big explosion of a huge ammunition deposit. It was the 8 May 1945, the day of the final German surrender. The teacher had let us out of class at ten in the morning and we moved to a gallery (Galleria Valloria Savona) on the sea at the entrance to the destroyed harbor to get the explosives.

                But at a certain point I changed my mind and went home. One hour later, at about 11:00, the gallery exploded with 74 deaths and hundreds of injured, mostly kids.

                The communist partisans who were dominating the town, instead of putting the ammunition inside the gallery and under control since they were the new "authorities," screamed at first about a Fascist sabotage, the usual suspects.

                JE comments:  I'm struck in this discussion by the universality of child's play during wartime.  Eugenio Battaglia and John Heelan would have been great chums, except that they were enemies.  Eugenio's story of so many Savona children dying on the day the war ended is the stuff of tragic novels--too sad for words.  I think of the parents especially, who earlier that same day were relieved that their children at least had survived the war.

                This has been a memorable day of WAISing, with vivid personal accounts of ordinary people dealing with wartime deprivation.  I hope we'll be able to add a few more on the morrow.

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                • UK Black Market: The "Spiv" (John Heelan, -UK 07/08/14 6:10 AM)
                  The Black Market was rife in the UK from the early 1940s until the late 1950s. The perpetrators ("spivs") sold goods in the street and pubs, usually from battered suitcases. The goods themselves were usually stolen from the armed services (when I was in the RAF in the '50s, a quartermaster was convicted of stealing and selling bottles of ketchup--he diluted the remaining bottles for the canteens), the docks where dockers took their "tax" on incoming shipments, especially cigarettes, liquor and tropical fruit, robbery from trucks, etc. Goods from the last were termed as "having fallen off a lorry!"

                  Spivs dressed to a stereotype. Trilby hat, smart suit with padded shoulders, thin moustache, smart shoes sometimes in aco-respondent style. In the streets, the spivs were accompanied by a lookout watching for the heavy tread and tall helmet of an oncoming constable. Once the authorities were spotted, the lookout would give a warning whistle, the spiv would hurriedly pack his goods back in the suitcase and disappear into the crowd or a network of narrow streets. In pubs, spivs would sidle up to a customer while casting an anxious look over his own shoulder and mutter: "'Ere Mate, fancy some cheap Scotch/gin/ciggies/Swiss watch/nylons and perfume for the missus," and so on. I never saw one selling ketchup though!

                  Wiki has a good article on spivs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiv

                  JE comments:  That was another time.  It's quaint to think of a black market for ketchup, but this Heinz-aholic should be more understanding.  (Actually, I don't fancy ketchup as much as I used to, and America seems to be in agreement.  The #1 condiment presently is salsa.  Here's the fair and balanced account from Fox:  http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2013/10/17/changing-face-america-is-influencing-our-taste-buds-one-tortilla-chip-at-time/ )

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                  • WWII Memories of Philadelphia; on the "Spiv" (Edward Jajko, USA 07/09/14 3:22 AM)
                    Responding to John Heelan (8 July), a spiv known as Flash Harry, played by George Cole, is a major character in the 1954 movie The Belles of St. Trinian's, which starred Alastair Sim as the headmistress of the school and also as her brother.

                    Since we are bringing up memories of WWII, I can add that I still recall much of those days. One thing that stands out in my memory is the Philadelphia Transportation Company strike of August 1944. Philadelphia was a major center for war production, with the Cramp Shipyard not far from our house, the Frankford Arsenal to the north (where my Uncle John made bullets and cannon shells), the Navy Yard at the extreme south end of the city (where my Uncle Stanley was a laborer), and hundreds of other factories contributing to the war effort.

                    Workers of the Philadelphia Transportation Company went on strike to prevent the promotion of black employees, and they shut the city down. People could not get to their war jobs. President Roosevelt temporarily nationalized the PTC, threatened strikers with immediate drafting into the armed services, and sent the army, some 5,000 men, to run and patrol the PTC. To this day I can remember and see an army encampment, a miniature town of pup-tents, off Belmont Avenue in Fairmount Park. The strike lasted a week, but I believe that the army stayed around longer. And lingers in my memory.

                    The PTC strike began on the same day as another event on the other side of the world, the 70th anniversary of which comes up in less than a month: the Warsaw Uprising.

                    JE comments: The heroic Powstanie Warszawskie began on 1 August 1944. We will be in Poland on the 1st, although not in Warsaw. However, if there are commemorative events planned, I'll try to change our itinerary and attend.

                    My mother grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, not far from Philadelphia. I'll ask her what memories she has of the PTC strike, which given the reason inspiring it, was definitely not a heroic moment in labor history.

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              • Is a Financial Collapse Imminent? How About EMPs? (Enrique Torner, USA 07/08/14 7:25 AM)
                Robert Whealey brought out a question in his post of 7 July: is the US and/or the global economy going to collapse sometime in the future? I have kept hearing this on television on and of for several years, and my wife is especially concerned about a possible financial crash.

                And, related to that, is an EMP attack on the US possible? Judge Janine, from the Fox channel, had a whole program devoted to this not long ago. That could also lead to a crash and many tragic events. Any experts in WAISland who care to discuss this?

                JE comments: Today is a day of unfamiliar (to me) acronyms, BTW and LOL. First we had OPA (from Robert Whealey), and now EMP. GoogleWiki to the rescue: EMP is an Electromagnetic Pulse, pronounced E-M-P, not "emp" as in rhymes with hemp.


                An EMP attack would really get us talking, or more precisely, not talking: it's Jules Verne stuff, but the cataclysmic zap might knock WAIS off-line (as well as void our bank accounts, send us Amazon stuff we don't need, and possibly even launch the nukes).

                Is this science fiction or something to keep us awake at night?  Oh, and how about Enrique Torner's other question--the financial collapse?  We're still recovering from the last one, but it has been a depressing week so far on the stock market.

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                • Things to Worry About: Financial Collapse, Ecological Disaster, Man-Made Apocalypse (Tor Guimaraes, USA 07/09/14 4:34 AM)
                  I appreciate Enrique Torner's post of 8 July, regarding the common fear that the US and global economy might collapse.

                  Those who were afraid of a second post-Bush/Cheney financial collapse and have acted accordingly are now extremely frustrated. I have been worried about it, but paid close attention to the great Maynard Keynes: the market might remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent. I adapted this wisdom in reverse: the market and economy might remain viable much longer than you can remain short. Therefore, I decided to just hedge and implement a strategy based on the premise the market will muddle through: it won't crash violently but, given government interference and slowly creeping inflation, it is likely to keep going up with short-term corrections.

                  Unfortunately, I also worry about a few events which scientists have warned us could happen at any time now. I did a considerable amount of homework on these events which we can't do anything about and can cause tremendous damage to our society and the world. First the most likely in the near future or next few decades:

                  1. In the Canary Islands (Las Palmas) there is a volcano whose geology is a serious potential problem (there is a large land mass overhanging the Atlantic and the soil is porous). If the land collapses (trusted scientists say it is a matter of when, not if), the mega tsunami will hit North America's East Cost many miles inland. God have mercy on our country.

                  2. Yellowstone Park is sitting on top of a huge volcano. When it erupts (again, trusted scientists say it is a matter of when, not if) the destruction to several states is expected to be horrific. This event may derail the economy for a while, but may be recoverable.

                  3. There are many other earth-generated threats, but they are less likely or the damage to the economy less severe.

                  4. Coming from the heavens, we have possible but perhaps less likely massive threats such as large solar storms, which depending on how powerful they are, can bring an end to humanity. Also a much less likely Gamma ray burst will cause no pain, but potentially destroy the whole planet. Just as damaging but much more psychologically challenging because we would know it's coming, we could have a more likely large asteroid or a less likely comet strike.

                  JE comments:  For more things to worry about, yesterday was perhaps the worst day in history for Tor Guimaraes's native Brazil:  a humiliating 7-1 World Cup semifinal defeat by Germany.  The Hemisphere's second-largest country is in a state of collective shock and depression.  Will there be unrest?  Germany should be congratulated for its brilliance, but this match will go down in history as the day Brazil collapsed.

                  Today, on its national holiday (9 de julio), it's up to Argentina to defend Latin American honor against the Netherlands.  But an Argentine victory will/would be no comfort to Brazil, and more probably the opposite.

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                  • Things to Worry About (Enrique Torner, USA 07/10/14 2:06 PM)
                    I don't know whether to thank Tor Guimaraes for his alarming response or not (9 July), but I appreciate his honest appraisal of possible catastrophes that might happen.

                    I will, however, keep my wife from hearing about some of them! I would like to know, however, if scientists have any idea regarding the possible time frame of the horrific events Tor mentions. I had never heard of the impending eruption of a volcano in the Canary Islands, even though I am from Spain. I will have to do some research about this. I had not heard of the coming eruption of the volcano in Yellowstone either. I had heard, however, about the threat of solar flares, and there is even a contemporary Spanish novel devoted to this possibility: El ángel perdido ("The Lost Angel"), by Javier Sierra. It has become an international bestseller, having been translated into over 40 languages. It's also about the search for Noah's Ark: an amazing thriller. Tor didn't make any direct mention of the possible EMP [Electromagnetic Pulse] which could also be caused by a solar flare. This already happened in Canada in March of 1989, causing a blackout in the whole city of Quebec, and causing all kinds of problems, like satellites losing control because of several problems, NASA Discovery having problems, garage doors opening and closing as if there were ghosts, car engines stopping, and all kinds of weird things. For a short while, they were concerned about a possible nuclear attack. You can read about it in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/March_1989_geomagnetic_storm , but that is quite incomplete. So this possibility is not very far-fetched.

                    What is troubling is the lack of preparation in this country for these kinds of threats. Ironically, Spain is better prepared than the US! I hope more people provide feedback to this topic, especially economists and scientists in related fields.

                    JE comments: Can Enrique Torner tell us how Spain is prepared for disaster--and what type of disaster(s)?  We'll be in the Basque Country next week, so I should feel good about that.

                    A related question:  does American Exceptionalism, which is fundamentally an optimistic worldview, lead to an ill-preparedness for the worst?

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                  • Another Thing to Worry About: Artificial Intelligence (Luciano Dondero, Italy 07/11/14 4:55 AM)
                    I appreciate Tor Guimaraes's list of worrisome things (9 July). I think there is something else of pure human production that should have us worried: the field of artificial intelligence.

                    It's rather controversial. Some exclude AI almost as a matter of faith, so to speak. Others look forward to "The Singularity." Some are concerned that unless work is seriously undertaken as of now to create a "friendly AI" (FAI), a sudden breakthrough a few years or decades from today, the planet might be overtaken by a hostile superintelligence. I don't know enough about the matter to lean either way, but other WAISers may know better.

