Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Japan's losses at Pearl Harbor were catastrophic

Today is the 75th anniversary of the attack by naval forces of Japan against American installations at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Here are two little-known facts about Japan's operations against Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and one better-known fact.

The destroyer USS Shaw explodes during the Imperial Japanese Navy's surprise attack on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. The attack was a tactical success but its plan was a strategic failure from the beginning. In just a few hours that day, Japan's navy lost more than one-fourth of its annual pilot accessions.
Little-known fact 1, which I learned recently reading Jim Dunnigan's article about the perils of declining flight hours of present-day US Air Force pilots: "the 29 pilots [Japan's navy] lost at Pearl Harbor represented more than a quarter of the annual crop" of new pilots (emphasis added). The reason? Japan's navy pilot training and certification program was at that time the most rigorous and difficult in the world. A trainee pilot needed 700 certified flight hours just to attain minimum status as a full-fledged fleet pilot. In contrast, at war's start, three-fourths of US Navy fleet pilots had fewer total flight hours than the least-experienced Japanese navy pilot. [See endnote for further discussion about these figures and assessment.] But the Japanese navy had shot itself in the foot enforcing such high standards. Its commanders deliberately, though not unreasonably, pursued very high quality over very high numbers, knowing that their country could not successfully wage a long war. Their intention was to put into the air such superior pilots that no enemy pilots could prevail even with larger numbers.
Early in the war many American pilots called their Japanese counterparts "Hell on wheels," and for good reason. 
But Japan's admirals did not account for the fact that their highly-skilled pilots would be just as vulnerable to American anti-aircraft fire as average pilots. They did not assess that American pilots, though not highly trained, would prove to be well trained. Consequently, in just the first year of the war the Imperial Japanese Navy lost so many pilots that it had to reform pilot accessions. By then it was too late. Japanese training flight hours steadily and finally sharply declined while US pilots' training hours steadily increased. In fact, from "late 1944 into 1945, nearly half the pilots in Japanese squadrons had flown fewer than 200 hours. The disparity of two years before had been completely reversed." The United States showed both in the Pacific and in Europe that it was possible to obtain both quantity and quality, but then, only the United States had both the human and material resources to do it. But it took time and cost many lives and aircraft. During the opening year or two of the war,
Some fighter pilots entered combat in 1942 with less than one hour in their assigned aircraft. 
The 357th Fighter Group (often known as The Yoxford Boys) went to England in late 1943 having trained on P-39s. The group never saw a Mustang until shortly before its first combat mission. A high-time P-51 pilot had 30 hours in type. Many had fewer than five hours. Some had one hour.
Despite such wartime exigencies, those American pilots did have an ever-increasing advantage that their enemies lacked: they were flying more and more hours in pilot training.
[T]he U.S. Navy was actually increasing its flight time, while keeping pilot training programs to about 18 months. In 1943, the U.S. Navy increased flight hours for trainees to 500, while Japan cut its hours to 500. In 1944, the U.S. hours went up to 525, while Japan cut it to 275 hours. In 1945, a shortage of fuel had Japanese trainee pilots flying only 90 hours before entering combat.
Only the United States had both the production capacity and the manpower to prevail under such conditions. "At its height in mid-1944, the Army Air Forces had 2.6 million people and 80,000 aircraft" and could absorb the loss of "14,903 pilots, aircrew and assorted personnel plus 13,873 airplanes — inside the continental United States" (emphasis added), or about 40 stateside accidents every day of the war. Another "43,581 aircraft were lost overseas" of which only a little more than half were combat losses.

But the same situation for both Japan and Germany was dire. "Through much of 1944, the Luftwaffe sustained uncontrolled hemorrhaging, reaching 25 percent of aircrews and 40 planes a month," an unsustainable loss rate for German industry and manpower to cope with, especially considering that Germany's aircraft plants were being bombed regularly. For both Germany and Japan, the main limiting factor in pilot training was fuel. Japan produced almost no domestic oil and America's submarine fleet priority-targeted Japan's tanker ships. It was very effective. Japan had rolled its dice on a short war. Its pilots took such severe losses in just a year that Japan's navy was never able to recover.

Little Known Fact 2: Japan's second air raid against Pearl Harbor was of much worse consequence strategically for Japan than the attack of 7 December 1941.
Another raid was planned just three months after the initial attack. The idea was to hit the carriers while in port and to disrupt the repairs of battleships that had been damaged in the December attack. This time, a large naval fleet would not be practicable as the element of surprise was lost. Instead, two giant flying boats - the most advanced in the world at the time - would make a daring attempt to attack Pearl Harbor at night.
The Japanese "Emily" long-range flying boat. Equipped with eight bombs each, two set out for a night attack against Pearl Harbor on March 4, 1942.
[T]he planes took off for a night bombing raid on Pearl Harbor. They flew to the French Frigate Shoals in the north western part of the Hawaiian Island chain, where they were refueled by the submarines I-17 and I-19, which had been modified with special tanks for carrying aviation fuel. Seven hours later, the planes approached Oahu.
Because there was no moonlight and it was raining, American air defenders could not locate the Japanese planes, though radar detected them.
Due to the cloud cover, the Japanese planes also could not find their targets and had to drop their bombs blind, some of which hit inland from the harbor and two at the harbor entrance. No ships were damaged. The flying boats returned to their base.
The raid was a worse failure than merely not hitting the targets. It didn't take long for US naval intelligence to figure out that the flying boats had to have refueled  at French Frigate Shoals, between Hawaii and Midway Island.

For the rest of the war, the US Navy made sure that Japan would never again use FFS for any reason. Only three months after this abortive air raid the US Navy sank four Japanese aircraft carriers and killed 2,500 officers and enlisted ranks at the Battle of Midway, losses that permanently placed Japan on the strategic defensive. Japanese intelligence had been convinced that the US could not defend against its fleet, mainly because USS Yorktown had been so badly damaged in May at the Battle of Coral Sea, where USS Lexington had been sunk. Yorktown did fight at Midway with full capability, though it was badly damaged by Japanese air attacks and was then sunk by a Japanese submarine.

Japan would have been better advised to use FFS as a station from which to refuel reconnaissance flights, not bombing missions, against Pearl Harbor. If so, it may have learned that Yorktown was en route to Midway along with two other carriers, and the outcome of the Midway battle might have been quite different.

Better-known fact: Japan's concentration on Dec. 7 against US Navy warships was incalculably bad planning and strategic analysis. Their target was the American fleet, mainly its aircraft carriers. But all the US carriers were at sea. The attacks against the US battleships were very successful, but they sank in shallow water, being moored next to Ford Island, and except for Arizona, and suffered relatively few deaths of crew. American airfields were also bombed and strafed, resulting in wholesale losses of American aircraft.

