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High-tech weapons in World War II

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Given our military’s reliance on having higher-tech weapons than the rest of the world, check out these two transcripts of interviews conducted 10 years after D-Day:

Our faith in high-tech isn’t new. Here’s a German infantry lieutenant:

contrary to what some people may believe today, the mood in early to mid-1944 among the German forces was not disheartened. Far from it. It is true that we had lost the North African oil supplies, but, equally, the American arrival in Tunisia had been unimpressive. Italy was holding firm, and the Allies were expending huge resources on the war there for no great purpose at all. The Allies showed no signs whatever of doing the logical, rational thing and invading the South of France. … we in the officer class were well-informed enough to know that the underlying trends in the war situation were far from discouraging. Industrial production was not only holding firm under the air bombing, but actually rising in early 1944. … Most importantly, however, was the matter of the German weapons and machines. The regime had shown us photographs and films of the platoons of the enormous Tiger B panzers, and the Messerschmit  262 jet aircraft, and we knew about the new, super-sized U Boats entering service. The regime had also deliberately spread rumours about the presence of futuristic rocket weapons which could cross entire continents or oceans; we found out later in June that these existed and were actually stationed close to us in France, and were called V1. These weapons were more advanced than anything the Allies possessed, we were sure of that, and there were constant themes of ‘Wunderwaffen’ (super weapons) in the state propaganda, hinting that these machines which we already knew about were simply the forerunners of what Germany would soon produce.

A section titled “Wonder Weapon” is an interview with “K.L. Bergmann was a specialist weapons officer who served with the Wehrmacht from 1941-45. He passed away in the early 1980’s.” He was responsible for a fuel-air bomb:

the intention was to replicate the conditions which existed in a coal mine leading to an underground explosion. In coal mines, the air is full of coal dust, which is highly flammable, and if the circumstances are right a spark can set off a catastrophic explosion in which all of the available air, being full of this flammable dust and oxygen, simply explodes. There were several such terrible explosions in German coal mines in the nineteenth century and again in the 1920’s, and it was realised that in effect the air itself in the coal mine was being turned into an explosive element. It was as if the entire mine was pumped full of explosive gas – that is how devastating simple coal dust and air can be if they are mixed and ignited.

The system was essentially an explosive vapour which was released into the open air. The vapour consisted of a kerosene base, similar to aviation fuel, blended with particles of charcoal dust and aluminium powder. The charcoal and aluminium particles, which are in themselves explosive, served to accelerate the force of the explosion, and also to make the vapour heavier and less likely to be dispersed by the wind. The vapour was launched by low-velocity rocket, using a rocket-firing vehicle of the ‘Stuka Zu Fuss’ (‘Stuka on Foot’ half-track) type, which was widely available. The rockets fired canisters which were designed to release their vapour as they descended onto the target. This was extremely difficult to achieve, because of the probability of the liquid base detonating inside the canister. A vacuum system was used to prevent this. When a number of these canisters had been launched, they filled a large volume of air with their explosive gas; this volume could be up to one hundred cubic metres. Essentially, the target had this complete volume of explosive vapour suspended over it. The volume then had to be ignited, and this was done by immediately firing a secondary bombardment of incendiary rockets. These incendiaries would simply detonate the complete mass of explosive vapour hanging in the air. The nature of the explosion was astonishing, because it created a blast wave which expanded across the ground for an enormous distance. We tested a small prototype version of this weapon on the Eastern front, in controlled conditions. I observed the detonation and the effects on the landscape, which were enormous. As you can imagine, the shock wave was able to pulverise any structure immediately below it, and any Russians who were either in the target area or in a radius of many hundred metres were killed outright. The effect of blast wave is to remove the air from a man’s lungs and arrest his heart muscles, and death is almost immediate, although there are often no outward signs of injury.

This leads to an exchange with the interviewer:

I am amazed that I did not know about this system. How often was this used on the Eastern Front?

It was never actually used against Russian forces in the field, in combat.