                    JE comments:  Luciano Dondero's post makes me think of Samantha, the seductive girlfriend inside Joaquin Phoenix's phone in the film Her. Samantha's intelligence is as good as human, and most of the time, far nicer. (Having the voice of Scarlett Johansson doesn't hurt.)  Contrast Samantha with my own Siri, the ornery pixie that inhabits my iPhone.  Siri's favorite response is "I am unable to take requests right now."  She likes to do things like turn on spontaneously when I feed the cat, or direct me to the nearest Starbuck's in North Carolina.  Siri did have one triumph recently, however.  I asked her about the Brazil-Germany match.  Her response:  "Germany trounced Brazil, 7-1."  Apple tells us that Siri is a Norwegian name, meaning a "beautiful woman who leads you to victory." This is nonsense, but she's undoubtedly a Germanophile.

                    Siri is also pretty good with the metric system.  Once again, she's a Germanophile.

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                    • Things to Worry About: Tsunamis, Volcanoes, and Machines Taking Over (Tor Guimaraes, USA 07/12/14 3:42 AM)
                      I was quite pleased that Luciano Dondero and Enrique Torner appreciated my list of worrisome things (9 July), but I need to elaborate on a few points.

                      Regarding Enrique's question of 10 July, whether scientists have any idea regarding the possible time frame of the horrific events, I could have been more clear that depending on the event, the scientific time horizon ranges in precision from it is possible with low probability to close to 100 percent probability anytime now. More specifically, the Yellowstone super volcano will detonate anytime from tomorrow into the rest of the century (perhaps beyond). But they know it will happen as sure as they know our sun will grow into a red giant in a few billion years.

                      Also, Enrique commented, "I had never heard of the impending eruption of a volcano in the Canary Islands, even though I am from Spain." I never said the volcano in Las Palmas was going to erupt. It has already erupted, and accumulated a large amount of lava overhanging the Atlantic. Given the geological nature of the lava, the overhang will fall into the ocean, thus become the only known phenomenon (tested in the lab) capable of producing a mega tsunami expected to hit the American East coast anytime from tomorrow into the next few decades.

                      Finally, but very exciting since recently I was re-reading some of Norbert Wiener's work, I was intrigued by Luciano's worry about artificial intelligence (AI). My colleagues and I have done much research on Expert Systems (Knowledge-Based, Neural Nets, Model-Based, and Case-Based) over the years (and on the more recent Intelligent Agents capable of completely controlling a NASA spaceship for a few hours), so I know about the impressive (even scary) power of AI technology. Further, it is humbling that AI despite its basic simplicity has steadily and ubiquitously improved its ability to outperform humans on many tasks we thought only humans could do. It is true that bad people can and are using AI to do harm to other people. This is an issue that Wiener faced head-on when he refused to cooperate with the US military using his enormous mathematical genius. That is a problem we must increasingly face today, not by hiding under the table, but by outsmarting the bad guys.

                      Luciano specifically mention his concern that decades in the future "the planet might be overtaken by a hostile super intelligence." Why would machines want to do that? Humans would have to program the machines to want to do that, provide the means for them to implement their plans. Clearly possible, but not likely before the mega tsunami hits the East coast or Yellowstone erupts. I will be long gone, but would love to know how the machines will fuel their spaceships to populate other worlds and escape Earth's possible destruction. Oops, my lunch is getting overcooked...

                      JE comments:  Science Fiction is not my thing, but if the point of AI is to make machines more human, shouldn't greed and self-interest be programmed in?  Yesterday I introduced WAISdom to my Siri "assistant."  She has already developed the very human trait of shirking work.  I'll get really concerned when she asks for my credit card info.

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                      • Still More Things to Worry About: Biological Warfare and Pandemics (Mike Bonnie, USA 07/13/14 4:09 AM)
                        In response to Tor Guimaraes's post of July 9, perhaps number 3 on Tor's list of catastrophes is meant to include biological pandemics. Wide-spread viral or bacterial carnage may have one or more of three possible sources, naturally occurring, man-made, or just plain stupidity, as in the recent accident at the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), which mislabeled anthrax virus samples: http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2014/06/cdc-says-75-workers-may-have-been-exposed-anthrax

                        The world became a more dangerous place last week as the "Islamic State extremist group (Isis) has taken control of a vast former chemical weapons facility north-west of Baghdad." Whether the present cache of chemicals are inert or not, the basis for making more is established. The Guardian reports, "Bunker 13 contained 2,500 sarin-filled 122mm chemical rockets produced and filled before 1991, and about 180 tonnes of sodium cyanide, a very toxic chemical and a precursor for the warfare agent tabun."


                        We might ask, why was this facility not destroyed during the American occupation?

                        JE comments:  US officials say the cache includes no "intact" chemical weapons, and that they have no military value.  Still, I'll second Mike Bonnie's question:  11 years after the ouster of Saddam Hussein, why was this facility still there?

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                        • Still More Things to Worry About: Smallpox (Brian Blodgett, USA 07/14/14 3:28 AM)
                          Recent news in the United States has reported the discovery of smallpox vials, some of which are still viable, from the 1950s. They were found in an unused storage room at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda.

                          I recall that when the deadly virus was being eradicated through worldwide efforts, that there were to be only two storage areas for remaining samples, one in the US and the other, appropriately, in the Soviet Union (this was still the Cold War Era). However, with the US and the Soviets having the only remaining samples, would it surprise us if other nations had vials of smallpox as well? As teams were rushing around the world at the end of the smallpox era, tracking down the last known cases and treating folks with the vaccine, teams from other countries were likely going to those places trying to find samples of smallpox that they could store back in their own country. After all, if the two superpowers could have the samples, why could they not have them for their own use (protective of course) in case smallpox ever escaped from the depths of the US or Soviet containment areas (which we just discovered were not always buried so deep in those depths)?

                          I have to wonder how many leaders and scientists of those countries that might have collected vials are now making sure that theirs is still viable? Just as importantly, how many of these countries, many of whom might have suffered multiple leadership changes over the years, no longer know that they have a sample and they are also stuffed away in an unused storage room?

                          JE comments: You would think the United States, which hasn't experienced regime change, would keep better track of its disease collection. But then again, I'm often surprised by what turns up in my basement, and I've lived here only six years.

                          According to USA Today, the Bethesda smallpox samples were moved to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta.  The world's only other "official" smallpox repository is in Novosibirsk, Russia.


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                      • Still More Things to Worry About: Artificial Intelligence Run Amok (Luciano Dondero, Italy 07/13/14 4:29 AM)
                        When commenting Tor Guimaraes's post of 12 July, JE wrote: "if the point of [Artificial Intelligence] is to make machines more human, shouldn't greed and self-interest be programmed in?"

                        As far as I can understand, the whole idea of developing AI is not to make machines human or almost-human. In principle the intended aim of AI was to develop abilities that would help mankind, regardless of how much a particular AI would look or behave like a human.

                        In fact, it seems that right now the more promising fields of development for AI are those that tend to emulate human beings.

                        With respect to Tor's question, regarding a concern that AI could take over the world, the most likely scenario is rather more boring than a sci-fi "Terminator" scenario. What people in the know talk about is a blob-like situation, where a super-intelligent machine could start turning every available resource into paper clips--or something like that.

                        Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom has said that AI systems with goals that are not perfectly identical to or very closely aligned with human ethics are intrinsically dangerous unless extreme measures are taken to ensure the safety of humanity. He put it this way:

                        "Basically we should assume that a 'superintelligence' would be able to achieve whatever goals it has. Therefore, it is extremely important that the goals we endow it with, and its entire motivation system, is 'human-friendly.'"

                        JE comments: Sounds good, but humans are often not human-friendly.

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                        • AI and Knowledge-Based Expert Systems (Tor Guimaraes, USA 07/14/14 4:11 AM)
                          Luciano Dondero (13 July) is correct in saying that "the whole idea of developing AI is not to make machines human or almost human, [but rather to] develop abilities that would help mankind, regardless of how much a particular AI would look or behave like a human. ...In fact, it seems that right now the more promising fields of development for AI are those that tend to emulate human beings."

                          While areas of AI as robotics and pattern recognition have made significant progress, the development and use of Expert Systems is extremely impressive. John Eipper commented earlier, "if the point of [Artificial Intelligence] is to make machines more human, shouldn't greed and self-interest be programmed in?" This is not a game. We want to produce systems that mimic only useful human traits such as expertise in specific domains. Thus we developed very effective Knowledge-Based Expert Systems based on the knowledge and decision rules of the best medical experts, electric locomotive mechanics, and people in hundreds of other problem areas requiring human expertise. We have also developed expert systems requiring no experts by programming Neural Network systems for variables. plowing through large databases looking for likely (hypothesized) relationships among input and output variables. We also have developed Intelligent Agents capable of linking Expert Systems in different domains, moving well beyond the capability of just one expert and behaving more as a team of experts in different areas.

                          JE comments:  I do tend towards skepticism when it comes to AI, but I should acknowledge its concrete achievements.  Even Siri did a good job of updating me on yesterday's World Cup final.  (We were shopping for our Europe trip, and I couldn't watch the match.) 

                          Don't make me share the road with self-driving cars, however.

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                • Is a Financial Collapse Imminent? From Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 07/12/14 7:28 AM)
                  Ric Mauricio sends this response to Enrique Torner's post of 8 July:

                  And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. --Matthew 24:6

                  Truly, as a Zen master once commented, the man to whom this quote is attributed to is an enlightened one.

                  Enrique Torner's question on whether one should worry about a financial collapse reminded me of when the late Sir John Templeton admonished the late Louis Rukeyser on Wall Street Week. When Louis commented after a particularly bad week on the global stock exchanges that perhaps we should move our assets to safer alternatives, Sir John said, "Louis, Louis, Louis." Ah alas, the wise man told the student, one should be salivating at the opportunities.

                  In the last 2,000 years, there have been many predictions of the end of the world. Even the Apostle John expected the end in his lifetime, and yet we continue to wallow in this Godforsaken world. In my almost 50 years of investing, I have heard so many predictions of financial collapse.

                  Sure, some predictions do come true in the financial markets and of course, the predictor becomes the guru of the day. But where is Elaine Garzarelli today? Why did your mutual fund do so terribly that she had to close it? Why does George Soros keep telling the same old story of how he shorted the British pound and made a fortune? Why did he have to close his hedge fund and give his investors back their money, less the 25% he lost?

                  But Louis Rukeyser, having learned from the master, really laid it out when his monologue after the Crash of 1987: "Ok, let's start with what's really important tonight... It's just your money, not your life. Everybody who really loved you a week ago still loves you tonight. And that's a heckuva lot more important than the numbers on a brokerage statement. The robins will sing, the crocuses will bloom, babies will gurgle, and puppies will curl up in your lap and drift happily to sleep--even when the stock market goes temporarily insane! And now that that's all fully in perspective, let me say Ouch! ... and Eeek! ... and Medic! Tonight we're going to try to make sense of mass hysteria, to look behind the crash of ‘87, and most perilously but most important of all, to look ahead."

