Saturday, July 20, 2013

Summer fashion nonsense

Just a couple of things I noticed just this last week:

I get ads from Shoebuy.com; about the only advantage to getting these ads is not having to scour the DFW metroplex for 10½ EEE shoes, which I promise you are harder to find than a restroom along I-25 in New Mexico. The picture on the left came in with their most recent mailing.

Forget that the model doesn't look that much like Jackie O (shouldn't we be over her by now?). Note the word I underlined: "Physician endorsed"? 

Okay, I can understand doctor recommendations for footwear, because I've seen women wear shoes that must be a podiatrist's nightmare — unless you're a ballerina, there's no earthly reason your foot should be nearly perpendicular to the ground for longer than it takes to grab something out of the cupboard. But Global Glamour Fashions sells "accessories", and I don't understand why a belt or a pair of gloves should require a doctor's sign-off. Are we gonna need prescriptions for jewelry next? Let me put it another way: where's the value-add?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

It's official! ... Well, almost ...

Soon-to-be Ss. John XXIII and John Paul II.
Yesterday at the Vatican, Fr. Federico Lombardi, reading from a prepared statement, announced that Pope Francis has signed and promulgated a decree approving a second miracle attributed to Bl. John Paul II. At the same time, he has also approved a vote by the Congregation for the Cause of Saints to raise Bl. John XXIII to the altars of sainthood without need of a second miracle.

Francis has also called for a consistory of the College of Cardinals to discuss further the canonization of JP2. This step isn't strictly necessary for his canonization to take place; my guess is that it's a last check to insure that he isn't declared santo too subito. As for the waiver of the second miracle in J23's case, Fr. Lombardi explained that it is "the Pope’s will that the Sainthood of the great Pope of the Second Vatican Council be recognized". There is some theological discussion over whether two miracles are really a necessary bar to hurdle; in any event, the Pope is free to set aside the rule.

No date has been set yet for the consistory, which will set the dates for the canonization ceremonies; Fr. Lombardi did not rule out a dual ceremony, and expressed confidence that both would take place by the end of the year. At the same time, the decree approves miracles by two other venerable servants, Alvaro del Portillo y Diez de Sollano and Maria Giuseppa Alhama Valera (Speranza di Gesu), recognition of four Spanish martyrs and the heroic virtue of five other candidates.

Frankly, canonizing both popes at the same time would be a brilliant step, emphasizing the hermeneutic of continuity without nailing it to anyone's forehead. I look forward to it, and I shall keep you informed.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The aftermath of Gettysburg

Robert E. Lee
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
The Gettysburg campaign was the last significant invasion of the North. About a week after the battle ended, CS Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan led a cavalry raid into Indiana and Ohio to disrupt the flow of supplies to the Army of the Cumberland; beyond some bridge and railroad damage, and tying up some cavalry in chasing him, his most significant accomplishment was to get captured.

Surrender may be the logical end of defensive warfare, but it isn’t the inevitable or necessary end, as had been shown by the Romans in the Second Punic War, the Americans during the Revolution and the Communists in Vietnam. As long as Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia stayed in Virginia, they had the blessing of interior lines and intimate knowledge of the terrain, as well as friendly hosts. From that perspective, the invasion of the North wasn’t really necessary.

As well, materiel had always been the Confederates’ biggest problem. Half the size of its foe, the Army of Northern Virginia still found it necessary to augment what weapons and ammunition Richmond could send them with whatever they could capture from the Yankees. While in Pennsylvania, the ANV could live off the land. But the orchards didn’t grow bullets, and the wheat fields provided no powder. The further Lee led his army into Pennsylvania, the further his supply line was stretched and the more vulnerable it became. Eighty-one years later, Field Marshal Sir Bernard L. Montgomery would lead British and American forces on a similar push into Holland (Operation Market-Garden), which failed its objective with severe consequences for the Allied advance.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Gettysburg — Day Three

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
—Proverbs 16:18


The sun rose on 3 July 1863 to show the Army of the Potomac still occupying the high ground southeast of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Gettysburg, 3 July 1863
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
To many in the Army of Northern Virginia, this likely came as a surprise. CS General Robert E. Lee’s Confederates had been dominating the bluecoats since the afternoon of the first day, when they pushed the Federals south through the town. And the day before, they had definitely given the Yankees a bloody nose when they’d pushed it too far away from the high ground. By now, the previous commander, Joseph Hooker, would have retreated. So would have Irvin McDowell, or Ambrose Burnside. Heck, George B. McClellan would have boasted of the success of his brilliant retrograde movement in the face of “overwhelming force”!

But those men wouldn’t have been in the upper ranks. Leaders like Lee and his “old warhorse”, Lt. Gen. James “Pete” Longstreet, knew that they’d accomplished little besides shoving a salient in the Union left back to where they would be strongest, the tactical crest of Cemetery Hill. The bloody nose had hurt the Confederates as much, if not more, given their numerical inferiority. The Union commander, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, didn’t have to leave his position: as long as his lines of communication were secure and his men held the most advantageous position, they could wait the rebels out.