Then how were Russians killed by it?

This was a controlled test.

Do you mean that prisoners were there, under the blast?

Let’s move on. I was talking about the Typhoon B technical side . . .

We assembled enough of the canisters to be able to launch three separate Typhoon B explosions of the maximum power, which would be greater than the controlled test explosions we had caused on the Eastern front. We planned to launch the canisters from a range of about five kilometres, which would mean that we would have to be in shelters to avoid being injured by the blast wave ourselves. The half-tracks would fire six of the vapour-delivery rockets, which had the canisters fitted as a warhead. The last rocket to fire was fitted with the self-detonating canister, which would ignite the vapour produced by the complete salvo. As a failsafe, in case the detonator failed, we would launch a salvo of incendiaries from a Nebelwerfer mortar into the vapour zone directly after the final canister was launched. In this way, we could be sure of igniting the volume of gas and producing the explosive effect.

What about all of the civilians who might be killed in repelling the Allied invaders?

Even the German garrison soldiers themselves were unaware of the presence of the Typhoon system in France. There was no point in briefing them on our presence. If the port was captured, we then had to destroy the port; that meant that the garrison had failed in their task anyway, to be quite frank. That was the official view that we were given, but I have another perspective to add. We have to remember that the German garrison at Calais contained many troops who had been posted there for two years or even three years. Some of these men, including some of the senior officers, had started relationships with local women, and in some cases it must be said that there were children born as a result. This is not a criticism of the garrison, because of course such things happen in any army when troops are posted to a city for any length of time. This is the way of the world, after all. But the result of this was that I would not have trusted the garrison to conceal the fact of the Typhoon weapon. Word would have spread, that is the way of these things.

Really, Herr Eckhertz, the way you say this makes it sound shocking. But the Allies themselves were bombing French civilians on a daily and nightly basis. Destroying Calais with the Typhoon B system was no more destructive than what the Allies were already doing to France in the guise of ‘liberating’ the country.

D-Day and immediately afterward:

At around two am, a courier arrived by motorcycle, with an instruction to make ready our systems and to be ready for a possible landing or raid by the Allies. There was also a letter for us to present to all Field Police and security units, ordering them to give us the utmost cooperation. We immediately went to our magazine pit and moved the rocket and canister crates inside the half-tracks. This was an exciting phase, because the weapon was to some extent my child, and I wanted to see it at work.

around the twelfth of June, there started to be a general acceptance that the beach landings really were in fact the main strike, and it was in Normandy, around the beach heads, that we would have to push them back to the water.

We knew that the Allies had a tendency to amass their tanks in very tight groups before an attacking operation. Don’t take my word for this, just look in ‘Time’ magazine and those other magazines for pictures of the Shermans in Normandy. Some of them are packed so closely together that it looks like a parking lot. Of course, they did this because they had no fear of air attacks, but it certainly created a very dense and vulnerable target for a powerful blast weapon.

You would sacrifice the German infantry in the blast?

It was not practical to remove them. The Allies would notice any withdrawal, and might surge forward, threatening our launching site. As it was, we expected that we ourselves would become casualties of the blast; perhaps not fatal casualties, but probably with permanent injuries, loss of hearing or lung damage. But we were facing the loss of France itself if the Allies broke out fully, because there was then nothing to stop the Shermans racing on to Paris and then beyond. We knew that the loss of France would lead to a siege of Germany, potentially the loss of the Reich itself . . . the stakes were as high as for any action in the war, you must understand. We were saving the Reich itself with our Typhoon B explosion; that was the calculation, you see.