                  If you listened to Rukeyser in 1987 and held on to your stocks, you've witnessed a tenfold increase in the Dow Jones Industrial Average in the past 3 decades. This return outperforms every major asset group. Note his calmness during the crash contrasts to the current state of financial news. While Rukeyser helped investors focus on the long term, modern financial news wants investors to focus on the short term.

                  In the short term, every piece of news is "breaking," significant, meaningful, and market-moving. In the long term, none of these events individually matter. They're merely noise.

                  Financial news networks (CNBC, CNNfn, Fox Business, Bloomberg TV) focus on the short term to create the narrative that you should always be concerned about your money. This narrative is essential for their business model.  Concern drives viewership, and viewership sells advertising time. This is the veritable raison d'être of financial news.

                  It is amazing that when I look at the investing track records of the talking heads on TV, I realize that they are really not that good. Jim Cramer has averaged a 4% return over the last 10 years. Now, how do I know that they are not really good investors? When they underperform a passive index like the S&P 500, I don't think it is so good. Now when they underperform my performance, now that is a true indicator that they are not so good, because, folks, I am not an investing genius by a mile.

                  Without concern that a grand piano tethered to a string is looming over the market, people would stop watching and the ad dollars would migrate to other channels. Exciting program titles such as "Squawk Box," "Mad Money," "Fast Money," and "Power Lunch" emphasize your need to be concerned.

                  If we look at CNBC's viewership numbers over the past 17 years, viewership spiked at times when investors were concerned, such as the tech bubble and the financial crisis. Fully cognizant of these numbers, CNBC creates the illusory narrative that a market-moving event is lurking around the corner. An event that needs to be closely watched, because this event could wreck your portfolio. If CNBC anchors are talking about an upcoming event, the risk is likely already priced into the stock market.

                  Known risks don't cause unexpected selloffs. Known risks mean that investors are making contingency plans through hedging or selling stocks. Known risks mean that the market is braced for the event and its impact should be muted. Known risks mean that the market is more likely to be higher after the event passes.

                  For instance, let us consider the 43% rally in the SPY over the past 2 years. Every little dip along the uptrend represents events that might have derailed the markets, but eventually they turned out to be inconsequential. Remember these negative narratives from the past 2 years:

                  The Fiscal Cliff


                  Government Shutdown

                  Debt Ceiling Negotiations

                  Russia Invades Ukraine

                  China-Japan Tensions

                  While each caused short-term pullbacks, none of these events changed the current drivers of stocks: low interest rates, buybacks, strong earnings growth, and a gradually improving economy. These are long-term drivers that are resistant to change once set in motion. If Louis Rukeyser were still around today, he would be humorously highlighting these positive long-term themes, not the negative short-term narratives.

                  So do yourself a favor. Turn off the talking heads (be they on TV, in the newspapers, especially the Wall Street Journal, or in Money magazine). There is one exception to this rule, however. If you can turn on the talking heads and go contrary, then you'll be a man, my son. As the saying, keep your head while others are losing theirs.

                  JE comments: Ric Mauricio's are comforting words.  Think in the long term (although not in the very long term, as we're all dead).  Hot tips and "breaking news" on financial TV have already been built into the price.  "Corrections" make me grimace, but I try to think of them as times when stock goes on sale.

                  WAISers know that I'm also obsessed with gasoline prices.  Can anyone tell me why they've gone down 10% or so in the last two weeks?  Is this merely a local phenomenon?  Summer driving season is usually a time for prices to move north, not south.

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          • My Parents in the Famine Years (Enrique Torner, USA 07/06/14 3:53 AM)
            To answer John E's followup to my post of 5 July, my parents are from Barcelona, but my Mom, as a girl, during the Civil War, was raised on a farm in Aragón, so her experience of the Civil War was not as bad as my Dad, who remained in Barcelona.

            JE comments: Barcelona, as a hated Republican city, must have suffered more than most after the Franco victory. A truism during famine is that it's better to be on the farm. An exception would be Ukraine during the 1930s, when Stalin's requisitioning "infrastructure" was so ruthless and thorough that the peasants were unable to keep enough grain to survive.

            Jordi Molins is far too young to remember those days in Barcelona, but he must have some family stories to share.

            We'll be visiting our host son in the Basque Country/Euskadi (Guernica/Gernika, Bilbao/Bilbo, and San Sebastián/Donosti) in a little over a week.  As a minority despised by Franco, the Basques surely had it hard during the Famine Years, too.  I'll be sure to ask around and let WAISers know.

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            • Family Vignettes from the Civil War Years (Enrique Torner, USA 07/07/14 4:26 AM)
              I apologize for my bad memory, but two more flashbacks came to mind while I was reading Angel Viñas's post of 6 July. These memories are not from the postwar famine, but from the war itself. One of my aunts (she was on the national side) lived by a place where the Republicans executed nationals, and every night, she would have a hard time sleeping because she kept hearing the shots and the screams of people being executed. In the morning, when walking out of the house with her parents (she was a teenager then), she would see the corpses of the people who had been executed lying on the streets: Republicans liked to spread the dead on the streets to spread fear among the nationals.

              I have another aunt who was a nun and who lived with her parents and an uncle who was a priest. They had lots of religious images in their house. They had to spend most of the war hiding in a basement. Some Republicans entered their house and destroyed lots of their images. One religious painting was torn, but not badly enough to be completely destroyed, so they were able to restore it. This painting later was passed down to my parents. Every time I saw the painting, it would remind me of that episode. You could still barely see a line where it had been cut with a knife.

              I am thankful that none in my family were killed or injured during the war, but they surely had their share of hunger and suffering.

              JE comments:  No family was untouched by that horrific war.  I should know this specific detail, but what faction carried out most of the executions against nationalists in Catalonia?  The winning side would later lump them all together as "rojos."

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              • Family Vignettes from the Civil War Years (Nigel Jones, -UK 07/07/14 5:48 AM)
                Enrique Torner's recollection (7 July) of his family witnessing the aftermath of Republican atrocities in Catalonia during the Civil War reminded me of a story told me by my friend Jason Webster, a Hispanophile British writer (and the recent biographer of Juan Pujol, aka Agent Garbo, the Catalan spy who duped the Germans into believing that D-day would be launched in the Pas-de-Calais area).

                Jason's Spanish father-in-law told him that during the Civil War, his father was forced to drive his cart across the bodies of suspected Nationalist sympathisers murdered by the Republicans. Somehow a fragment of skull got caught in the cart's spokes and the repeated click-click noise of it revolving on the wheels still stuck in his memory.

                The campaign by relatives of Republican victims of Nationalist terror under the recent Spanish socialist government to uncover the graves of those killed, tended to leave the impression that such atrocities were only committed by the Nationalists. In truth, as John Eipper points out, both sides committed appalling atrocities against often innocent civilians.

                JE comments:  These vignettes are never forgotten by a family, even after the original witnesses are gone.  I hope we'll hear soon from Jordi Molins.

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                • Family Vignettes from the Civil War Years (Jordi Molins, -Spain 07/07/14 9:50 AM)
                  John Eipper has asked about my family's experiences during the Civil War Years.

                  I cannot add much more to the discussion rather than pinpointing colorful but limited experiences of eating orange peels and the like. But I would say the years before the Second Spanish Republic were much more dramatic for the well-being of the average Spaniard (even though my family recollections of that period are scarce), and more especially, the Franco Dictatorship period. And for that, I am not talking only about the postwar years (during the 1940s) but even the 1960s. For example, my grandmother was working as a maid for a rich family. She became ill, but that family did not want let her to go to the doctor, until she became so ill that she died. My mother, a little girl at the time, had to take care of her ailing mother for the last two years of her life. It makes sense that this created a deep inner pain that could not be easily overcome, as it happened. I want to stress that this happened during the 1960s, not the '30s, the '40s or even the '50s.

                  But I would say the worse of it all is the current situation: I guess that if you are suffering hardship, but you have something else that gives you hope, duress can be overcome with willpower and a bit of luck. And clearly, forced prostitution to give food to your family, or eating orange peels, can be withstood if you believe that, some day, Justice will prevail.

                  For this reason, the worst of it all is the fact that the Socialists, probably the most widespread hope of Justice during the Franco years, sold themselves very easily and cheaply, at the first occasion they had. Currently, the Socialists are a neo-Francoist political party, with only the intention of supporting the current political regime (Spain is not a dictatorship, but it is not a democracy, either; it is a non-democracy dominated by Castes).

                  Almost everything in this life is bearable, and I believe my grandparents did a good job at coping with all that evil on themselves. But the realization that the only hope for Justice you had when you were suffering unbelievable pain, has disappeared in exchange for four silver coins, which implies that all the suffering, all the hardship, was in fact pointless, is simply unbearable.

                  JE comments: I'm very grateful to Jordi Molins for this honest, if depressing, appraisal.  We know that Jordi sees Catalonian independence as the real solution for his beloved Barcelona, but I'd like to know his thoughts about the Podemos reform movement.  Is this nascent party just more of the same, in Jordi's view?

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                  • Pablo Iglesias Turrion and "Podemos" (Jordi Molins, -Spain 07/08/14 4:14 AM)
                    John Eipper (7 July) asked for my thoughts about the Podemos reform movement:

                    Pablo Iglesias Turrión, the Messianic leader of Podemos, is an illiberal Spaniard.

                    Illiberal Spaniards are classified as left-wing, right-wing, extreme-left and extreme-right, by foreigners. In reality, they are all the same: they are Spanish civil servants.

                    Civil servants are a unique Spanish creation: they are above the King and God in Spain. In Spain, even the King can have his salary reduced; this happened a few months ago. And the royal family can be "fired" (Cristina was not invited to the recent royal "coronation," which in effective terms meant she was "dismissed" from the royal family). God can be insulted. But civil servants cannot be fired, and their salary cannot be cut, irrespective of everything. Civil servants are at the top of the social pyramid in Spain, with God and the King slightly below.

                    As a consequence, civil servants only depend on the subsistence of the "Regime": only if the bare-bones "Regime" (the system whereby the sovereign issues debt, and banks buy that debt, monetizing deficits if necessary) fails, their subsistence may be at stake. Otherwise, whatever happens (democracy, dictatorship, etc.) is irrelevant to them.

                    All Spanish political parties are composed overwhelmingly of civil servants. In particular, Podemos is composed of civil servants (or people hoping to become a civil servant). As a consequence, the last thing Podemos wants is to put the "Regime" at risk.

