Monday, 21 September 2020

Watch the markets - 2020

We all know that September is the time for big market crashes.

 1929, 1987, 2008 - All the doom was in September and October.

This year to date, despite the huge Covid-19 crisis, the markets have been quite resilient, down around 15-20% despite the GDP also being down at that level in a historic reset. 

This has been explained all year by those in the know as due to the the free money printing of the Fed and other central banks, plus the low interest rates meaning stocks with dividends have still proved popular. 

However, today has been a big hit in the markets, the FTSE is down 3.6% today alone. It could be the start of a long week or a re-bound tomorrow. 

With the Covid situation across Europe moving from good to bad though, the idea of a V-Shape recovery and the markets seeing through the downturn maybe over. Instead this could be a rocky time indeed and the start of the deep recession long-predicted. 

I guess we will know soon enough. 

Saturday, 19 September 2020

Saddam's Sortie (Pt 4): More Iraqi Military Innovations

Back this weekend to the situation where thirty years ago, Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait, and the US-led, NATO-based effort to evict him was only just starting.  First things first; and we needed to acquaint ourselves with the military doctrine of the numerically strong and highly exerienced Iraqi army that we'd never before given a second thought to.  We'd quickly established they had incorporated quite a lot from the Soviets, as well as being largely equipped by Russia; and there were even some faint echoes of British influence (see below) dating to the 1950s.  In our arrogance and ignorance, though, we weren't expecting them to have developed some home-grown innovations, that had been amply tried and tested in a decade of all-out conflict with Iran.

Last time we described one of these - switching between specialist generals to lead different phases of the same operation.  This weekend we look at two more: one of less novelty but notable for its very extreme manifestation; the other of genuine, eye-popping novelty and not a little ghastliness.

The first was, as just suggested, really only an extreme implementation of a well-known principle, namely, that you don't ask tanks to drive very far on made-up roads.  (a) They ain't designed to run on hard flat surfaces, resulting in more maintenance outages; (b) they are not very fast; (c) their fuel consumption is truly appalling, particularly if you do take them up to full speed; and (d) they don't leave the road behind them in very good condition for any other purpose - e.g. bringing up troops and supplies by truck, a rather important consideration in a campaign.

Additionally, tanks are capital assets and not to be wasted - even if the Iraqis had quite a lot, and the Iranians not so many.  This final consideration led to the Iraqis seeing a powerful requirement for being able to switch their tanks rapidly from one front to another:  use them for a breakthrough operation at point A, then switch them swiftly to point B for further service.   Bottom-line?  You need a vast fleet of tank transporters.      

And that's what they'd acquired: by some estimates, the world's largest - to go with the world's largest combat-experienced army!  It thereby facilitated a major part of their operational doctrine: switching the location of tank forces in a trice between different phases of the same operation - rather like switching generals, in fact.

This was not wholly unprecedented in military logistical thinking, of course.  We could note:

  • WW1, where the Germans planned a lightning-fast knockout blow against France, to be followed by rapid redeployment across the entire continent for an assault on Russia by the same forces  (even if it didn't quite work out that way, of course).   In that case it was the railway network that needed to be carefully developed in preparation.
  • Israel's strategy for dealing with its equivalent frontal duality, Egypt to the west and Syria et al to the east.  Israel, too, has a large fleet of tank transporters to achieve the same effect. 

Nevertheless, the Iraqi version was impressive.  It was also more tactical in its nature than the two parallels I've offered above: both Germany and Israel saw their use of the same thinking essentially as being for a one-off, one-two combination punch of the highest strategic import - not really for day-to-day tactical deployment, which is what the Iraqis were capable of.  

*   *   *   *   *   *

I've kept you waiting for the gruesome one ...

Saddam's intended lightning strike against Iran in 1980 had, in the finest military traditions, become bogged down into a costly war of attrition.  The Iranians had resorted to human-wave tactics using the berserker-fanatics of the Revolutionary Guard, and Saddam didn't have any intention of trading numbers in that fashion.  So, unsurprisingly given what we know about the man, his mind turned to chemical warfare.  (Russian antecedents here, of course, and equipment also.)   

But there's a problem, as anyone who's ever donned a 'noddy suit' and/or respirator will know.  It ain't half hot, Mum.  And in temperatures of 40 degrees plus?  Not just uncomfortable: actually and literally unbearable for more than a very short while.  And Saddam was on the offensive; so he wasn't just going to use the chemicals for area-denial, he was intending to have his troops fight through the chemicals directly following their deployment, to capture the ground.  They had to be fully kitted-up.

Solution?  Big blocks of ice (and all the logistics required to make and distribute them).  In a front-line tent, a platoon of noddy-suited men would all huddle around a block to keep cool, until the last moment when, thus refreshed, they would be hurled into short, sharp action through the contaminated area, their ability to function fully-suited for at least a short while thereby greatly enhanced.  Clever, huh?