I decided to fire the weapon earlier than planned, because the air conditions were so well suited at that moment. I felt the hand of destiny on my shoulder at that moment, believe me. I knew we were on the brink of a historic action. … The enemy began a bombardment on us … before we could move the half-tracks the shells burst on our position. I had a periscope with me in the trench, because I wanted to film the launch process, and through this I saw one of the shells land close to the half-tracks. One of the vehicles was knocked onto its side, and with that blast, the canisters exploded. Because they were not dispersed into the air, their explosive power was not equivalent to the full-scale Typhoon system. The kerosene simply ignited in its liquid form, not the vastly more potent aerosol form accelerated by the charcoal dust. There was just a huge fireball of the fuel, which completely destroyed the three half-tracks, and rose up over us to a height of maybe a hundred metres.

After the war, the American and British interrogators didn’t ask about the Typhoon weapon and Bergmann didn’t volunteer. By August of 1945 he was a civilian engineer for an agricultural machinery manufacturer.

Another high-tech weapon was a remote-controlled mini-tank, described in an interview with Cornelius Tauber, “an Oberleutnant (First Lieutenant) of engineers.”

Goliath was a small vehicle about the size of a wheelbarrow or similar. It had a petrol engine and ran on tracks like a small tank. Its body was packed with explosives equivalent to a Stuka-type bomb, and it was operated by wires which trailed from behind it, connected to a control unit held by a soldier. The operator would start its engine and control its speed and direction through the wires, sending it close to a target and then detonating it remotely.

I was hopeful that we would knock out at least one of these attacking tanks, but as the Goliath approached them, it tipped into a shell crater and did not emerge. The operator tried to move it forwards and back, but I think it had fallen on its side and was immobilised.

A good reminder to be humble about how far technology can take us in our current and future wars.

More… read

 

Comparative Victimology and the Simpsons

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The Problem with Apu will be released today. On the one hand, Matt Groening can be celebrated for depicting not-exactly-heterosexual couples, e.g., Akbar and Jeff, in his Life in Hell series. But then he needs to be condemned for stereotyping Indian-Americans in The Simpsons.

What are the Danes behind the Kwik-E-Mart LEGO kit trying to tell us? Will this product be withdrawn from the marketplace once the racism of the show is highlighted?

Why young people don’t like the Republican tax plan: they are planning to be W-2 wage slaves

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The Republican tax plan makes it more rewarding to do business in the U.S., whether as a corporation or as a part-owner of an LLC or similar pass-through structure. The proposal does not seem to have caught on with young people. Why not? I’m reading a book by a psychology professor who studies American generations. This one is about Americans born since the mid-1990. From iGen:

As it turns out, iGen’ers are actually less likely to want to own their own business than Boomers and GenX’ers were at the same age, continuing a trend started by Millennials (see Figure 7.4). Just as they are cautious about driving, drinking, and dating, iGen’ers are cautious about going into business for themselves.

Entering college students show the same trend: in 2016, only 37% said that “becoming successful in a business of my own” was important, down from 50% in 1984 (adjusted for relative centrality). So, compared to GenX college students, iGen’ers are less likely to be drawn to entrepreneurship. These beliefs are affecting actual behavior. A Wall Street Journal analysis of Federal Reserve data found that only 3.6% of households headed by adults younger than 30 owned at least part of a private company in 2013, down from 10.6% in 1989. All the talk about the young generation being attracted to entrepreneurship turns out to be just that—talk.

So it makes sense that they don’t like business tax cuts if nobody among their peer group is involved in business, except as a wage slave.

[Of course, one could argue that a business tax cut makes it more likely that iGeners will have  W-2 jobs to begin with and that jobs will pay more because global business will be more enthusiastic about headquartering and operating in the U.S. But I wouldn’t expect the average American to see things that way. People seem to evaluate tax policy on the theory that everyone’s behavior will remain unchanged after a massive change to tax rates.]