                    Spain is a non-democracy, governed by Castes. There are two main Castes: the first one is composed of banks, utility companies, law firms and politicians. The second one is the Caste of the civil servants (and other Spaniards living out of the common purse).

                    The emergence of Podemos will just slightly shift the "entente cordiale" between the two Castes, giving a bit more power to the civil servants, and a bit less to the banks. But this negotiation will take place in an orderly manner and without surprises, as it happens with illiberal Spaniards all the time. Both parts will be reasonably happy with the final agreement, whatever happens.

                    The key risk for Europe is the current bail-in law becomes "too successful," and the bail-ins put some Spanish banks at risks. Then, obviously Spanish civil servants will react, because the last thing they want is for the "Regime" to fall down (and banks are an integral part of it all). I believe it is conceivable the two big Spanish Castes may decide it is in their own interest to bring Spain out of the euro, if necessary, to continue preserving their control on the banks, which they deem essential for their standard of living. It is anathema to them that somebody else (e.g. Brussels or Frankfurt) has real control over the banks. Banks are the key part of the non-democratic control of Spain by the Castes, and they will do whatever is necessary to keep it.

                    JE comments: The power of the funcionario has been a staple of Spanish culture at least since the times of writers Benito Pérez Galdós (late 19th century) and before him, Mariano José de Larra (early 19th). Pablo Iglesias Turrión is a professor at Madrid's Complutense University. In the US we don't consider public university employees "civil servants" per se, even though they are on the government payroll. 

                    I am intrigued by Jordi Molins's use of the term "illiberal."  From the US perspective Iglesias Turrión is anything but, as his professed politics are more or less old-school socialist--PSOE without the ossification and entrenched interests of that party.  But Jordi is not convinced:  is Podemos merely seeking to replace PSOE as the principal party of the Left, in order to take its turn at the public feeding trough?  Now that Iglesias Turrión has been elected to the European Parliament, perhaps we'll begin to see.

                    My Spanish academic friends have a more positive appraisal of Podemos, although Spanish politics hasn't inspired much optimism since 1975--or 1931, or 1571 and the victory at Lepanto.

                    Curious about the "bail-in"?  In short, it's forcing bondholders to forfeit part of their money if/when an institution becomes insolvent.  The theory is that this extra "skin in the game" will make lenders more prudent about where they put their money.  See:  http://lexicon.ft.com/term?term=bail_in  

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                    • Spain's "Podemos" Movement and Venezuela (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 07/08/14 9:45 AM)
                      I have a slightly different perception than Jordi Molins (8 July) about the Podemos political movement in Spain. It is not because Pablo Iglesias is "illiberal" or not, or whether he is a privileged civil servant. These are the least of my concerns.

                      I am concerned about the movement's political program and social and economic ideas; if you have had time to read the platform, you will find a collection of outwardly righteous and humanistic proposals, that I have no doubt will make a dazzling impression on leftist or even non-politically aligned Spaniards. The true concerns for me are the similarities and parallelisms of the ideas and programs of Podemos and the Bolivarian Venezuelan Revolution.

                      It is not a secret for anyone that close connections and advisory influences exist between the Podemos ideological leaders and the PSUV, the dominant political party of the revolution in Venezuela; or the funding of the Venezuelan government, Chávez and Maduro, to the Centro de Estudios Políticos y Sociales (CEPS), a Podemos Foundation.

                      The Podemos claim that in Venezuela there is a true democracy is a very foolish remark, rubbish and absurd. Unfortunately there are many, not only in Spain, who still believe this.

                      The dreadful risk for Spain of having such politicians in government is to go down the same road to disaster, collapse and ruin, as in Venezuela.

                      JE comments:  The Podemos platform has a decidedly populist bent, as summed up by Wikipedia:


                      I had no idea there was a Venezuelan influence.  Is this common knowledge in Spain?  How about in Venezuela?  I am a bit confused about a possible Chávez connection, because the party wasn't founded until earlier this year, after Chávez was already dead.

                      If Podemos wants to sound sincere in its call to eliminate corruption in Spain, it should probably distance itself from the Chávez/Maduro clique.

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                      • Podemos and Economic Policy (Jordi Molins, -Spain 07/09/14 5:14 AM)
                        In response to José Ignacio Soler (8 July), it is not because Pablo Iglesias is "illiberal" or not, or whether he is a privileged civil servant. I am concerned about the movement's political program and social and economic ideas.

                        Podemos's political program is irrelevant. The Podemos "sell-side pitch book" is based on "magical thinking," or also the so called "cargo cult." It can be summarized with the statement of one of the (not very bright) Podemos leaders: "We just want to be happy." Basically, Podemos supporters believe there is a money printing machine hidden somewhere (by "The Rich"), and they just need to find that machine, use it, and "everybody will be happy."

                        Of course, Podemos's real leaders are not that stupid. They know Spain could not withstand Communism, or even a Bolivarian republic style of government. They know they need Capitalism, in some way. They just want to grab more power (by the way, it would be interesting to require any politician to pass a psychological test that screens for sociopaths).

                        Please be aware that Podemos leaders are a Caste. They are already privileged (they are civil servants). So, any comparison with Russian serfs at the beginning of the 20th century is meaningless: serfs had nothing to lose by supporting Communism. Podemos has a lot to lose if the Regime falls. As a consequence, Podemos will never ever support the destruction of the Regime; on the contrary, they are going to be their most fierce supporters. But of course, at the price of a bigger slice of the pie for them.

                        JE comments: An interesting discussion. Just for balance, I've been fishing among my (non-WAIS) Spanish friends for some positive appraisals of Podemos. No takers so far, but I'll keep trying.

                        I like Jordi Molins's call for prospective politicians to pass a "non-sociopath" test. That would be discriminatory, however, and more importantly: if you take away the megalomaniacs and the sociopaths, who would be left to populate the world's governments?

                        Yahoo!  Answers is the lowest rung on the information ladder, but this one is interesting...


                        ...especially the "just a sociopath" part.  Isn't it far less harmful to be ruled by megalomaniacs than by sociopaths?

                        (A note from the JE Anachronism Police:  serfdom was abolished in Russia in 1861, although the peasants of 1917 were not far removed from serf status.)

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                        • Spanish Civil Servants; Pablo Iglesias Turrion (Angel Vinas, Belgium 07/10/14 3:54 AM)
                          I disagree with much of what has been said about Spanish civil servants. (See, for example, Jordi Molins, 8 and 9 July.)

                          1. The rationalization of the public service in Spain began in the early 20th century as a way of eliminating the excesses of the spoils system that had prevailed previously. As usual, the French were the model to follow.

                          2. The system worked rather well until the outbreak of the Civil War. This is not deny a feature which still exists in Spain, the predominance of certain "corps" (in diplomacy, the judicial system, and the military). The French still contend with their influence (énarques), although they have advanced more than Spain.

                          3. Under Franco there was a reversion to the spoils system. The civil service was colonised by the victors. This was unavoidable, since a great part of secure jobs were available only in the all-encompassing government sector of a theoretically totalitarian State.

                          4. The system turned out to be totally dysfunctional. Civil servants might have been loyal to the Francoist system, but loyalty was not enough. Competence was also a necessity, particularly in the economic sphere.

                          5. Under Franco a new system was introduced in the late 1950s in order to increase efficiency. The French served as the model, as usual.

                          6. Under the new system, open competitive examinations flourished. I´m familiar with the system for the "corps" which required a university degree. They have now become a subject of derision. However, until the 1980s, openness was guaranteed. Under Franco, socialists, republicans, and even communists joined the civil service. In many cases the "esprit de corps" protected them when they run afoul of the security services.

                          7. I´ve served many times on three kinds of boards: for university posts, for diplomats and for the economic foreign service. With the exception of the university (which had a different road to tenure) the system worked well without outside political or ideological intromissions.

                          8. This changed for the civil service of the regional governments, where standards were (are) rather low (to say it in polite way).

                          9. The present system has developed faults. The most important one is that officials with tenure have the possibility of returning to the civil service after an unlimited stint in politics and/or work for international administrations (this was my case). Some "corps" have gained inordinate power, because many of their members have entered the upper echelons of government (ministers, undersecretaries, general secretaries, etc.).

                          10. Obviously there has been a tendency in some spheres to denigrate the admission system and to lower the standards or requirements for tenure.

                          11. In France, Belgium, Italy, Germany and the UK (the countries I am most familiar with) tenure for civil servants (or servants of the Crown) is guaranteed. However, in some of them (the UK for example), if one leaves the civil service there is no possibility of return after a number of years.

                          12. My feeling is that a system like the US would be disastrous in Spain. I am not competent to judge for other countries. My greatest respect goes to the UK and the German systems.

                          13. The case of the Spanish university is another matter. The PODEMOS leader, Pablo Iglesias Turrión is by the way, as far as I know, a non-tenured professor. I suppose he would be in the US system some kind of assistant professor.

                          14. WAISers should know that the word "profesor" applies in Spain to all kinds of teachers. The correct translation for the English/American professor (full professor) is in Spanish catedrático. Sorry, I happen to be one of them.

                          JE comments: I've heard many war stories about Spain's oposiciones examinations, especially for university jobs.  In principle it's a fair process, but cronyism and abuses are legion.  Ángel Viñas (point 12) says the US system would be disastrous in Spain.  There really isn't a "system" here, especially for academic appointments.  Basically it's a free-for-all, and you are hired because they want to hire you.  This also applies for the US Foreign Service.  I personally know of no one who became an FSO through the examination process, but I do know several whose appointments came through "other" channels.  (Twenty years ago I passed the exam and got no further, but it's probably for the best:  I'm too outspoken to be a diplomat.)

                          Returning to Spain, it's the lifetime tenure system that gives funcionarios such a bad reputation among ordinary Spaniards.  The gulf between the haves (a job) and the have-nots is particularly acute in high-unemployment Spain, and the perception exists among the latter that the former comprise a privileged "caste."

                          Academic tenure is also under attack in the US, perhaps for the same reasons.  I must stress, however, that my tenured colleagues and I do not use job security as a shield for sloth and mediocrity.

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                          • Spanish Civil Servants (Jordi Molins, -Spain 07/11/14 3:25 AM)
                            I disagree with Ángel Viñas's post on Spain's civil servants (10 July). Ángel wrote:

                            "Until the 1980s, openness was guaranteed. Under Franco, socialists, republicans, and even communists joined the civil service."

                            Some examples:

                            The average age of the current Spanish Ministers is 55 years old. An overwhelming majority of them (more than 80%) are civil servants. As a consequence, they took their exams during the 1980s. They all come from famous and rich Francoist families.

