Category Archives: History

If Mike Griffin Had Been Columbus

Perhaps Mark Whittington is right. We should have followed the path blazed by the early Iberian explorers:

Toledo, New Castille. March 1492.

Today Don Miguel de Grifo, the head of the Royal Transatlantic Exploring Administration, made the eagerly awaited announcement as to how the Administration would pursue Their Majesties’ Vision for Transatlantic Exploration. To the disappointment of some, he turned down the suggestion of the Italian explorer Columbus that the program utilize already-existing, commercially-available caravels staged from the Canary Islands. “The Administration has no means of Atlantic-rating these craft safely. Spanish lives are too precious to be wasted in this endeavor. Furthermore,” he added, “the idea of staging the voyages in the Canary Islands is too complicated, and I fear that constructing the necessary docks and shipyards in the Canaries might become too expensive, even though they would then enable further voyages more cheaply.”

Advocates protested, saying “If you’re in the Canaries, you’re halfway to anywhere in the Atlantic,” citing the favorable winds prevailing from that spot. de Grifo responded “That is true, and someday we will build docks in the Canaries. But for now, we must sail directly from Spain to China, and the ships must be large enough to carry all supplies needed for the entire voyage.”

Rather than going with the commercially-available caravels, de Grifo announced that the Royal Galley Arsenal of Barcelona would build an existing design of a large war galley. “Galleys are a tried-and-true technology that has worked for centuries.” He denied that the Count of Barcelona had demanded that the Arsenal be used to provide the ships for the expedition as a price of political support for the plan in the Cortes. “We are doing this because it is technologically the right thing to do. Simple. Safe. Soon.” Questions about what had caused his change of position versus his previous support of caravels several years prior went unanswered.

Barcelona, Aragon. July 1494.

Administrator Don Miguel de Grifo announced today that the Erís transatlantic vehicle program was in fine shape, but that some revisions would have to be made. It is now apparent that the galley design selected, although effective in its original role in Mediterranean warfare, would be too small to carry the needed supplies for crew and galley slaves for a full transatlantic voyage to China. Therefore, the shipyard workers would be instructed to cut the hull in half and insert a new, lengthy section equal to a fourth of the galley’s original weight. According to de Grifo, it was an easy modification and would not affect the ship’s seaworthiness. It would, however, delay the start of the program by several years, and increase the cost by several hundred million maravedis.

Barcelona, Aragon. August 1498.

The troubled transatlantic program of Ferdinand and Isabella has run into further problems as Administrator Don Miguel de Grifo announced that the agency would require more time and money to fix several minor technical issues that had arisen in the development of its China galley. Simulations have suggested that the galley, originally designed for Mediterranean seas, would be shaken to pieces by the heavier waves of the Atlantic. Also, the insertion of the extra hull section has altered the seaworthiness of the whole design, leading to fears that the craft would snap in half in heavy seas. “Nothing a little more time and money would not cure,” said de Grifo.

Toledo, March 1500.

The Spanish court was today shaken by news arriving from Lisbon that a Portuguese navigator had accidentally discovered a vast new land in the Western ocean, when his ship had made an unexpectedly wide turn in rounding the horn of Africa. The land, which he dubbed “Brazil” after the island of mythology, appeared to be a new continent. Additionally, word arriving from Rome suggested that the Pope was about to issue a bull declaring this new continent exclusive property of Portugal, and off limits to other nations without a license from the Portuguese king.

Toledo. April 1500.

Today Their Majesties formally terminated their transatlantic program, which was now pointless in the wake of the Pope’s monopoly on Atlantic voyaging. The galley under construction in Barcelona is to be broken up for firewood, as it was in any case unlikely to be seaworthy for any purpose.

[Attribution to Jim Bennett]


Sixty-seven years ago, a date that still lives in infamy. And this year, it too falls on a Sunday. Will September 11th be remembered as long? It seems that, despite the recent attacks in India, many have forgotten that we are at war with an ideology just as (if not more) dangerous than the ones we fought then.

Randy Barnett happened to be visiting Honolulu, coincidentally, and describes the memorials. I was there a couple years ago, and though not on the anniversary (it was a few weeks earlier), it was a somber and interesting experience.

BCS Declares Germany Winner Of WWII

This is pretty funny.

“Germany put together an incredible number of victories beginning with the annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland and continuing on into conference play with defeats of Poland, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands. Their only losses came against the US and Russia; however considering their entire body of work — including an incredibly tough Strength of Schedule — our computers deemed them worthy of the #1 ranking.”

The US came in fourth, with only two victories — Germany and Japan.

It reminds me of the old joke that college football is the only sport where the champion is determined by drunks arguing in bars. Which is why they brought in the computers, I guess.

Living On Mars

Some thoughts from Bob Zubrin, who apparently has a new book
out on the subject.

I have to say, though, that when he says:

It’s a common view that Columbus was just interested in finding a spice route to the Indies, and that was his sales pitch to the Spanish courts. But I actually believe that contrary to conventional history, Columbus was looking for unknown continents — he just couldn’t pitch it that way.