Now would have been a good time to disengage, swing around to the south, cut the Union supply line and force Meade to give chase again. But for some reason — to the end of his life, he never explained why — Lee simply could not let go of the battle. Perhaps, as novelist Michael Shaara said in his novel The Killer Angels, he thought his men would never understand why they turned their backs and left an undefeated enemy in possession of the ground; however, they had done so once before, at Antietam a year before. I think it’s more likely that Lee, a Virginia aristocrat who was the son of a Revolutionary War hero and related to George Washington by marriage, was impatient for the battle and the war to end, and rationalized that a thumping defeat of the Army of the Potomac so far into the North would precipitate that end.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Gettysburg — Day Two

The sun rose on 2 July 1863 with the Army of the Potomac on the high ground south and east of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. A good stroke of fortune had allowed Union commanders to find this ground before the conflict began, and the bulk of the previous day’s fight had been devoted to holding off the Army of Northern Virginia until the bulk of their forces could arrive.

Now US Maj. Gen. George G. Meade’s forces formed a fishhook-shaped line starting at Spangler’s Spring and Culp’s Hill to the southeast, running north to the northernmost point of Cemetery Ridge, then falling back south along the line of the ridge to fetch up against Little Round Top. This gave Meade the advantage not only of visibility and artillery range but also of interior lines, which allowed him to move units and materiel to reinforce any part of his line without exposing the reinforcements to enemy fire. By contrast, while the Confederates could move units out of the Federals’ range, the length of their lines, which roughly paralleled the Federals’, meant reinforcement could be a slow, time-consuming business.

Most of the morning was consumed in consolidating the lines, as the bulk of both armies arrived on the field. On the positive, from Lee’s side, was the arrival of Lt. Gen. James “Pete” Longstreet and his First Corps. Moody, taciturn and profane, Longstreet was a competent, occasionally brilliant, tactician who became Lee’s right hand after the death of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. However, his corps was missing Maj. Gen. George Pickett’s division, which would not arrive until after the day’s action. Even more disturbing was the absence of Maj. Gen. Jeb Stuart’s cavalry; without their eyes, Lee’s knowledge of the Union dispositions was imprecise. Stuart finally arrived around noon, but played no part in the day’s action.

Believing the Federal left to lie along Emmetsburg Road, Lee ordered Longstreet’s corps to flank them en echelon, a maneuver in which succeeding units attack in intervals to prevent the enemy from shifting reinforcements. Longstreet disagreed; an advocate of defensive warfare, he argued that Lee should swing the ANV to Meade’s south, cut the Federals’ lines and force them to fight on grounds of Lee’s own choosing. But Lee was determined to fight and defeat Meade where they were; Longstreet, a career soldier who had served with distinction in Mexico, eventually accepted his orders.

Lee had left the timing of the attack to Longstreet’s discretion, which was just as well; as the First Corps was moving into place, they stumbled upon a Union signal station in their path which could have blown the plan open. Nor could the soldiers simply about-face and march to the rear; to preserve the order of attack, the line had to double back on itself. Not until late afternoon, between 4 and 5 p.m., were the two divisions in place to attack.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Gettysburg — Day One

The Army of the Potomac had been chasing after the Army of Northern Virginia for almost a month when a cavalry division commanded by Brig. Gen. John Buford rode into Gettysburg on 30 June 1863.

The Gettysburg campaign, 3 June - 3 July 1863
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
CS General Robert E. Lee knew Napoleon's dictum was true: "The logical end of defensive warfare is surrender." For that reason, he knew he had to take the ANV into the North, where he could put both military and political pressure on Washington to end the war and allow the Confederate States their separation. Accordingly, on 3 June 1863 he sent his army in two wings into the Shenandoah Valley to clear the Federal garrisons and secure his lines of supply and communication, while his cavalry screened the move on the east side of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The invasion proceeded successfully, as the right wing under Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell defeated the garrison at Winchester (Second Winchester, 13 June) and the two wings moved up the valley first into Maryland and then into Pennsylvania. The cavalry screen was also successful, up to a point. Lee had ordered Maj. Gen. J.E.B. "Jeb" Stuart, his cavalry commander, to cross the Potomac, delay the Federals and protect Ewell's right flank. But when Stuart encountered US Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock's II Corps, he decided to ride around the Federal army to the south, which took him out of contact with Ewell's right and rendered the ANV functionally blind. Lee had allowed his forces to become strung out, from  Chambersburg to York and Harrisburg.

Meanwhile, US Maj. Gen. Joseph "Fighting Joe" Hooker finally realized that the ANV was on the move north when Ewell attacked the garrison at Winchester. His initial plan was to seize Richmond while it was undefended, but Abraham Lincoln reminded him that his primary target was Lee. So the Army of the Potomac moved in a parallel course through Virginia and Maryland, mirroring Lee's advance to the point of having their cavalry screen on their left. By 28 June the Federals had reached Frederick. Alerted by a spy that the Federals were closing in and fearing defeat in detail, Lee ordered his forces to concentrate in the Cashtown-Gettysburg area.

By then, the Army of the Potomac had a new commander, its fifth commander in just over two years. Hooker had argued with Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, the nominal General-in-Chief, over the defense of the armory at Harper's Ferry and petulantly offered his resignation; Lincoln, frustrated with Hooker, accepted it and put Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, a bad-tempered martinet, in charge. Meade hadn't expected the order, but kept the forces moving forward, ordering them on 30 June to move towards Gettysburg while establishing an alternate position south of the Maryland-Pennsylvania border. The stage was set.