                            In particular, the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, is a property registrar (1978). This requires to pass one of the (apparently) most difficult exams in the Spanish public service. Rajoy has two other brothers who also became property registrars, and another one is a notary (also a difficult exam, it seems). The fact that his father was a distinguished member of the Galician Francoist regime must be completely "irrelevant."  People who know about civil service exams find it very difficult to believe that three brothers of the same family may become property registrars.

                            Let me recall that despite the fact Mariano Rajoy has not worked as a property registrar for many years, he gets hundreds of thousands of euros per year for it.

                            Another example is the recent case of the "Tribunal de Cuentas," the Spanish "Court of Auditors." There are about 700 civil servants, of which 100 of them are sons or daughters of others, as can be seen at:


                            Please observe in that list, one can find names such as former Spanish Primer Minister Aznar, or the former Minister Trillo. Of course, nobody has been found guilty of anything, despite the fact that insiders find it utterly impossible that this family distribution is random (apart from the fact that subverting the "Tribunal de Cuentas" is a direct attack on an essential instrument of democracy). Please recall the "Tribunal de Cuentas" is a central government institution, one of those Ángel apparently believes is of such a high level of quality.

                            Another example is the University system: despite a massive amount of money, public Universities in Spain are of extremely poor quality. In most world rankings, there is not a single public University among the say 200 best worldwide universities. One may believe the reason for that is Spaniards are not well prepared for research due to the climate, or the siesta, or whatever. However, private business schools such as IESE and Esade in Barcelona, or IE in Madrid manage to consistently appear in the top 10 of the best business schools worldwide, with the same climate, the same siesta, the same people, the same legal system. What is the difference? They can hire and fire as they wish. That's the only difference.

                            The real-world practice is that all high-level positions in the Spanish civil service are obtained by sons and daughters of Francoists, Popular Party and Socialist supporters, union leaders and such. Normal people with no connections have no chance at all. In fact, they don't even try.

                            Ángel states, "My feeling is that a system like the US would be disastrous in Spain." The relevant question here is: disastrous, for whom? I can confidently tell you that not for me, or for the people around me.

                            JE comments: The power to "fire as you wish" does not a quality university make, I can assure you, Jordi!  It does motivate employees to toe the line of the administration, however.

                            But this is not Jordi's main point.  Do I understand correctly that PM Rajoy, as a property registrar, is drawing an enormous stipend for no work?  Is it packaged as a pension?  And the El País link above does reveal an unmistakable taste for nepotism in the Tribunal de Cuentas.  Marvin Gaye would put it thus:  "What's Going On?"

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                            • Spanish Civil Service and Private Universities: Two Questions (Rodolfo Neirotti, USA 07/11/14 12:55 PM)
                              Jordi Molins wrote on 11 July: "[A]ll high-level positions in the Spanish civil service are obtained by sons and daughters of Francoists, Popular Party and Socialist supporters, union leaders and such."

                              Question: Can they be considered a caste or breed?

                              Jordi again:  "[P]ublic Universities in Spain are of extremely poor quality. In most world rankings, there is not a single public University among the say 200 best worldwide universities. One may believe the reason for that is Spaniards are not well prepared for research due to the climate, or the siesta, or whatever. However, private business schools such as IESE and Esade in Barcelona, or IE in Madrid manage to consistently appear in the top 10 of the best business schools worldwide, with the same climate, the same siesta, the same people, the same legal system. What is the difference? They can hire and fire as they wish. That's the only difference."

                              Question: This is the only difference? Or it is because those able to attend come from the upper classes and therefore can pay?

                              JE comments:  I had the same question about IESE, Esade, and IE.  Don't they cost many times more than the comparable State institutions?

                              Regarding the Caste question, Jordi Molins has already answered with an emphatic yes, while Ángel Viñas disagrees.  A followup from Ángel is next in the WAIS queue.

                              A twofold congratulations to Rodolfo Neirotti, whose Argentine team defeated the Netherlands on its national holiday (9 de julio).  Felicitaciones, Rodolfo, and best of luck to your countrymen this Sunday.

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                            • More on the Spanish Civil Service (Angel Vinas, Belgium 07/11/14 1:36 PM)
                              In response to Jordi Molins (11 July), I joined the Spanish Civil Service in 1968. This didn´t make me either Falangist, Opusdeist or Francoist. I passed first out of some one hundred candidates for fifteen posts available. I did not know anybody on the examining board, and literally nobody had ever heard of me.

                              In my "corps" there were liberals, communists, socialists, republicans, right-wing and left-wing civil servants. The "esprit de corps" was highly developed. The same applied to other Ministries.

                              I´ll go so far as to say that the non-Francoist opposition was solidly implanted in the civil service in the last years of the dictatorship. It provided for a smoother transition. In certain areas, Francoist civil servants were diverted to non-executive positions, for instance in the foreign service. An ambassador has little power of decision.

                              Civil servants in politics were to be found particularly on the Right.  On the Left the leading politicians were not civil servants (although University people--a different kind altogether--were prevalent).

                              However, along with the changes of the last 20-25 years, a bifurcation has taken place. Members of some "corps," particularly on the Right, have gone into politics and occupied the higher echelons of Government. This is the case with abogados del Estado (leading under the present Government), letrados del Consejo de Estado, Inspectores de Finanzas, Técnicos comerciales y economistas del Estado, and diplomáticos. Registradores de la propiedad y notarios are not strictu senso public servants. Rajoy is a registrador. His case cannot be taken as representative.

                              The Tribunal de Cuentas (Court of Auditors), the Consejo de Estado, and some other institutions (the judicial system) have their own recruitment procedures and I am not familiar with them.

                              It seems to me that Spain is going the same way as other Western European countries. There is a rather non-political civil service and a political cadre which is occupied by politicians and civil servants who have decided to go into politics with a clear political affiliation. However, the frontier is blurred and the civil service underpaid. Spain is not the UK, Germany, Denmark, or even France.

                              If people without connections, like me in the past, are able to pass the open competitions, they get in. What is dramatic is that the Government (possibly the worst one in Spanish contemporary history, including most of the Franco years) has drastically reduced the number of positions available.

                              They call it a slim cure for the allegedly overinflated public sector.

                              The University is a different case altogether but I don´t think it´s proper for me to discuss it in this Forum.

                              JE comments:  Isn't it true that the Spanish government simply cannot afford such a large civil service force?

                              Ángel Viñas argues that the funcionarios are underpaid; Jordi Molins says the opposite.  At least they can agree on one thing:  their dismal view of the Rajoy government.

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                              • Further Thoughts on the Spanish Civil Service; the "Caste" System (Jordi Molins, -Spain 07/13/14 4:37 AM)
                                I thank Ángel Viñas (11 July) for sharing with us his own personal experience. I believe him. Let me explain my experiences, which I hope will illustrate why I believe Spain is a non-democracy ruled by Castes.

                                Before the European sovereign crisis started, I was working for a big US Hedge Fund in London, as a strategist for Southern Europe.

                                In my job, I had the opportunity to travel to Madrid a lot, and meet with high-level civil servants at the Bank of Spain (central bank), the CNMV (the equivalent of the SEC), government officials, and either CEOs or CFOs of all the Spanish banks.

                                I can confidently claim that I told all of them there was going to be a crisis, why there was going to be a crisis, and what I thought should be done to minimize the social effects of that crisis. The unanimous reply to those concerns was that I was wrong (there is public record of that, too, for several cases).

                                A side effect of my actions was that I stopped receiving invitations from those Spanish public institutions to speak to them. That was one of the reasons I abandoned London (there were other reasons, too), since it was difficult to do my job without having direct access to those institutions.

                                I came back to Barcelona to start a business funding Catalan and Spanish corporates. So far, I have failed miserably. For sure, part of the reason lies in my own mistakes. However, over time I have realized (after some subtle comments from some people) that I might be on the black lists of Spanish banks. That would explain some apparently inconsistent business experiences I have had to go through.

                                What's the situation now?

                                The Castes have performed egregiously:

                                The civil servants at the Bank of Spain could not predict the losses at the banks they regulated, failing with their official forecasts by two orders of magnitude, despite the fact that I told them they were wrong, why they were wrong, and my estimates became eventually correct. Yet they remain in their jobs, or they have been hired by the same banks they regulated.

                                The civil servants at the CNMV remain there. Recently, Gowex, a Spanish company, has filed for bankruptcy; the trigger was a negative report by the US research firm Gotham; the CNMV opened an investigation... against Gotham! In the past, Gowex received multi-million euro loans by the Spanish government.

                                The Socialist members of the government, who failed miserably to predict the crisis, and even more, to apply measures that could alleviate the consequences of higher unemployment among the poor, have been overwhelmingly hired as Board members by big Spanish corporates, those that enjoyed a special treatment by the same government during the crisis; see http://wiki.15m.cc/wiki/Lista_de_pol%C3%ADticos_y_familiares_en_consejos_de_administraci%C3%B3n

                                Spanish bankers, who failed miserably to forecast the crisis, and their banks lost about -90% of market cap peak-to-trough (and even taking into account the massive support by the sovereign; otherwise, for sure equity holders would have been fully wiped out), they remain at the helm, except for those Cajas which were liquidated. Moreover, they've received some of the highest bonuses in Europe. Board members, who should have fired those bankers and didn't, remain there, too.

                                Subsidiaries of Spanish banks, and funds which did not see the crisis coming (but they are big and well-connected) are getting multi-billion euro loans by the Spanish government to fund Spanish corporates. When I started my current business, nobody was talking about that. (In fact, banks were aggressively de-leveraging, which created much of the current pain at Spanish SMEs ... for which they are getting money by the Spanish government to correct the effects of that pain.) When I talked to the relevant agencies and told them that I was in that business too, they told me it was necessary to have a big infrastructure in order to receive those loans. When I asked them why, they told me they needed to make sure the job is performed properly. When I told them those big banks and funds did not perform their job properly; in fact, their track record was abysmal, and instead, I could claim I performed my job properly, and I had the right infrastructure and investor base to go ahead with my project, they smiled and left. I had no opportunity to compete, or even to start.

                                Instead, those who forecasted the crisis, correctly diagnosed the reasons for the malaise, and suggested measures to smooth the business cycle, have been treated miserably. Here, I would like to honor Edward Hugh and Ricard Vergès, from which I have learned a lot, and who heroically and stoically held up their opinions, despite the fact the Regime destroyed their professional (and even personal) lives.

                                When I started my professional career, I took a big personal gamble: make it or break it. I knew I could fail, and then, all the human investment would have been proved worthless. But what I completely failed to understand is that even if I successfully completed all my targets, at the highest level of quality I could ever dream of (this is what happened), I would not be positively compensated for that. Not only that, but I would be severely punished for that success by the Castes.

                                At least from some point of view, the current situation is worse than during the Francoist censorship. At that time, at least there were rules: the author of a book knew what was allowed and what wasn't. The final version of the book could end up destroyed, but at least, the author could try and forecast the end game, by knowing the rules of the game beforehand, and acting accordingly.