I’d be curious to know the basis for that belief, or if it’s just wishful thinking or projection. My reading of the history does not indicate that Columbus was averse to making a buck.

Slow Posting

I got up early today and had an eye exam (still have two functional ones). They were dilated in the process, so it will be a while before I spend much time on the computer. Meanwhile, here’s an interesting discussion on arming ships against pirates in modern times. We seem to have managed to deal with this a lot better in the past. I think that we should bring back letters of marque, for not just pirates, but lawless terrorists in general.

[Early afternoon update]

A related question: why don’t we hang pirates any more?

…the number of attacks keeps rising.

Why? The view of senior U.S. military officials seems to be, in effect, that there is no controlling legal authority. Title 18, Chapter 81 of the United States Code establishes a sentence of life in prison for foreigners captured in the act of piracy. But, crucially, the law is only enforceable against pirates who attack U.S.-flagged vessels, of which today there are few.

What about international law? Article 110 of the U.N.’s Law of the Sea Convention — ratified by most nations, but not by the U.S. — enjoins naval ships from simply firing on suspected pirates. Instead, they are required first to send over a boarding party to inquire of the pirates whether they are, in fact, pirates. A recent U.N. Security Council resolution allows foreign navies to pursue pirates into Somali waters — provided Somalia’s tottering government agrees — but the resolution expires next week. As for the idea of laying waste, Stephen Decatur-like, to the pirate’s prospering capital port city of Eyl, this too would require U.N. authorization. Yesterday, a shippers’ organization asked NATO to blockade the Somali coast. NATO promptly declined.

As I noted, there seems to be a problem with the modern approach.

Can Hillary! Be SECSTATE?

She may be Constitutionally ineligible. Sometimes commenter Jane Bernstein notes via email that Article 1, Section 6 clearly states that:

No Senator or Representative shall, during the time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil office under the authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time: and no person holding any office under the United States, shall be a member of either House during his continuance in office.

Emphasis mine. Federal salaries, including the schedule for a Level 1 Cabinet officer (such as Secretary of State) were increased at the beginning of the year, by executive order. IANAL, but by the letter of the law, it would seem that she cannot be appointed to that position.

There are two potential outs.

One is trivial–she isn’t a “he,” she’s a “she,” so she could amusingly argue that the section doesn’t apply to her. I suspect that this would probably fail on Fourteenth Amendment (and perhaps other) grounds, though, as well as common sense.

The other would be to argue that the intent was to keep Congress from creating or increasing salaries of a position in order to provide a new or better job for one of its members, and to eliminate this potential conflict of interest. Since the increase was done by Executive Order under a previously passed law, she could argue that Congress didn’t increase the pay in this instance. However, the letter of the law wouldn’t allow this interpretation–it doesn’t say anything about the emoluments increasing by act of Congress–it just says that if they increase (for whatever reason) she cannot have the position.

If true, the good news is that it would also apply to John Kerry. And it doesn’t apply to Barack Obama, since he wasn’t appointed–he was elected.

[Update a few minutes later]

Also, if the logic is correct, it would apply to Rahm Emmanuel, as well as any other potential congressperson or Senator angling for an appointment.

[Update on Monday afternoon]

More thoughts from Eugene Volokh.

[Bumped to the stop]

A New New Deal?

Tyler Cowen has some history:

The good New Deal policies, like constructing a basic social safety net, made sense on their own terms and would have been desirable in the boom years of the 1920s as well. The bad policies made things worse. Today, that means we should restrict extraordinary measures to the financial sector as much as possible and resist the temptation to “do something” for its own sake.

In short, expansionary monetary policy and wartime orders from Europe, not the well-known policies of the New Deal, did the most to make the American economy climb out of the Depression. Our current downturn will end as well someday, and, as in the ’30s, the recovery will probably come for reasons that have little to do with most policy initiatives.

There was also this little item that caught my eye:

A study of the 1930s by Christina D. Romer, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley (“What Ended the Great Depression?,” Journal of Economic History, 1992), confirmed that expansionary monetary policy was the key to the partial recovery of the 1930s. The worst years of the New Deal were 1937 and 1938, right after the Fed increased reserve requirements for banks, thereby curbing lending and moving the economy back to dangerous deflationary pressures.


Because of this news:

ABC News has learned that President-elect Obama had tapped University of California -Berkeley economics professor Christina Romer to be the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, an office within the Executive Office of the President.

It seems like a much better pick than those of us concerned about an FDRophilic president could have expected. Maybe we won’t replay the thirties.

The Worst And The Dumbest

Remember that civics test? Well, this should inspire confidence in our political “leadership”:

US elected officials scored abysmally on a test measuring their civic knowledge, with an average grade of just 44 percent, the group that organized the exam said Thursday.

Ordinary citizens did not fare much better, scoring just 49 percent correct on the 33 exam questions compiled by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI).

But they did fare better. What does this say about our so-called “elites”? Forget about a literacy test for voters. How about one for candidates?