What Japan practically ignored was Pearl Harbor's logistic and shore-based, support facilities. In particular, attacks against fuel storage and transportation systems would have been devastating. I remember reading that the Navy assessed that such an attack would have mostly immobilized the Pacific Fleet for almost two years. (Since the battle, many historians have persistently reported that Japan's air commander, Mitsuo Fuchida, insisted to Admiral ChÅ«ichi Nagumo, commanding the strike fleet, that a third strike be launched against Pearl's oil infrastructure and dry-docks, but that Nagumo refused, ordering the fleet to withdraw since the at-sea US aircraft carriers' location was unknown. The problem with that account is that the raid's chief planner, Minoru Genda, maintained after the war that no third strike was ever planned or contemplated and that Fuchida never even broached the suggestion.)

IJN planners and admirals may have ignored the harbor's logistics vulnerabilities because they were mostly ignoring their own.  David C. Evans and Mark R. Peattie argue in Kaigun: Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy 1887-1941 that Japan's main reason for taking over Borneo and other areas of the southwest Pacific was to secure oil supplies for the homeland - yet the IJN gave this requirement practically no consideration either of planning or equipping. "Before the war, Japan needed ten million tons of merchant shipping to meet its needs." Yet after hostilities began and merchant shipping was snapped up by other requirements,
Only 30,000 tons of tankers remained to ship the essential oil supply from Borneo to the refineries in Japan. This lack of attention to the very aim of the war – oil – helps to explain why the oil supplies at Pearl Harbor were never targeted. The refusal to deal with logistics and mobilization issues affected the conduct of the war from the very beginning. 
Japan's high commanders, with very few exceptions, simply did not deal with such matters for themselves, and this nearly automatically led them to ignore such issues regarding their enemies. The most serious catastrophe for Japan at Pearl Harbor was its short-term focus on ships as targets. Before the war,  Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, commander of the Imperial Japanese combined fleet, argued strongly against going to war with the United States. He told the high command, "I shall run wild considerably for the first six months or a year but I have utterly no confidence for the second and third years." He was optimistic. In fact, the Japanese navy won battles for only four more months.

And that can be largely blamed (or credited, take your pick) on the tactical, rather than strategic focus of the Dec. 7 attack. Japan's lack of a national grand strategy or even the rudiments of deep strategic thinking are illustrated by asking one simple question: Why attack Pearl Harbor at all? Sherman Miles, who was serving at the highest level of the War Department on the day, wrote only three years after the war,
Had Japan not attacked us when the Washington conference failed, there were but two courses of action that could have resulted in our interference with her policy of conquest. The President might have persuaded Congress to declare war, or he might have interposed U.S. forces in the path of the Japanese advance. The Administration's difficulties would have been great and its success problematical in either case. And how the isolationist elements in the country—the “Hearst-McCormick-Patterson Axis,” “America First,” and others—would have howled! American lives to be sacrificed in defense of British and Dutch colonies, and Siam! All this the Japanese must have known. They certainly missed a bet, once they realized that their negotiations in Washington would fail, in not going about their southern business and leaving us out on a limb.
Japan's rulers seem to have simply assumed that the US would militarily block Japan's actions against the nations or European-ruled territories of the southwest Pacific area. But that betrays a severe misunderstanding, nay outright ignorance, of America's domestic politics and naval capabilities.

Japan's invasion of the US-ruled Philippines, started the same day as the Pearl Harbor attack, would certainly have evoked American military countermeasures. But what and for how long and with what result? The Navy Department did not conceive of the US Pacific Fleet as a force-projection fleet, but as a deterrent against Japanese movements against Hawaii and the American mainland. Hawaii was at that time considered to be the far-western bulwark against Japanese expansionism. In fact, says Miles, "I remember Admiral Kelly Turner expressing in a British-American staff conference, six months before Pearl Harbor, his confidence in our ability to hold the Japanese Navy in home waters simply by having our fleet cruise in the mid-Pacific." Moreover, US naval opposition to Japan's moves would have been militarily impossible, not just politically:
It has been argued that the Japanese were bound to attack our fleet on resuming their policy of conquest because it constituted an intolerable strategic threat on their flank. The fleet was certainly an important element in Pacific strategy, and its damage or elimination was highly desirable from the Japanese point of view. But as a matter of fact, it was not an immediate menace to Japan, nor could it have seriously deterred her in the early months of whatever campaign she might decide to initiate behind the shield of her mandate islands. For our fleet, in any operations in the Far East, would have been distinctly inferior to the Japanese in air and sea power and particularly in logistic support. We had no bases beyond Hawaii capable of handling the fleet. We lacked the “train,” the great force of supply and repair ships, that would be necessary for such distance operations. This also the Japanese must have known. Not even the most extreme misconception as to the relative efficiency of the opposing forces would have led our fleet so far from its base for a considerable period of time. Or if it had, Admiral Yamamoto could have solved his problem still more tragically for us.
Solving the problem "more tragically" means simply that had the Pacific Fleet attempted to engage Japan's navy on the open sea, it would have lost more severely than at Pearl Harbor, with ships, including our few aircraft carriers, sunk to the deep ocean bottom and enormously higher losses of crews. Such a likely outcome was explicitly stated by Admiral Chester Nimitz in 1964:
... Admiral Chester Nimitz, who took over as commander of the Pacific Fleet three weeks after the attack, concluded that "it was God's mercy that our fleet was in Pearl Harbor on December 7". If [Admiral Husband] Kimmel [commanding the Pacific Fleet on Dec. 7] had "had advance notice that the Japanese were coming, he most probably would have tried to intercept them. With the difference in speed between Kimmel's battleships and the faster Japanese carriers, the former could not have come within rifle range of the enemy's flattops. As a result, we would have lost many ships in deep water and also thousands more in lives." ... This was also the assessment of Joseph Rochefort, head of Station HYPO, who remarked the attack was cheap at the price.
Nimitz was clear that the fate of Pearl Harbor's fleet engaging the IJN on the open sea would have been its destruction. Station HYPO, btw, was the "United States Navy signals monitoring and cryptographic intelligence unit in Hawaii during World War II." One must wonder why Japan did not leave the US fleet alone at Pearl and make its moves against the Philippines and elsewhere, wait for the US fleet to sally forth, and then destroy it on the open ocean. That had after all been the IJN's basic planning template for 20 years. Miles explains that American Army and Navy planners badly and consistently underestimated Japan's military capabilities and skills. Might the Japanese have overestimated those of the Americans? This despite the fact that the US fleet of late 1941 was a mere shadow of that which would turn the entire Pacific Ocean into an American pond by the end of 1944.

The IJN's overarching strategy was called kantai kessen, "decisive battle." It came from Japan's resounding naval defeat of Russia in 1905 in the Russo-Japanese war's Battle of Tsushima. It was postulated on drawing an enemy into a single engagement where the enemy fleet would be crushed by attacking Japanese battleships and cruisers. Even though by the mid-1930s forward-looking Japanese officers knew the aircraft carrier and modern submarines had rendered the kantai kessen doctrine obsolete, they were neither numerous nor senior enough to change the high command's steadfastness to it.