                                However, now there are no rules. Basically, because theoretically Spain is one of the countries around the world with the best-quality democratic institutions. But in the real world, those institutions fail miserably, all over again. And since there are no rules, there is an absolute arbitrariness in the decisions of the Castes, due to their tight control of the legal and financial processes. Outsiders cannot foresee the end result, and once they realize what the game is all about, it may be too late to redress their professional careers.

                                Today, The Economist states about Russia and China (but applying the same to Spain): "incorruptible officials seem untrustworthy to their flexible peers: traitors to the caste" http://www.economist.com/news/international/21606872-how-and-why-lofty-ideologies-cohabit-rampant-corruption-because-were-worth-it

                                JE comments:  My thanks to Jordi Molins for this frank and honest narrative.  It can only be maddening to see that the same banksters who caused the Crisis remain front and center at the public feeding trough.  But if I may ask Jordi, how could Spain alone have prevented the Crash of '08, or even attenuated the impact, given its global nature?

                                A truism:  when times are good, nobody wants to hear from the doomsayer.

                                Hang in there, Jordi.

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                                • Do Civil Servants Set Policy? (Angel Vinas, Belgium 07/14/14 2:52 PM)
                                  With no intention of pestering colleagues too much about the subject of the Spanish Civil Service, I must say that Jordi Molins's allegations of 13 July do not seem convincing to me.

                                  One can argue at length about the quality of democracy. Political scientists use a number of parameters to assess it, but the kind of experiences narrated by Jordi are not among them. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly agree that the quality is mediocre.

                                  A country can have an excellent civil service, e.g. France, and follow erroneous or misleading economic policies. Policies are set out by the Government and approved or not approved by Parliament. In the Spanish case, since the Partido Popular has an absolute majority, parliamentary approval is simply rubber stamping.

                                  The civil service, obviously, prepares decisions but decisions are taken at the political level. In the Spanish case, this is at the level of directors general (some kind of assistant secretaries) upward. There may be changes all the way up. And then, as the drafts are approved along the hierarchy, there´s the not small matter of inter-ministerial coordination at different levels.

                                  Obviously, I don´t know the levels at which Jordi made his suggestions to the Bank of Spain. At the Governor level? Deputy Governor levels? Assistant deputy levels? On top of that, it also depends on the matter at hand. Warning of an impending financial crisis such as the one which actually occurred would have to be presented at the Governor level, but since the determination of macroeconomic policy lies with the interplay between the Presidential Economic Office and the Ministry of the Economy, I wonder whether Jordi was able to reach that critical interactive segment for policy definition.

                                  In any case, the idea that the Spanish economy is ruled by a "caste" (this is a new import from Italy) of fonctionnaires strikes me as a bit fanciful. Of more importance are the bankers, big companies, and so on. Perhaps in Catalonia it is different and the Catalan Government is able to work in a political, social and entrepreneurial vacuum. I´m not competent to discuss that.

                                  JE comments:  A linguistic curiosity:  the Spanish funcionario is clearly calqued from the French fonctionnaire. Do they have the same "popular" connotation in both countries?

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                      • Spain's Podemos and Chavismo (Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA 02/27/15 1:22 PM)
                        Those WAISers who called our attention to the rise of Chavismo in Spain under the banner of Podemos deserve kudos.

                        The "Yes, We Can-Sí se puede" people movements must be composed of political illiterates, the naive, and hopeless lumpen who cannot or will not learn from other people's mistakes. In late 1950s early '60s Cuba they were the carne de cañón students and guajiros who believed in Castroism. Most were killed, tortured, jailed, or went into exile. As some WAISer noted, the political climate in Spain feels pre-revolutionary....again:


                        JE comments:  See, for example, this post from José Ignacio Soler (8 July 2014):


                        The WSJ article linked above focuses on Juan Carlos Monedero, the Podemos #2 and éminence grise (or not-so-grise) behind leader Pablo Iglesias.  Monedero, a political scientist, spent several years as a consultant for Chávez's government, and reportedly received up to €1.5 million in Venezuelan funding.

                        Perhaps this is/was all on the up-and-up, but Monedero doesn't put a good face on a party founded on anti-corruption.  The surname ("purse," "moneybag") also sends the wrong message.

                        I hope we'll learn more about this, from the Spanish and the Venezuelan perspectives.

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                        • Spain's Podemos and Chavismo (Tor Guimaraes, USA 02/28/15 3:15 PM)
                          ​Francisco Wong-Diaz made a very strong statement on 27 February: "The 'Yes, We Can-Sí se puede' people movements must be composed of political illiterates, the naive, and hopeless lumpen who cannot or will not learn from other people's mistakes. In late 1950s early '60s Cuba they were the carne de cañón students and guajiros who believed in Castroism. Most were killed, tortured, jailed, or went into exile."

                          As with most ideological statements, this one requires clarification and perhaps some substance to have any credibility.

                          What evidence do we have that these people movements are composed of "political illiterates, the naive, and hopeless lumpen who cannot or will not learn from other people's mistakes"? If in the 1950-60s Cuba most of these idealists were perhaps criminally disposed of, whose fault is that? Most importantly, besides being extremely negative about these people movements, what exactly is Francisco proposing as an alternative ideology, as desirable policy, and productive behavior?

                          JE comments: My understanding is that Francisco Wong-Díaz was giving a harsh appraisal of populism of all stripes, especially when it borders on Utopianism.  But I'll second Tor Guimaraes's question:  what are the alternatives?  

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                          • Alternatives to Utopian Populism: Christian Democracy (Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA 03/01/15 4:40 AM)

                            In response to Tor Guimaraes (28 February), I would propose the Papal-endorsed Christian Democracy of the 20th Century. It combined social justice, charity, respect for human life and democratic institutions, among other elements.

                            JE comments:  Can anyone give us Pope Francis's take on the Syriza and Podemos movements?  They promise social justice and charity, but seem rather antagonistic to the "Christian" aspect.

                            WAIS has spent a great deal of effort over the years analyzing every political "ism," but surprisingly, not Christian Democracy.  Perhaps this is because CD is considered the anti-"ism"--mainstream and non-radical, hence uninteresting.  Or not?

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                            • Christian Democracy (Roy Domenico, USA 03/01/15 2:20 PM)
                              ​Regarding Christian Democracy (see Francisco Wong-Díaz, 1 March): for one reason or another, after World War II academic thought on politics was dominated by liberal/whig views and Marxist views--neither of which understands Christian Democracy. And this despite the triumph of Christian Democracy in much of Western Europe--not to mention Latin America.

                              My chief criticism of the late Tony Judt's otherwise very worthwhile book Postwar is that he completely misses or underrates the importance of the Christian Democrats--to the point of seeing the era as a Social Democratic moment. He's oblivious to the fact that all that welfare legislation in Europe which we still see as social democratic, could never have been passed without CD support. In fact much of it was initiated by Christian Democrats. The title of a friend's book sums up some of this--Mario Del Pero's work on the US-Italian alliance after the war, L'Alleato scomodo, "The inconvenient ally."

                              JE comments:  Great to hear from Roy Domenico.  I believe Roy has expressed in far more elegant terms the point I tried to make earlier today:  that Christian Democracy politically is the "anti-ism" par excellence.  So much so that it often gets overlooked.

                              I'd be interested if WAISer Eugenio Battaglia has read the del Pero book.

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                              • Christian Democracy (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 03/02/15 3:24 PM)
                                Roy Domenico in his post of 1 March has given an excellent brief overview Christian Democracy in Europe after WWII.

                                I fully agree with Roy's view that the welfare state in several European countries could never have been passed without CD support or even pressure.

                                However, we have also to agree that in Italy the welfare state had been a creation, from 1923 to 1944, of Fascism. During the Socializzazione it was much more advanced than what was later achieved by the SD and the CD. At that time the official Church gave its support, as the Social reforms of Mussolini were in a certain way close to the Rerum Novarum (15 May 1891).

                                In Italy under the CD and SD the nation actually went backward.

                                JE asked if I ever read the Mario del Pero book L'Alleato scomodo, about relations between Italy with its CD government and the US from 1948-1955. Unfortunately I have not.

                                Italy has been, one way or another, dominated by the Christian Democrats for 70 years. Actually the new president of the republic--lay, democratic and antifascist--Sergio Mattarella, is a leading CD, but also Matteo Renzi, the Prime Minister and present leader of the Democratic Party (originally the Communist Party) is a former CD.

                                The main reason why I worked abroad or on foreign flag vessels was due to the fact that the CD, SD and PC created a system by which, unless you had the affiliation card of one of these parties, you could not find work in Italy.

                                There is only one Christian Democratic politician that I greatly admire. He is Giuseppe Pella (1902-1981) prime minister from 17 August 1953 until 18 January 1954. When Tito threatened to occupy Trieste (under American-British administration) and the the local police controlled by British officers killed 6 Italian youths demonstrating for Italy (the last martyrs for the Unity of Italy), Pella sent Italian troops to the Eastern borders and made a strong speech (his words still resonate in my ears) on the radio stating that Trieste was proof of the Italian alliance.

                                This was the time in which the lousy Western Allies were ready to sacrifice Italy and Trieste in order to facilitate Tito's split with the USSR.

                                In 1975 the CD officially gave, without any compensation, Trieste Zone B to Yugoslavia, always under the pressure of its "friends." This made the communist Yugoslavian dictator happy.

                                I may go on with the various faults of the Italian CD but I will not do so now. So returning to the book of Del Pero I may say that frankly instead of wasting time about the CD I prefer to read about Donald Duck. For certain he was stronger, more honest, patriotic and courageous.

                                By the way in the past I already stated that in foreign policy you should be loyal to your allies but never their lackeys.

                                JE comments: But Eugenio: Donald Duck has been labeled an embodiment of US Imperialism and exploitation.  See Ariel Dorfman's How to Read Donald Duck (Para leer al Pato Donald).


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                                • Christian Democracy (Robert Whealey, USA 03/04/15 6:09 AM)

                                  I used to teach a class on Contemporary Europe from 1945 to the present at the 300 level at Ohio University. (I retired in 2001.)  The class covered five nations for 85-95% of the time. There were occasional questions from the floor about Poland, Hungary, Ireland, Spain and Yugoslavia.

                                  The big four of the West were Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, plus Eastern Europe's USSR. The Italians approved a liberal constitution in 1946. People had the right to vote for liberals, socialists and the Communist party. The democracy in the CD was corrupted by the Mafia and the Vatican of Pope Pius XII. With the accession of Pope John XXIII, Italian voters became more skeptical of US propaganda during the Cold War. The British and French became more skeptical of the US during the 1956 Suez crisis.