The gruesome bit?  Iraqi losses in some of these operations were very considerable  (Really? - ed).  Now, stemming from their pre 1960's British influences, they raised infantry regiments on a territorial basis; and so from time to time, as for the Brits in WW1, they stood to lose a very large number of young men all from the same town or region, all at the same time.  Iraqi tradition, as with many nations since time immemorial, is to recover bodies from the battlefield for burial at home.  So they'd potentially be in the awkward position of returning hundreds of bodies for hundreds of funerals to the same town, all at the same time - and Saddam was by no means wholly secure in his political grip on the country.  Not a happy political prospect.

So they used the ice on the return journey, so to speak, to preserve the bodies in order to get them back into morgues, whence they could drip-fed them back into their towns and villages over a prolonged period.

And the precedents for that?  I rather doubt it ...


Friday, 18 September 2020

Friday Fun - Covid Conspiracy plans

If there is one thing that has kept me going over the past few months it is the endless litany of more and more outrageous conspiracy stories about Covid-19.

In many ways Covid is THE perfect conspiracy platform. After all, China really did do a massive job covering up how it started (and then started in its national newspapers claiming it was from a USA lab - classic maskirovka). And the virus is scary, out of control and affecting the whole world.

But, the anti-mask fanatics, the lunatics who claim it is all a hoax, the anti-vaxxers, the people who call it a plandemic and also those who claim Bill Gates wants to kill us all. 

It is amazing, a rich and deep seem on human "intelligence" and nonsense. And really entertaining, I mean check this one out for example:

"Recently, Chandra Wickramasinghe, known for his work in astronomy and astrobiology, spread the idea that the virus was living on a comet and a piece of that space rock may have fallen to Earth during a brief fireball event over China in October 2019. He further implied that comets carrying viruses may have caused outbreaks in the past as well."

Anyway, they are funny is even they help to further the idea that much of humanity is made up of nut-jobs. So what is your favourite one for the comments? Or indeed, which to you actually believe?

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Nietzsche on Woke Identity Politics

We've had cause to mention Nietzsche over the weekend.  He is not to everyone's taste:  content-wise; stylistically; difficulty (or all three).  Nevertherless his insight into humanity is the most consistently penetrating I know, along with other tremendous contributions to philosophy, psychology and even wider still.  

And nothing changes.  This is from his famous Also Sprach Zarathustra (1884) - widely viewed as the most poetic expression of his thought, and extraordinarily influential in 20th century European literature, but (frankly) no easier read than his more conventional expositions.  Nevertheless, some passages need no contextual explanation for their force and astuteness to jump out at us.  His coinage for the woke warriors and 'intersectionalists' of his time is the tarantulas.  He wouldn't have been surprised by Edinburgh University's treatment of David Hume ...


"That the world may become full of the storms of our revenge, let precisely that be what we call justice"  -  thus the tarantulas speak to each other.   "We will wreak vengeance and abuse on all those who are not as we are"  -  thus the tarantula-hearts promise themselves.   "And 'will to equality'  -  that shall henceforth be the name of virtue; and we shall raise outcry against everything that currently has power!" 

You preachers of equality  -  from you the tyrannical madness of impotence cries out for "equality":  thus your secret desire to be tyrants disguises itself in words of virtue.


Nothing changes.



Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Labour suggest furlough replacement and to fight the last war, again

Quite interesting to read the news out today and the predictably stupid and vain responses from MP's. 

The news I refer too is the predictions for half a million jobs ro so to go this quarter as the furlough scheme ends. Labour of course want the scheme extended and improve upon - with more free money to pretend to keep people employed and also permanent schemes to help sectors of the economy that need it, in their view.

The Government too has its kickstarter scheme and some others, but in the round is interfering a bit less and looking at the costs a bit more. 

The Government is better here, although now is probably the time to look at the benefits system in the round and move to something more on the Swiss model. In Switzerland the Government pay you for up to a year after redundancy 80% of your wages until you find a new job - very generous indeed.

In the UK this could be a lower amount but with a credit towards re-training, which is desperately needed. 

Keir Starmer's usual vacuous soundbite is to help sectors that need support like retail and airlines. How is this of any use? We will need a lot less airline capacity for many years to come and already need far fewer shops than we used to. Plus retail is unskilled work anyway, those people in retail need some skills that maybe useful to help them earn a better living, otherwise they are going to be unemployed a long time.

Quite the worst thing to do at the moment is to try to resurrect the old economy. 10 years of cultural transformation has happened in 6 months. Offices won't be the same, working from home will be more normal and online purchasing even more of a trend. Plus staycations and home improvements. These changes are schumpeterian ones, the chaos of the recession and pandemic. Really they should be embraced to channel the changes we need into progress rather than fought against like the closure of the mining pits etc a generation ago that achieved nothing. 

Both left and right now agree with analysis that it would be have been better to close the pits and try to retrain everybody with genuine new skills rather than leave them to fester in long-term unemployment. 

So maybe let's not do that again, for example technology means we need less retail workers but far more logistics workers, why not prepare the workforce for the economy now emerging rather than the one the sun has set on?