Their basic plan since the 1920s was this: The decisive battle would take place north of the Marianas Islands within easy sailing distance by the Japanese Combined Fleet with total offensive combat operations phased over two weeks. Yet this long-held, well-developed operational concept was abandoned in favor of a three-hour air raid. Why?

Japan's Pacific empire before the Pearl Harbor attack
The answer is that they thought the attack against the US fleet at Pearl Harbor would be decisive, at least decisive enough to enable Japan to conquer its new targets and cement an unbreakable hold on them. But of course, this was a fatally-flawed calculation. Military historian Gary A. Gustafson summarized Japan's strategic deficiencies thus:
The Japanese way of war envisioned by Akiyama, validated at Tsushima, codified by Sato, and instilled in the IJN by the Naval Staff College, was an amalgamation of Western and Eastern thought combined with the samurai traditions of Japan. By ignoring the complete lessons of the outsiders, the IJN created a doctrine that was limited to a single mode of war. ... IJN doctrine created an offensive mindset; but, not to invade, conquer and annihilate. Rather, it was to lure in and ambush. Offensive action for the IJN meant raids that helped to dictate the course of battle and manipulate their enemy into a complex, inflexible trap at the time and place of their choosing. It was a tactical doctrine of battle, not a strategic doctrine of war. 
Miles says that neither America's estimate (overly low as it was) of Japan's abilities nor the disadvantages accruing to America if America bore the burden of initiating war with Japan (in response to its new territorial seizures) were lost on the American War and Navy Departments. They agreed that the US would go to war with Japan sooner or later.
The high command of our Army and Navy thought they had prepared for either eventual or immediate war, so far as it was humanly possible to do so. But still it was difficult to predict, and indeed we did not predict that the Japanese would commit so great a blunder as Pearl Harbor, gratuitously unifying the war spirit and potential of America. We overestimated their intelligence. That blunder in the realm of high policy eventually cost Japan her empire. But that was not all. On the lower plane of tactics the Japanese decision to attack Pearl Harbor by surprise involved enormous risks. As [US Army Chief of Staff] General Marshall later testified: “A surprise is either a triumph or a catastrophe. If it proved to be a catastrophe, the entire Japanese campaign was ruined.”
General Marshall understated the result. Not just a campaign but Japan itself, as a whole, was ruined by the catastrophe of its attack on Pearl Harbor. Update: Business Insider has a good photo essay of the attack. So does the Buffalo (NY) News. Update, Dec. 9: Retired US Navy Commander Dr. Alan D. Zimm of the Strike Systems Analysis Group of The Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory emails an inquiry of the claim, above, that Japanese navy pilots were as highly trained as I indicate, and that his own information is that,
... before Pearl Harbor, basic flight training for Japanese aviators was about 400 hours.  This did not include any advanced flight training or tactical training.  Advanced training and tactical training, and thing like gunnery training, was accomplished at the operational unit level.  As a preliminary to Pearl Harbor, most of the aviators below the Daitai leadership level (some of which were China veterans) got an additional 100 hours of training, that brought their average flight hours up to about 500-600 hours.
So I am sending him my source citation and we'll see where this shakes out. Dr. Zimm also has online at the US Naval Institute a very interesting article on how the Japanese air commander at Pearl, Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, botched the air raid significantly by signaling the strike aircraft that surprise attack had not been achieved (which it certainly had been), how this error reduced Japanese effectiveness, and how Fuchida tried to CYA about it after the war. See, "Commander Fuchida's Decision." Further, Dec. 14: Dr. Zimm holds in very high suspicion the figure of 700 training flight hours that Jim Dunnigan reported and that I used near the beginning of this post. Dr. Zimm says via email that the characterization of Japanese pilot training as "the most rigorous and difficult in the world" is also not justified by other Japanese accounts:
Two examples:  the Shokaku and Zuikaku aviators could not get night flying certified, and so the launch time of the attack had to be put back to dawn, from the original concept that the attack would launch in the dark and arrive over Pearl Harbor at dawn. 
The second is that the Zero pilots got very little gunnery training before Pearl, because they had to concentrate on launch and recovery, deck handling, and basic airmanship such as formation flying.
This caused me to revisit the autobiographical account of the highest-scoring Japanese ace of the war, Saburo Sakai, who scored 64 kills, four of them after recovering from grievous wounds, including being blinded in one eye. His account is in the book, Samurai, as told to US aviation historian Martin Caiden. Sakai does not discuss in very great detail his months of flight training. So a point summary from chapter 3 is:
  • Constant aggressiveness was drilled into them and enforced ruthlessly, but this training was nt oriented toward actually flying a plane. It was a quality desired, not a skill. 
  • The first month was ground training, after which began primary flight lessons.
  • The total course length was 10 months, during which 45 of the original 70 pilot trainees washed out. 
  • There was no physical punishment (such as beatings, which were commonplace in Japanese training) because the trainee's fear of being dropped made it unnecessary. One trainee was expelled literally the evening before graduation for a rules infraction.
  • The physical training courses were "among the severest in Japan" and included difficult swimming requirements (which makes sense for naval pilots). 
  • This training including diving lessons to improve sense of balance for later aerobatics. Diving was from high platforms into water and later onto the ground from height, always required to land on their feet. "Naturally, there were errors - with disastrous results."
  • Acrobatics was taught for the same reasons. 
In chapter 4: "Despite our excellent and arduous instruction, several pilots from my group [graduating class] were later killed by enemy pilots before gaining even a single victory." In fact, Sakai was the only pilot of his class to survive the war. After graduation he and the others were assigned to units for "service training." The pilots already there, he said, had skills that were "astonishing." This phase lasted three months, consisting of carrier qualifications and land-based flying and combat training. He found carrier landings especially challenging to master, though for the whole war he never flew even one combat mission from a carrier. So was the training of Japanese pilots rigorous and difficult? Unquestionably. The IJN received 1,500 applicants for a place in Sakai's training class, accepted 70 and graduated 25. The course's rigor and difficulty can't be denied, but what can be questioned, as I believe Dr. Zimm is doing, is whether its rigor and difficulty were actually all that beneficial for combat performance. This is highly open to question. That at least some was can't be gainsaid; Sakai points out that developing very fast reflexes and improving eyesight cognition were literally lifesavers in battle. But it's pretty unclear what somersault dives from 10 meters onto hard ground deliver besides some unnecessary casualties. Here is what Sakai says about this post's topic, however:

And I will let that be the last word.

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Monday, September 26, 2016

What is "nothing?" No one knows

What Is The Physics Of Nothing?