                                  The Italian voter had many discussions about Euro-Communism and Antonio Gramsci's ideas of Marxism. Somewhere I picked up a joke about the Christian Democrats:

                                  What is the difference between a liberal Christian and a Christian Democrat? Answer: When the Romans threw early Christians to the lions,
                                  the lions ate the Christians. When the Romans threw the Christian Democrats to the lions,
                                  the CDs came back alive.

                                  Few students laughed.  If any pious Catholics were in the class, they never spoke up.

                                  JE comments:  I always enjoy a good guffaw, but I never knew the Christian Democrats as being particularly ferocious.  Perhaps they understood how to negotiate with the lions?

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                                  • Throwing Christian Democrats to the Lions (Paul Preston, -UK 03/04/15 9:53 AM)
                                    Here's my take on Robert Whealey's joke: It was because the Christian Democrats told the lions that, if they ate them, they would be obliged to give an after-dinner speech.

                                    JE comments: I am convinced. Far better to skip a meal than to get up in front of a crowd!

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      • European Integration: A Quick History Quiz (Angel Vinas, Belgium 07/05/14 8:37 AM)
        Encouraged by David Pike´s post of 4 July, I would like to present WAISers with a quiz. Who wrote sentences such as the following:

        1. "Only Europe´s political consolidation can bring about an intensification of the whole economic life in the European sphere and eliminate the disturbances and tensions that so far have prevented fruitful cooperation."

        2. "The European economies can be developed to a much higher degree and the yield increased materially by cooperation that is based on logic."

        3. "It will be necessary to bring about a consolidation of the common economic bond between the peoples of Europe. This will be made possible by closer cooperation in all spheres of economic policy."

        4. "Economic solidarity in European countries should make it possible to uphold European economic interests more effectively against other corresponding groups in the world economy."

        I can assure WAISers that I haven´t run the preceding sentences through Google or with any of those software programs used to detect plagiarism. (I have none of these programs, and I wouldn´t know how to use them.)

        Greetings and good luck!

        JE comments: I have a hunch on this one, but I'll let other WAISers respond first. The prize? A genuine WAIS "Pax et Lux lux" keychain! Or if you prefer, one of the last extant WAIS coffee mugs, c. 2007, together with a twisty pen or three for good measure.  No need to add that these are highly sought-after collectibles.

        The moral of the four quotes:  watch out for "other corresponding groups"!

        By the way, nobody has taken a shot at yesterday's history quiz: Who was the first to read the US Declaration of Independence publicly, at the Pennsylvania State House, on July 8th, 1776? Hint: he shares a surname with a president of the US, although I don't think they are related. Second hint: the surname isn't Obama.

        As always, no Googling allowed.  You're on your honor.

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        • Our First History Quiz Response, and a New Quiz (Bienvenido Macario, USA 07/06/14 4:17 AM)
          One of the quotes cited in Ángel Viñas's history quiz might be from Richard M. Nixon, when he was discussing the need for the European Common Market (ECM).

          In those quotes, the operative word is "economic." The inoperative word is "political." This is the major difference between the ECM and the EU. The EU's primary concern is democratic control over its members. Unfortunately, a democratic process does not guarantee the election of the best leaders appropriate to Western Europe's situation.

          Now if I may, I'd like to give a quiz based on an obscure fact. Attached is a list of donors to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. The numbers are provided by the UN.

          1) Name two countries that surprisingly did not give a penny.

          2) Of those two countries, name that country that instead sent medical teams and relief workers but did not give a penny.

          3) Bonus question: Why do you think these or this country did not give a penny?

          See: Who's Giving to the Philippines--and Who Isn't

          by Brandy Zadrozny, Nov 18, 2013


          JE comments:  This morning I realized that I don't know the answer to Ángel Viñas's history quiz!  So I asked him off-line for a few hints.  Ángel hasn't written back yet, but I'm pretty sure it isn't Richard Nixon, although there's something very uncanny about Bienvenido Macario's response...

          As for the Typhoon Haiyan quiz, I'll venture some guesses:

          1.  China?  (Admittedly, Bienvenido already telegraphed this answer.)  I have no idea about the second one, but looking ahead to Question 2, I'll say Cuba.

          2.  See #1.  Cuba?  Human capital is about the only thing the Cubans can give, although they usually prefer to "rent out" their medical teams.

          3.  China and Philippines are in a territorial dispute over maritime rights and off-sea oil and gas fields.  (?)

          From the above table, I'm surprised that the Vatican gave only $150,000.  That's rather miserly for Asia's largest Catholic country (and the third largest in the world, after Mexico and Brazil).

          So WAISers:  we have three quizzes in the works.  Need a refresher?  Here's Ángel's post from yesterday:



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          • Answers to WAIS Quiz(zes) (Bienvenido Macario, USA 07/09/14 7:18 AM)
            With regards to the Typhoon Haiyan donors (see my post of 6 July) almost immediately China was heavily criticized for contributing only $1,000. A lot of promises came from China, but everyone knew they were not going to give another penny.

            The country that never gave a pfennig but sent a medical team, relief workers and supplies is Germany. The other country to my knowledge that never gave a franc or sent a team was France.

            Talking about global competition in the aftermath of the relief and reconstruction efforts, the UK wasn't only the biggest donor in the Philippines, but offered to help in the rehabilitation of the disaster areas.

            But unlike the US that spends American taxpayers' money like drunken sailors, the UK is "competitive."

            The Philippines got so used to the loose money policy of the World Bank, IMF and the UN and thought the British are easy picking. The British are the best colonizers. Americans do not stay long enough to make a lasting difference. Just look at Afghanistan and Iraq.

            Now look at former British colonies like Singapore and Hong Kong. Like the Philippines, their respective economies are dominated by ethnic Chinese. Even Canada, Australia and New Zealand are former British colonies. The best example of course is the US, which started with the 13 British colonies.

            JE comments: Bienvenido Macario is perhaps the biggest Anglophile in WAISworld. I fondly recall our time together in Torquay, which was almost exactly three years ago (31 July 2011).

            But...were the British the best colonizers? They had undeniable success stories (US, Canada, Australia, Singapore), but how about Zimbabwe, Pakistan, and Iraq?

            New topic: The weekend's WAIS quizzes didn't generate much interest. I'm disappointed; have WAISers been too busy watching soccer?  (David Duggan gets the Good Sport award for his entry.)  In addition to Bienvenido's quiz on typhoon relief, here's the answer to my Declaration of Independence question: On July 8th, 1776 (238 years and one day ago), John Nixon read the Declaration to an assembled crowd at the Pennsylvania State House, Philadelphia. Nixon is best remembered as the financier who founded the Bank of Pennsylvania and later the Bank of North America.  He is not to be confused with his contemporary, John Nixon of Massachusetts, an officer in Washington's Continental Army.  I'm curious if either is an ancestor of Richard Milhous.

            I'm not going to reveal the answer to Ángel Viñas's quiz on European union, primarily because I don't know it!  Here, once again, is the link.  And Ángel:  when you get the chance, please send me the answer.  In the meantime, I await your educated guesses.  WAIS trinkets go to the winner!



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            • WAIS Quote Quiz: A Hint... (Edward Jajko, USA 07/10/14 9:56 AM)
              With reference to Ángel Viñas' s four-question quiz of July 5th on the EU, to which I have no answers, can he tell the world of WAIS if those statements were made originally in English?

              JE comments: Ángel gave me the answer, and I'm pleased to announce that my hunch was almost (but not quite) correct. But I'll give WAISers 48 hours to send their guesses. In response to Ed Jajko's question, the answer is no: the original statements were not made in English.

              Here, once again, is the quiz:


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            • John Nixon and Richard Nixon (Randy Black, USA 07/10/14 10:06 AM)

              To answer John Eipper's question (9 July) as to whether or not John Nixon, who read the Declaration of Independence on 8 July 1776, was a relation to President Richard M. Nixon a few centuries later, I turned to the Internet.

              John Nixon's father was a wealthy shipping merchant and owner of a wharf on the Delaware River. He was coincidentally named Richard Nixon. This is from the archives of the University of Pennsylvania.

              Additionally, John Nixon was a trustee of the College and Academy of Philadelphia, which united with the University of the State of Pennsylvania to form the University of Pennsylvania.

              Colonel John Nixon saw action during the Revolution at the Battles of Trenton and Princeton and commanded the defenses of the Delaware at Fort Island and elsewhere. He appears to have been super-wealthy before and after the Revolution. He was president of the Bank of North America, the nation's first national bank. He died in 1808.

              There is apparently no connection between the John Nixon of 1776 and President Richard Nixon of California.

              I used Ancestry.com, which showed President Nixon's ancestors under the Nixon name back to the 1780s and stopped with George Nixon of Delaware (1784-1863). It seems unlikely that those Nixons might be related, as the President's lineage story is one of a very humble, far less than wealthy bunch of folk.

              The John Nixon story seems to be one of immense wealth.

              JE comments: A big thanks to Randy Black for the fine Internet work. I had assumed there was no relation, as the Independence Hall docents would be eager to point out any kinship, no matter how distant.

              Still, the Delaware/Pennsylvania (and possibly Quaker) connection makes you wonder.  Time to check the DNA, and call Geraldo...

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            • More Monetary Shenanigans in Philippines (Bienvenido Macario, USA 07/30/14 1:05 AM)
              I never gave a full answer to the "bonus" question posted earlier this month, namely, why do you think certain countries (Germany and France) did not give a penny to the Philippines Typhoon Haiyan relief?

              Germany didn't give a penny probably because Marcos's heirs Irene Marcos-Araneta and husband Greggy Araneta reportedly tried to transfer at least $13.2 billion from the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) Account no. 885931, into a new account with Deutsche Bank at Koenigsallee 54, Dusseldorf, in February 2001. The account number Deustche Bank assigned was 7690779. The Marcos couple tried to negotiate for several day visiting the bank five times from February 12 to 20, 2001. An anti-money laundering task force was watching them.

              In the meantime in March 2001, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo tried to deposit $32 billion in various US banks. Again unaware of strict banking laws and perhaps stretching diplomatic immunity or substituting the deposit for an economic program that Arroyo doesn't really have, she was shocked when the American banks surrendered the $32 billion to Federal authorities.

              Of course there is the 25 trillion cubic meters of natural gas reserves in the Spratlys areas alone, plus all the geothermal resources areas in the Philippines that my late wife explored. These have no been taken over by ethnic Chinese and ethnic Spaniards.

              There is also the Sabah claim that Martin Storey and I discussed in September 2002.

              But my main claim is the pre-war Philippine treasury asset of "some two million dollars in gold bullion and $360,000 in silver."

              --20 tons of gold bars and silver pesos

              --319 40-pound gold bars and 630 bags each containing 1,000 silver pesos.