When we want to talk about nothing, our conceptions take us outside of space and before the Universe began, yet does that even make sense? How can you talk about “outside” when you don’t have space? How can you talk about “before” anything if you don’t have time?

And yet, whatever “nothingness” truly is, it contains the entire Universe. (Philosophically, this is a longstanding tenet of Buddhism.)
 Many physicists claim that there’s no way to understand anything, fundamentally, until we understand nothing. And although our understanding of it is partial — which is to say, we understand the fundamental, basic laws of nature that govern empty spacetime — we don’t understand from whence those fundamental laws arise, and whether they themselves are a “thing.”
Here's the problem. The universe began with the Big Bang, but this term is misleading. The Big Bang was not an explosion of the universe coming into being as we usually think of explosions. Because of the uniformity of cosmic background radiation across all the observed universe, physicists say that everything that exists started off together. But the origin was only a point and this point was not in space (since space didn't exist yet) and not in time (since time time didn't exist yet). Hence, they call it a "singularity," but all that means is "we don't know." They may as well call it a huffelump or farfsnegoplin.

The problem with this theory is the problem of inflation. No, not what we await happening to our currency, but the unimaginably small time that began the universe. Most people know that the universe is expanding, but not many non-astronomers are familiar with the theory of inflation, which reveals that the term "Big Bang" is misleading, Instead, says NASA's "Universe 101" web site, the universe's creation "is better thought of as the simultaneous appearance" of the universe everywhere there is the universe.

Inflation theory holds that the universe went from nothing at all to more than 99 percent of its present size in less than one-billionth of a billionth of a second – which is to say, instantly. So while empirical data, especially the uniformity of cosmic background radiation, support the conclusion that the universe began from a single point, from any reasonable human perspective there was no explosion. The universe simply appeared everywhere at once, instantaneously.

While no illustration can really represent the very technical theories here, the "nothing" problem can be thought of as, "What is outside the cone?" That is, if you go to the farthest point of the universe, what is one meter beyond that?

The Einsteinian answer is that because matter, the universe, curves space, there is no such thing as the "farthest point" of the universe except in a relative way, and that there is no "one meter" beyond that because there is no beyond at all. But this answer does not satisfy present-day physicists.
A few things are certain: we have not always existed; we will not always exist; we exist right now. Whatever nothingness truly is, we are all something right now. And whatever exists right now, it did, at some level, come from nothing, no matter how you define nothing. And as best as we understand the Universe, it will return to a state approaching an infinite, physical nothingness as well. But as to just what the nature of the ultimate “nothingness” truly is? That’s still, perhaps, the secret we’re all fundamentally searching for.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

How we perish in Paradise

From Wrath of Gnon:

Richard Fernandez:

... words and history have surprisingly little force. They convince people headed for the cliff not in the least. People only believe in consequences when it happens to them. Then remorse kicks in piteously and it is "Oh God save me and I will never do it again." ...

That's why the stories in the Bible have a depressing sameness. They always involve idiots who mess up and persecute every prophet sent to warn them until disaster strikes and then it's "help! Help!" We honor the prophets only after we bury them. Before that they're too busy making a getaway from us.

The story of mankind is the tale of someone who wakes up in Paradise and decides to burn it down. Happens every time. It doesn't matter that the survivors wrote it all down for our edification, because we'll just stop reading the Bible and watch some 'reality' TV show. ...

Each time mankind gets up from catastrophe it says "mebbe this time, maybe next time." Maybe never.
George Bernard Shaw once observed, ""We learn from history that we learn nothing from history." This is true, but incomplete. Why do we not learn from history? Perhaps this passage from A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller is a clue:
The closer men came to perfecting themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew in richness and power and beauty; for then, perhaps, it was easier for them to see that something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle's eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn.
We burn down paradise over and over because we cannot tolerate it in fact, only in wishing. But now I am not confident that we even yearn for it. I see the state of the 2016, North American church and I realize that we have not moved a tick on the chart closer to embodying the Kingdom of God than our ancestors of 1916. Or 1816. Or 1416. And the record of the ancient Jews shows that they never did, either.

If civilizations are never murdered but commit suicide, we are well underway. I would call upon the North American Church to re-fulfill its calling, but this assumes that it ever did fulfill it to begin with and that our failures are of recent vintage. Of the former I cannot recite much evidence and of the latter I cite the 1963 “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” by Martin Luther King, Jr. in which he lamented,

The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent, or often vocal, sanction of things as they are.
But I am trying to discern an historical time when this was not the case and I cannot.

Plato and Moses alike would be stunned (or maybe not) that the human race has learned nothing in the last few thousand years. Neither the ancient Jews nor Christians of the last 2,000 years have been reliably faithful to their Covenants. Our  histories are of occasional faithfulness to our Covenants and then usually-prolonged abandonment of them. The main difference is that the Jews understood themselves better than we Christians have. Over and over we have had to learn what St. Paul wrote to the church in Galatia: "God can't be disregarded. You will harvest what you plant."

Brothers and sisters, the harvest is coming in. It is coming in good and hard. For the severest punishment God ever lays on us is to let us have what we want.

Update: Near the end of his life, John Wesley, principal founder of the Methodist movement, understood that the "people called Methodist" would not disappear after his death, but he nonetheless was filled with some foreboding:

1. I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.

2. What was their fundamental doctrine? That the Bible is the whole and sole rule both of Christian faith and practice.
But he foretold what would happen only a few paragraphs later:
9. It nearly concerns us to understand how the case stands with us at present. I fear, wherever riches have increased, (exceeding few are the exceptions,) the essence of religion, the mind that was in Christ, has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore do I not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality; and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.

10. How, then, is it possible that Methodism, that is, the religion of the heart, though it flourishes now as a green bay-tree, should continue in this state? For the Methodists in every place grow diligent and frugal; consequently, they increase in goods. Hence they proportionably increase in pride, in anger, in the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life. So, although the form of religion remains, the spirit is swiftly vanishing away.
And what is the UMC today? Only formally the United Methodist Church, for in habit and thinking more and more Upper Middle Class (of whom I include myself, so I throw no darts that do not boomerang back to me).

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The ruins of the Meathead Generation

There was a hugely popular TV series in the 1970s called All in the Family, starring Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker, a blue-collar northeasterner of very outspoken traditional values. Rob Reiner played his son-in-law, Michael, very liberal, unemployed (a permanent student), who lived in Archie's house along with his wife, Archie's daughter (of course).

Archie called his son in law "Meathead," and viewing only one episode convinced you why. Reiner's character was a snooty, self-impressed, never-wrong, empty-headed jerk.

Very recently, Reiner, whose intellect and personality show that he was perfectly cast as Michael, disparaged people with political views unlike his as uneducated, ignorant, racist know nothings, etc. What Reiner's smug tirade shows is what has happened with what some commentators have called the "Meathead Generation," which makes sense:
Meathead was a loudmouth know-it-all boomer, who enjoyed lecturing his father-in-law about the terribleness of America and the men that had made the country. The irony was that Meathead lived off the people he ridiculed. Archie, the patriarch, worked and paid the bills while his daughter and son-in-law lived in his house. It was a perfect metaphor for what was happening in the country. The parasites were determined to kill the host, but in the mean time they were perfectly willing to enjoy the fruits the host had accumulated.

Years ago, the great Paul Gottfried remarked that the country had long been taken over by the Meathead generation and their ethics. The Archie Bunkers were all gone. By that he meant traditional working and middle class America had been lost and the country was now run by fashionable liberals, who occupied the first ruling elite in history to be actively working to destroy the foundation on which it rests. Look around the culture and all the high ground is occupied by degenerate boomers, who carry on as if it is still 1968. [HT: American Digest]
Which is pretty interesting because I am a early mid-term Boomer. Having lived a year into my seventh decade now, I want to avoid sounding like one of those old geezers who says, "Back in my day . . ." But I will say, well, that back in my day my peers and I were actually taught Truth existed that was not mere opinion and was still true whether it made you happy, sad, angry or contented. We did believe, and I still do, that there was (and is) such a thing as absolute truth, like it or not.

Yes, the idea of absolute truth was closely linked to religious belief and that just what absolute truth was differed between religions and often between even denominations of a religion. My point here is not what declarations are or are not absolute truth, but that across the great majority of Americans there was conceptual agreement that there was such a thing as absolute truth, even if we did not all agree on the particulars.

That conceptual agreement is gone today.

  • In 1997, 50% of Christians and 25% of non-Christians said that there are moral truths which are unchanging, and that truth is absolute, not relative to the circumstances.
  • In 2000-JAN, they found that 38% of adult Americans believed that absolute true exists. 
  • Later in 2000, 40% of individuals involved in a Christian disciplining process believed that there is no such thing as absolute moral truth. 
  • In 2001-NOV, another Barna poll showed that adults believing in absolute truth had dropped almost in half -- to 22%. 
In short order, the idea of absolute truth was replaced by relative truth, that declarations could be true based on their circumstances, or that a statement might be true for Thelma but not for Louise. The problem is not that this idea of truth has no validity; the conceptual affirmation of absolute truth never meant that nothing was true unless it was absolutely true. The problem is that relative truth has come to be affirmed as the only kind of truth there is.

That means that truth is nothing more than opinion. And if there is no Truth, there is no falsehood, either. Yet something must serve as the basis for making decisions, especially moral decisions. Hence the rapid downhill slide to this: "Americans Are Most Likely to Base Truth on Feelings."

Truth Is Relative, Say Americans 
In two national surveys conducted by Barna Research, one among adults and one among teenagers, people were asked if they believe that there are moral absolutes that are unchanging or that moral truth is relative to the circumstances. By a 3-to-1 margin (64% vs. 22%) adults said truth is always relative to the person and their situation. The perspective was even more lopsided among teenagers, 83% of whom said moral truth depends on the circumstances, and only 6% of whom said moral truth is absolute.

The gap between teen and adult views was not surprising, however, when the adult views are considered by generation. While six out of ten people 36 and older embraced moral relativism, 75% of the adults 18 to 35 did so. Thus, it appears that relativism is gaining ground, largely because relativism appears to have taken root with the generation that preceded today’s teens. ...

The surveys also asked people to indicate the basis on which they make their moral and ethical decisions. Six different approaches were listed by at least 5% of the teenagers interviewed, and eight approaches were listed by at least 5% of adults. In spite of the variety communicated, there was a clear pattern within both groups. By far the most common basis for moral decision-making was doing whatever feels right or comfortable in a situation. Nearly four out of ten teens (38%) and three out of ten adults (31%) described that as their primary consideration.
That article was published in 2002. Since then, the trend has only intensified. Note that sentence, "... relativism is gaining ground, largely because relativism appears to have taken root with the generation that preceded today’s teens." In the intervening 14 years, we have begun our third generation of truthlessness. I am a Boomer so the move to relativism began in my generation, the Boomers born after me, I am guessing, which would be the majority of them. At the time this article was published, Boomers' kids were barely in their teens at the young end and 50-plus at the old.

From the idea that all truth is relative (which is a self-contradictory statement when you think about it) is a short slide to three highly dysfunctional beliefs and practices, about which more another time:

1. With no idea of transcendent authority, human relationships become merely contests of power.

2. Religion is suppressed but the inherent religious nature of humanity simply finds other outlets.

3. Human life is meaningless and serves no higher purpose because there is no higher purpose to serve. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

When I drove an Indy Race car

I cashed in my gift certificate yesterday to the Mario Andretti Racing Experience. It was at Kentucky Speedway. The weather was perfect, sunny and temps in the high 70s for my slot with the 10 a.m. group. I had eight minutes of driving time. Details after the video; the camera was a GoPro (model unknown) mounted just aft the top of my head:

Okay, here is some information you will want to know before you decide to buy. They will tell you all this in your pre-drive class, but it's good to know ahead of time:
  1. This is, just as advertised, a real race car. It had slight mods for use by the non-professionals who will be driving it, but otherwise, it's the same as the cars you see every Memorial Sunday at the Brickyard. 
    1. One of the mods is that you do not shift gears. The instructor explained that the transmissions are four-speed but they have fixed them in fourth gear because they got tired of repairing transmissions. So when they start your car they push you from the rear with a large ATV while you push the clutch pedal to the floor. When your driving controller, speaking to you by radio, tells you to let off the clutch and give it some gas, the motor engages and off you go. 
    2. There is an RPM limiter that kicks in at 5,000 RPM. I think this is track specific, though. The instructor explained that maximum power and speed will be achieved just below that. I am pretty sure the reason for it is so that the car won't spin out in the curves. The instructor said several times, "Do not back off the throttle when you enter a curve. You cannot drive fast enough on this track to make the car spin on a curve, so maintain speed." I found this to be true.
    3. You do not have either a speedometer or a tachometer, although for all I know neither do the racing versions. The controller is always telling you (and race drivers) info about speed anyway, so there really is no need for either.
  2. There are three cars on the track at one time plus a dual-cockpit car for people who just want the speed sensation without driving. These are driven by professional drivers and will stay and the outside of the track. Trust me, they will also pass everyone else. 
  3. You paid-for time includes all the time your car is in motion, which includes the time you spend on the apron exiting pit row, which takes a half lap, and the time you spend returning there at the end, which is another half lap. Altogether, this will come to 1.5-2.0 minutes so frankly, if you do only the five-minute event, you won't do much driving at speed. 
  4. While driving, your controller will tell you when to merge onto the track when starting off and when to exit back to the apron to wrap it up. He will also tell you what pace to drive starting out, which will not be fast because he will not turn you loose until he knows you're not going to do something stupid and will follow directions. This is important: with other cars entering the track or exiting all the time, you may pass other cars only (a) on a straightaway and (b) when the controller says so. Screw this up and he may kill your engine remotely. 
  5. Speaking of the radio-connected controller, they really need to consider what in my military career were called "pro-words," or procedure words. I learned that the controller used the same terms to say that I was about to be passed or could pass (or not) someone else. This was very confusing and they seriously need to have different phrases for one and the other. Another example is how air traffic controllers and pilots talk; their phrasing is very exact and terms are very specific. When I was flying I was taught that I would be "cleared" only for takeoffs, never for landings or taxiing or anything else. So, as once happened to me, when you are short final to land and you hear the controller say, "static you are cleared for static" you know he's not talking to you and you'd better start looking for an airplane trying to take off on the same runway you have already been given permission to land! At the race track, audio you get in your headphones is not crystal clear anyway, so single-meaning words and short phrases would be a big help.
  6. These cars steering response is very sensitive. There is no need to turn the wheel more than a little bit. The faster you go, the more the car sticks to the track; it's actually more secure to go through the curves faster than slower. Also, the track's banking and leveling work very well to keep the car on course. 
  7. When they say, repeatedly, to stay at least five feet above the solid yellow line marking the beginning of the apron, they mean it. No driver in my group failed to do this, but the instructors were very clear: in an Indy car, if your wheel touches that line, you will wreck. The Indy car is very rigid and unforgiving of such. 
  8. When the controller tells you that you can open it up, go right ahead. The car is very powerful (duh) and will burst forward. Because you are siting so close to the track's surface, you will think you are going faster than you are, so if you feel confident, push it. Remember, the car is stabler faster. (This is my one regret, that I didn't push it as much as I retrospectively wish I had.) 
All this being said, it was a great experience, one like I've never had before, even when driving about that fast on the Autobahn in Germany.

I can also understand why there were so many repeat drivers in my group. One time does not give you enough familiarity with the car to really get up to high speed. So maybe there's another drive coming sometime in the future.

It was definitely fun, although not a passive kind of fun. This is not a passive experience at all! It's kind of like going on an extreme roller coaster, and discovering that you're not merely riding you're also having to drive it and you don't know which curves may throw you off the track if you take them at the wrong speed or wrong angle.

But yes, I would do it again in a heartbeat! Here are a few photos:

Pit row
Waiting to go.

I am in the red car, center. The cockpit is pretty tight to get into since the top opening is smaller than the interior. You don't have any spare room once positioned, but you do have enough. You are actually mostly lying down; legs straight in front and back angle well off vertical. 

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Stunning movement of the Lord in Iraq

Despite threat from ISIS, 100 children receive First Communion in Iraq

The first communion Mass in Alqosh was an historic moment for a “frontier town” that has been under threat from the militants of the Islamic State (IS) for a long time. Now it can “hope for peace and normalcy” around these hundred children, said Mgr Basil Yaldo, auxiliary bishop of Baghdad and close associate of the Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako.
The Chaldean primate presided over the ceremony that was attended by “all the priests of the city, the nuns and more than 700 people. The faithful were excited because for the first time, the patriarch celebrated communions in the community.” 
Like many other towns in Iraqi Kurdistan, Alqosh too welcomed scores of refugees.
“Life in the area is almost back to normal,” said the vicar of Baghdad. “We hope that soon the whole plain [of Nineveh] can be liberated from the jihadists, and that refugees can return to their villages.” 
The work to secure the area, he added, has “already started and for the past two days Iraqi troops have launched the battle to liberate the villages surrounding Mosul.” 
…Addressing the boys and girls who received the first communion, Patriarch Sako urged them not to abandon their land, the city of Alqosh, but to stay and help in the reconstruction “because there is a (Christian) heritage to be preserved. ” 
The Chaldean primate, Mgr Yaldo noted, also called on young people to “be stronger, come to church and participate in the life of the Christian community as one participates in the life of a family.” 
After the service, the children asked Patriarch Sako some questions. One of them, Mgr Yaldo noted, said that when he “grows up he wants to become a priest to serve the poor and the needy.” 
The patriarch could not hold back his emotion after listening to such words, adding that “it is important to support and share the suffering.”

Monday, August 15, 2016

The uncurious minds of news reporters

As an illustration of the typical cluelessness of the American media, I offer this piece on the future of the United States artillery from The National Interest, "The US Army's New Battlefield 'Big Gun' Has a Dangerous Defect."

The issue of the article is the lack of a fully-functional fire-suppression system aboard the "Paladin M109A7 PIM — the latest in America’s line of tracked artillery pieces ," photo above. But the fire-suppression system is not my point here. In the article we read:
In 2002’s Operation Anaconda, the U.S. clashed with hundreds of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters without any large-caliber artillery. Yet with a more entrenched U.S. troop presence in the following years came an increasing reliance on big guns which — in places — fired relentlessly.

Case in point, one artillery battalion in Afghanistan’s mountainous and remote Kunar province lobbed around 25,000 rounds — including mortar rounds — in a year, according to the New York Times.
A 155mm howitzer battalion has 18 howitzers, which we colloquially refer to as "guns" even though they are not guns, they are howitzers.

Now do the math on that artillery unit in Afghanistan and you will immediately see why the story should read, "one artillery battalion in Afghanistan’s mountainous and remote Kunar province lobbed a mere 25,000 rounds  in a year."

Although neither The National Interest nor The New York Times identifies what battalion fired those 25,000 rounds, the odds are near certain that it was a battalion equipped with the M777, 155mm howitzer. Wikipedia has a decent write-up.

As you can see, it is significantly different from the Paladin pictured above, although both guns shoot exactly the same ammunition. The Triple-7 is towed by a truck rather than self-propelled like the M109-series howitzers. The truck also carries crew, ammo and supplies. Towed guns were used in Afghanistan because they were easier to deploy and because in many cases were simpler to move from one place to another over the rugged terrain (mainly because they are so much lighter).

So a battalion of artillery has 18 of these guns. Here is the arithmetic that is so simple anyone but an NYT reporter can do it, including my daughter who was only 2 years old when I retired from the Army and so did not grow up in this culture:

Question: "Is 'fired relentlessly' and apt term for a battalion of 18 guns that fired 25,000 rounds in a year?"

(playing Jeopardy music . . .)
  1. 25,000 / 365 days per year = 68.5 rounds per day fired, average.
  2. 68.5 rounds per day / 18 guns = (TA DA!) fewer than four rounds per day per gun. 
Does that sound "relentless" to you? The maximum rate of fire of the M777 is 5 rounds per minute. But timing begins at the zero-second mark when the first round is fired. That means that 36 seconds later, that crew is done for the day. The crew spent 0.043 percent of the day "relentlessly" firing their howitzer.