              These were shipped to San Francisco in the ballast tanks of the submarine USS Trout. The Trout reached Pearl Harbor on 3 March 1942, the submarine transferred her valuable ballast to the cruiser USS Detroit (CL-8).

              I hope to use these funds, among others, to finance the repossession of my ancestral land, the Philippines, and establish a government-in-exile for the Philippines based in London, UK.

              JE comments: What is the official US statement on this treasure? Haven't many Philippine nationals attempted to reclaim it?  This reminds me of the Spanish Republic's shipment of its gold reserves to Moscow. I like to think that the United States doesn't "steal" in such a crass fashion, but perhaps I am mistaken.

              And where did Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo get the $32 billion?  (That's with a "b"?)  This, Dear Colleagues, is a significant chunk of cash, which would place her among the world's richest individuals.

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              • Monetary Shenanigans in Philippines (David Duggan, USA 07/30/14 1:02 PM)
                Bienvenido Macario's comments (30 July) on the Filipino aristocracy's spiriting out of their country of billions of dollars calls to mind a well-oiled conversation I had with him at last October's WAIS conference regarding the importance of those islands in the run-up to US involvement in World War II. Without giving away the store as to the premise suggested by my former professor and colleague, Anthony D'Amato, WAISers may be interested to know that the current political divide in the Philippines is a reprise of the World War II divide between the collaborators with the Japanese and the American loyalists. That the oligarchs have access to untold billions should surprise no one who is familiar with the Philippines' extractive industry, and the well-founded rumor that the Japanese shipped tons of looted gold from China and buried it in a vault somewhere on the archipelago (known as Yamashita's gold; he was executed for war crimes in early 1946, so he isn't telling its whereabouts).

                While Prof. D'Amato and I were preparing our suit claiming war crimes by the Japanese empire during World War II, we learned lots of details about this trove: that the Japanese had executed those Filipino laborers who had constructed the vault (à la the fate of those who built the Taj Mahal, although for less "noble" reasons); that Gen. Douglas MacArthur had found it, perhaps using enhanced interrogation techniques (which enabled him to live according to the style to which he was accustomed in the Waldorf Towers on the same floor with Cole Porter--not exactly retired military digs); and that various "internationalist" interests in the United States had access to this stash (some of it supposedly wound up in Richard Nixon's suitcase in 1964 when he went to Vietnam to visit his 1960 running mate, Henry Cabot Lodge, then the American ambassador, which Nixon then used to pay for the release of several prisoners of war held by the Vietcong [note--not the North Vietnamese]). Some of this may have been folkloric, but there was a civil suit filed in Hawaii against the Marcos's by Rogelio Roxas, claiming that the Marcos's had interfered with his right to extract this booty conferred on him by a Marcos relative. Roxas won an eight-figure judgment against Imelda (reduced from $22 billion after an appeal and remand). Good luck collecting that, however. Manolo Blahniks and Jimmy Choos are worth only so much.

                JE comments:  When it comes to pilfered gold, we've focused so much on Spain, that we haven't looked enough towards Asia.  A fascinating comment from David Duggan.  There's enough intrigue here to fill a week's worth of WAISing.
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                • Philippines and Yamashita's Gold (Bienvenido Macario, USA 07/31/14 12:29 AM)
                  I'm so glad David Duggan brought up our discussion in Adrian last fall about the post-war Philippines.  (See David's post of 30 July.)  It's true the political division in the Philippines was between "pro-Japanese" oligarch-traitors and American loyalists. But when Pres. Ramon Magsaysay died, the American loyalists were wiped out. After 1957 the division was between the two factions of oligarch-traitors: the ethnic Spaniards and the ethnic Chinese.

                  Being well-known Japanese collaborators, Marcos, Aquino, Roxas and even Diosdado Macapagal, who worked as legal assistant for JP Laurel, the Japanese-appointed president of WWII Philippines, could not claim the gold or even the so-called Yamashita's gold.

                  It was the Chinese group that promoted the story that Yamashita looted the gold in China and brought it over to the Philippines to justify their stealing gold from the natives of the Philippines.

                  Chiang Kai-shek brought China's gold with him when he and his Kuomintang army fled for their lives to Formosa. Chiang stole the whole group of islands from the natives who mainly spoke Tagalog. Again, the US government was well aware of the genocide of the Austronesians on Formosa but didn't do anything.

                  Rogelio Roxas is related to Manuel A. Roxas, Sr., from whom he got the information about Yamashita's gold. There were three locations Yamashita was said to bury gold on his way to Baguio. While Marcos indeed fought in Bataan and was on that infamous Death March, his father Mariano Marcos was a Japanese collaborator. He also knew about Yamashita's gold, among others.

                  Yamashita's gold belong to my people. And I am hereby claiming the same in their name.

                  In 1935 after the disastrous dispersal of the Bonus Army marchers, whose demands were responsible for the creation of the Veterans' Administration, Gen. Douglas MacArthur retired and accepted Manuel L. Quezon's job offer to be the Philippine Commonwealth's military adviser with a salary equal to 1/4 of 1% of the total defense budget of the Philippine commonwealth plus expense account and accommodations. He lived in the penthouse of the historic Manila Hotel. He also asked for the title "Field Marshall" of a still-to-be-formed army. Then he worked with FDR to have Col. Dwight Eisenhower named as his aide-de-camp.

                  Then America entered WWII and on January 3, 1942 while trapped in Corregidor, the Commonwealth Pres. Quezon issued an executive order to transfer $500,000.00 from the Philippine treasury's account in New York to Douglas MacArthur's Chase Manhattan bank account.

                  Gen. Douglas MacArthur received his bank's confirmation that the funds were transferred on February 19, 1942. MacArthur's party left Corregidor for Australia on March 11, 1942. He never saw a penny of that $500,000 until he went back to the US mainland in April 1951.

                  In fact when Pres. Quezon was in Washington DC, he sought out Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and offered to pay the future president a bonus salary for helping the Commonwealth build an army. Gen. Eisenhower politely declined, saying he could not accept additional pay as he was still in active service, unlike Gen. Douglas MacArthur who from 1935 to 1942 was retired from the US service. He was recalled by FDR, remember?

                  By the way I'm sure of the amount of $32 billion that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo tried to deposit in March 2001.

                  My question to David Duggan: What was the nationality of the natives of the Philippines before July 4, 1946?

                  JE comments:  I'm still confused:  where is Yamashita's gold presently?  Somewhere in the United States?  Buried at an undisclosed location in the Philippines?  Or on the bottom of Manila Bay?

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                  • Philippines and Yamashita's Gold (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 07/31/14 5:00 PM)
                    I was fascinated by the posts from Bienvenido Macario (30 and 31 July)
                    and David Duggan (31 July). Unfortunately, in spite of all my efforts, I
                    remain mostly Western-centric with my information, which is problematic.

                    Therefore I have a couple of questions for each of them.

                    Bienvenido Macario, I would like to ask why he seems to be against the
                    independentist Filipinos collaborating with the Japanese Army to defeat
                    the occupying American colonial forces.

                    Generally I assume that
                    for the Filipinos, as for any other nation, it was much better to be
                    independent even if within the structure of the "Asiatic Cooperation,"
                    rather than be dominated by a far-away Western country.

                    To David
                    Duggan, I would like to ask if when preparing the lawsuit claiming war
                    crimes by the Japanese, he ever had the thought that if it was correct
                    to punish the war crimes of the losing "Yellow Monkeys" (remember the
                    movies of good old Marine John Wayne and the democratic war
                    propaganda?), shouldn't it also be appropriate to punish the (numerous)
                    war crimes of the winners?

                    JE comments: Eugenio Battaglia often
                    forces me to challenge my historic assumptions. I know that the
                    Filipinos were
                    better off under US domination than as part of the brutal "Co-Prosperity
                    Sphere," but should I be so certain?  Those who Bienvenido Macario calls
                    "loyalists" to the US could also be labeled as "collaborators."

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                    • Philippines and Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (Francisco Ramirez, USA 08/02/14 12:14 AM)
                      The historical reality is that Filipinos rejected the Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere project. This is not about what ought to be the case, but what in fact was the case. Despite Eugenio Battaglia's assumption (1 August), geographical proximity did not breed solidarity.

                      To this day there is more anti-Japanese than anti-American sentiment in the Philippines. This is true despite the fact that much of the destruction of Manila was due to less-than-precise American bombing.

                      Before Pearl Harbor there was a Commonwealth in the Philippines and a degree of self-government that included elections of both the legislative and executive branches. There was an agreement that the Philippines would become independent by 1945. One can argue that it was not in the best interests of the Philippines to become independent. But there were no mass demonstrations in favor of remaining a colony or becoming a USA territory. That is why I have never accepted the abandonment thesis of my kababayan, Bienvenido Macario. I do agree with him that rule by oligarchy has severely damaged "La Perla del Oriente, Nuestro Perdido Edén" (from José Rizal's "Mi Último Adiós").

                      Regarding collaboration, the standard defense for someone like Jose Laurel (president during the Japanese occupation era) is that his collaboration prevented Japan from drafting Filipinos into the Japanese army, as many Koreans were. After World War II, Laurel was elected to the Senate repeatedly. These elections are national, not provincial. So, either most people did not know how bad his government was or did not share the negative judgment of its critics. My guess is that people distinguish between collaborators who personally gained from the collaboration and those who did not. Of course, people could be dead wrong in making this assessment of motive.

                      JE comments:  Except for a Quisling or two who benefited directly from Japanese rule, I don't know of anywhere in Asia where "Co-Prosperity" was received with enthusiasm.  A parallel question about the Philippines in WWII:  were there significant numbers of Filipino "volunteers" who fought for Japan?

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                  • Citizenship of Filipinos Pre-1946 (David Duggan, USA 08/01/14 2:02 AM)
                    Bienvenido Macario (31 July) asked as to Filipino citizenship before its 1946 independence from the United States, and while I am not well-versed in the law of citizenship, so far as I can tell, Filipinos were not US citizens during either the time that the US administered the islands as a territory, nor in the period when the Philippines were a "commonwealth" created by US law in 1935, with its own legislature and court system. This would not have been unusual at the time the Americans "acquired" the Philippines following the Spanish-American War: the French had a similar system in Algeria after colonizing the country in the late 1800s. "White" inhabitants were deemed citizens of France (though called "pied noirs") while "les Arabes" had to apply for citizenship (they were deemed "subjects"). In doing so, they had to renounce their allegiance to sharia law. Unsurprisingly, as of 1930, only 2,500 had done so. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pied-Noir

                    The 1940 US Nationality Act did not name Filipino natives as having US citizenship, although citizens of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, among others, were so granted. The inference to be drawn is that Filipinos were not US citizens, although they assisted greatly in the war effort against the Japanese two years later. In 1952, citizenship was conferred on inhabitants of Guam.

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