This is by no means any criticism of the artillery crews. Artillery is an "on-demand" combat weapon. It does not make up on its own where or when to shoot. Artillery fire is requested by other arms, mainly infantry and armor, but can also be called for by aviators or assigned by higher commanders. At any rate, what this extremely low use of artillery means is one or more of the following,
  • Actual battles with enemy forces were relatively rare,
  • When they did occur they were small unit actions and/or at such close ranges that using artillery was impractical
  • Rule of Engagement were very restrictive on using a weapon of such destructive power,
  • Target location was imprecise,
A little historical scale now. In the Korean War
In one 24-hour period during the battle for Bloody Ridge, the 15th FA Bn fired 14,425 rounds. Additionally, from 26 August through 2 September 1951, in support of the 2nd ID during the battle of Heartbreak Ridge, the 15th FA Bn fired 69,956 rounds.
That battalion's guns fired an average of 601 rounds each in that one day, or 150 times as many as that unit cited in the NYT. But consider that 601 battalion rounds per day works out to 33 rounds per gun per hour, or about one every two minutes - and since this battalion used 105mm howitzers, that was much less physically challenging than shooting a 155mm gun since the heavier gun is well, heavier, with its munitions weighing about three times as much as the 105mm.

The trick for the 15th FA gunners in Korea was not shooting every 120 seconds, which is quite easy on that gun (my first unit in my service was in a 105mm unit). The trick is to keep that going for 24 straight hours. I guarantee those gunners were exhausted at the end!

The second example, 69,956 rounds in a six-day period, is a lower rate of fire, 486 battalion rounds per hour, or 27 per gun per hour, a little under one round every two minutes. Again, not physically challenging unless you keep it going for six straight days!

But either case would certainly qualify as "firing relentlessly."

My point in this is that you may now understand why I am very skeptical of what the civilian press reports about military matters, and the more technical the subject is the the more skeptical I get. When I was not blowing things up in the artillery, I served in my alternate specialty of public affairs, including as chief of media relations for XVIII Airborne Corps and Ft Bragg. With not many exceptions, reporters tend to be uncurious people. They generally just write down what someone tells them and that's that.

As my boss used to say, "Reporters don't say what happened. They say what somebody said happened." That's a good thing, actually; you don't want reporters just making stuff up (which a fair number do anyway) but jeepers, who said that this firing in Afghanistan was "relentless?" NYT reporter Wesley Morgan did, that's who, and he thought so because he didn't have the curiosity to run the numbers.

That said, the Interest's brief commentary on the lack of long range on our howitzers is well taken. The concluding line is, "in an artillery war, range is everything." Yet that is only half right. There are two things that are everything in an artillery war: range, accuracy, and responsiveness.

Oh, wait, make that three three things that are everything: range, accuracy, responsiveness and lethality.

Four! In an artillery war, there are four things that are everything: range, accuracy, responsiveness, lethality, and mobility.

In an artillery war there are five things that are everything: range, accuracy, responsiveness, lethality, mobility, and logistics... .

See my point? One thing is not everything in any operation or war. Why does this reporter think so? Well, it makes a good tag line. But also because frankly, he don't know nuthin' about what he's writing about.

BTW, my daughter who knew PDQ that 25K rounds in a year was not "firing relentlessly" is a chemical engineer, so she went to the math right away. But really, this isn't math, it's simple arithmetic and logic, grade school level.

Additional reading: "U.S. Army Field Artillery Relevance on the Modern Battlefield"

Oh, and just for the humor break, my closing grafs about the things that are everything in artillery war uses this famous template.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

"Honey, sorry I am going to have you blown to smithereens."

Saw this on one of my FB feeds and it brought back some memories.

Under the nets are 155mm self-propelled howitzers taking part in the REturn of FORces to GERmany (hence, REFORGER) exercises that took place by US Army Europe from the 1960s to the end of the 1980s. This is from the 1986 exercise; I do not know which unit.

The one in 1984 took place in the severest winter Germany had experienced since WW2. I froze my kundingi off. I was a battery commander  in 2d Battalion, 3d Field Artillery, 3d Armored Division. My battalion was stationed in the town of Butzbach, West Germany, about 55 km north of Frankfurt.

At the time, my wife and I lived in a very nice, govt.-contracted duplex in Dorf-Guell, near Giessen, pinned here in this screen grab from Google Earth:

This was a northern Reforger (they alternated north and south in the country), so the town was in the thick of the action. During the exercise one day I pulled into a phone booth to call Cathy. She told me that an aviation unit had set up field operations in the very large fields behind our house. I already knew that was "enemy" territory.

So, artilleryman that I was, I apologized to her that I was going to have her blown to bits. Then I grabbed the grids off my map sets and sent it with target description to 3AD Division Artillery's operations center. From there it got handed off to V Corps Artillery, which moonscaped the field (in an exercise-y sort of way) with 8-inch artillery. Darn shame about my wife, though.

Later I learned that Divarty had actually credited her by name as the target-intel source, though, so she had that going for her at least.

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Friday, July 29, 2016

American generations

Here is a summary of the prevailing characteristics of each American generation born starting in 1900 and ending with the generation born since 2001: "The Six Living Generations In America."

This author, though, says that generational characteristics are not sharp between generations, and hence "here is a 'fuzzy' consensus on the characteristics of each generation" X, Y and Z.

The American Management Association offers its own summaries of the generations related to the workplace, "Leading the Four Generations at Work."

This is a brief summary of "Members of each generation: perceived characteristics."

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Jesus does not endorse your candidate

Earlier this month, columnist Richard Fernandez wrote,
The problem may turn out to be not whether Christianity can survive the modern world, but whether the modern world can survive without Christianity. The naive assumption of 19th century Marxists was that after belief was abolished, what was essentially a Christian morality would continue to guide the world though without its religious overtones.

They thought that even without God men would not kill or steal or lie or covet their neighbor's wives. Through the operation of some sort of "decency" things would go on much as before, but with electricity and central planning. They thought this because they had lived in an immersive religious system for so long they were no more aware of it than fish notice water.

But as it turned out "decency" was much more fragile than they thought. If the 20th century showed that man unfettered could create monstrous totalitarian belief systems, the 21st is rapidly demonstrating that rather than accept an inner vacuum millions would rather fill it with strange gods if the gods of their fathers were no longer on offer.

Fish may not notice water when it is there. But they do notice it when it is gone.

Perhaps the major challenge of the 21st century is to reinvent Christianity or something like it. Man does not live by bread alone and if that hunger will not be met by God it will be sated by the spirit of darkness.
And so, in a different context than Richard wrote, we come to this year's presidential election. The problem, to paraphrase Richard a little, may turn out to be not whether Christianity can survive modern America, but whether modern America can survive without Christianity. 

There is no "Christian" candidate

The naive assumption of many religionists on both side of the American political aisle seems to be that their only one candidate, but not the other, can sustain Christian morality in the national polity.

It beggars words to describe how foolish - indeed, how un-Christian - this belief is. I find it impossible to affirm even in the smallest way that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump care a fig about the Christian religion at all, no matter what they claim, and at least Trump has the forthrightness not to claim any particular religion at all. Trump's religion is Trump. There is almost nothing I have seen about his platform that bears the imprimatur of orthodox Christianity or its inheritors. I am dismayed that so many prominent Christian figures have endorsed his candidacy. It is more than merely distressing to observe what even conservative commentators are calling, "The Moral Collapse of the Republican Party." 

That said, exactly what is the actual evidence, not rhetoric, but evidence, that Hillary Clinton cares a fig about Christian religion herself? Sure, she claims Methodist affiliation, but exactly what does that mean when examining her truly dismal, spectacularly failing record as a public official? Claiming a religious affiliation does not confer competence, and even MSNBC's in-the-tank hosts were forced to admit one day that they could think of nothing of note that she had ever accomplished. This is a woman whom FBI Director James Comey, under oath before a Congressional committee, confirmed repeatedly had lied over and over and over about handling highly classified material but just wasn't "sophisticated enough" to know the severity of her actions. So yeah, sure, that plus Methodism qualifies her for the presidency, of course. Hillary Clinton's religion is Clintonism. There is almost nothing I have seen about her platform that bears the imprimatur of orthodox Christianity or its inheritors. As one commentator said, Hillary's real objective is inauguration day. She has no goal beyond then. 

All that said, I will emphasize that in fact a presidential candidate's religion is a matter of low importance to me. I want a president who is a Constitutional originalist, religious denomination irrelevant. But we pretty much gave that up a century ago when we elected the proto-progressive Woodrow Wilson. And so here we are:

The dens of thieves that run our country

Now that I've got past that rant, let me ask, "What would Jesus do with national American politics?" Probably this:
Jesus at the Republican National Convention, or maybe the Democrat one. 
Hard to tell since they are both dens of thieves.
How bad has political thievery become? James Bessen of Boston University Law School says it is so deep that political lobbying is now the second-largest influence on profits for America's large companies. 

Government gets bigger and more powerful, which lures companies into viewing Washington as a profit center, which then leads to more policies that expand the size and power of the federal government, which leads to further opportunities for rent-seeking behavior. Lather, rinse, repeat.

That's 4.5 billion of your dollars and mine. This is why Elon Musk's company, Tesla, never has to sell even one electric car at profit and he still becomes wealthier and wealthier. Our taxes pay his profit. This is crony capitalism at it worst (or best, if your name is Elon Musk). 

What kind of national economic model is this? Tom Wolfe once observed that, "The dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe." Yet Wolfe surely knows that before fascism was anything else, it was a national economic regime. Its features were not exactly original; what was novel was the inclusion of Marxism and whole-country integration by its modern originator and premier practitioner, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. In 1932, Mussolini wrote this definition of fascism:
The foundation of Fascism is the conception of the State, its character, its duty, and its aim. Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State. The conception of the Liberal State is not that of a directing force, guiding the play and development, both material and spiritual, of a collective body, but merely a force limited to the function of recording results: on the other hand, the Fascist State is itself conscious and has itself a will and a personality -- thus it may be called the "ethic" State.... ..The Fascist State organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual; the latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone ... .
It was further explained in 2010 by the "Classic Liberal" blog
A popular slogan of the Italian Fascists under Mussolini was, “Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato” (everything for the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state). I recall this expression frequently as I observe the state’s far-reaching penetration of my own society.

What of any consequence remains beyond the state’s reach in the United States today? Not wages, working conditions, or labor-management relations; not health care; not money, banking, or financial services; not personal privacy; not transportation or communication; not education or scientific research; not farming or food supply; not nutrition or food quality; not marriage or divorce; not child care; not provision for retirement; not recreation; not insurance of any kind; not smoking or drinking; not gambling; not political campaign funding or publicity; not real estate development, house construction, or housing finance; not international travel, trade, or finance; not a thousand other areas and aspects of social life. ...
Feel familiar? It ought to: this has been the economic policy of both parties for at least the last 50 years, with different emphases by one party or the other. American federal polity long ago became centrally located on a less-lethal version of Lenin's question, "Who? Whom?" For Lenin, the question was about who would die and who would live. But for both the Republicans and the Democrats it is about money and power:
  • Who will receive the largess they will use tax dollars to provide?
  • Whom will be the class they plunder to get it? 
  • And how will they spend it to suborn, corrupt or crush so they can keep power?
That is not merely the primary principle of American federal governance today, it is almost the only principle there is. Bernie Sanders notwithstanding, the American Left is not socialist at all; it is fascist, which began in and never departed from Leftism. (Mussolini had been an active member of the Communist International before resigning to start the Fascisti party.) The Republicans are fascist, too, just not as much. But give them 15-20 years and they'll catch up.

How to vote

So to my fellow Christians who will vote this November I say: Vote for the candidate of your choice. Vote your conscience. Vote your convictions.

But do not pretend for one second that it is even possible to vote the Gospel this November. 

John Wesley had some excellent advice:

Fellow clergy, please: 

Your presidential candidate is not going to inaugurate the eschaton. Not even the Millennium. Not even a decent mimic of anything Jesus imagined the Kingdom of God to be, nor even the faintest shadow. There is no divine endorsement - none whatever - of even a single word in the platforms of either the DNC or RNC.

I am not so dismayed that millions of American, Christian laypersons may think this. I do not think that all do, perhaps not even most, anyway. But I am dismayed that there are a large number of Christian clergy, especially of my own United Methodist denomination, who (to judge by their own online posts) actually seem to think that Christian discipleship actually equates with voting for one party and necessarily excludes ever voting for the other. In fact, one of my UM colleagues told me bluntly before the 2000 election (so this has been going on awhile) that is was not possible for a Christian to vote for any Republican candidate and that voting for a Republican was certain proof that the voter was not Christian.

Whenever someone claims that supporting this candidate or that one is based on Christian imperatives, that person instantly loses credibility with me. Zip, gone, vamoose, nada. Because what is really being said is that corrupted political ideology (which is all of them) suborns Christianity and that the work of Christ necessarily is done through the corrupt organs  (which is all of them) of a corrupt political party (which is all of them). And never is this more so than this year and this year's candidates.

I neither demand nor expect that any American political party will ever base its platform on the Sermon on the Mount. It cannot be done anyway. But I long for a day when Americans will awaken again to the supremacy of Christ over the self.

I pray our polity this year is not a bellwether of the years to come. If so, we as a people are too very close to losing our goodness. God help us.