Plowing through the weather in a B-29

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I had always thought that the point of the pressurized World War II-era Boeing B-29 bomber was to fly above the weather, as modern airliners generally do. However, Bringing the Thunder: The Missions of a World War II B-29 Pilot in the Pacific (free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers) says this is not how they were used:

The specifications were impressive, both for its size and for its time. Depending on fuel load, bomb load, and altitude: top speed, 365 miles per hour at 25,000 feet; cruise speed at maximum weight, 230 to 260 miles per hour; landing speed, 90 to 120 miles per hour; service ceiling, 32,000 feet; range, 5,400 to 5,800 miles; empty weight, 70,000 to 72,000 pounds; maximum gross weight, 125,000 pounds; maximum bomb load, 20,000 pounds; maximum fuel load (with auxiliary bomb bay tanks), 10,000 gallons. … However, once in combat, we loaded them routinely to as much as 140,000 pounds and, in one or two instances, to 142,000 pounds.

It was early evening on March 9, 1945. … At our briefing we were dumbfounded and wondered if Bomber Command had gone crazy: the tactics to be used on this mission were a complete departure from the design objectives of the airplane and, to us, tantamount to a suicide strike. Gen. Curtis LeMay, over the objections of some of his planners, had concluded that because of the difficulties of achieving the maximum bombing effectiveness at high altitude in daylight because of reduced bomb loads, weather (including 250 mph jetstream winds), the strain on engines, high fuel burn, fighter opposition, and the lack of the element of surprise, he would send the B-29s to Japan with absolute maximum loads, at very low en route and bombing altitudes. He had also concluded, based on intelligence estimates in response to projected airplane and crew losses, that Japan had relatively few night fighters, so the strike force would not be subjected to the air-to-air opposition that it would if flown in daylight.

Thinking about all of this, I had many concerns: the takeoff would be dangerous, exacting, and challenging; there was considerable weather en route; we would have neither guns nor ammunition (removed to save weight); Tokyo was the most heavily defended city in Japan; and we would fly the bomb run at only 230 miles per hour at only 5,600 feet altitude. …

The storms in those latitudes at that time of the year could be particularly turbulent and vicious. Compounding the rough ride and the train of flying instruments in that kind of atmosphere was the constant worry of traffic in the clouds—the danger of midair collisions with other bomb-laden B-29s. We flew these missions at moderate altitude, so we were in the middle of the worst turbulence. It was not like flying above the weather at 25,000 or 30,000 feet. While I logged only four hours of instrument time on this trip, in my letter to my wife afterwards, I said, ” I’d almost as soon face flak and fighters as weather like that again!”

Night missions in bad weather were sometimes nerve wracking. You couldn’t see, so you blundered into some very nasty stuff. The only clue you had at night when in the soup was observing lightning flashes and listening to the crashes of static in your headset. This racket was, however, a fairly accurate indicator of the distance to the turbulent disturbance by the volume in your ears. A really loud crash indicated you were almost in it.

The flights to and from Japan could be 16 hours long, driving through clouds and thunderstorms to the point that logging 7 hours of IMC (instrument conditions) was not uncommon.

Military instrument flying had been deadly before the war:

One of the most publicized, ill-planned, and tragic was Franklin Roosevelt’s 1934 politically motivated cancellation of the airline mail contracts and subsequent ordering of the Army Air Corps to fly the mail. Roosevelt perceived that there had been collusion in the awarding of the mail contracts. … Roosevelt was determined to punish the airlines. It was an unfortunate decision. He took this action without a hearing or trial, thereby subjecting the Air Corps to a blood bath. Charles Lindbergh sent Roosevelt a much publicized telegram which was highly critical of his decree, and Eddie Rickenbacker was so incensed that a speech in which he had planned to criticize the mandate was denied air time by NBC after receipt of orders from Washington. Both of these preeminent members of the aviation community and the airline industry were concerned not only about the gross injustice of the situation on the airline side, but also about the lives of the Air Corps pilots that would be lost. Rickenbacker categorized it as “legalized murder.” The prophesy of these two men proved to be all too true: within two months, thirteen Air Corps pilots had been killed. Neither the Army’s equipment nor their pilots were qualified or adapted to fly the mail. In those days Army pilots averaged only about 180 hours of flying time per year, and there were only three Army pilots with as much as 5,000 hours. They probably spent 99 percent of their meager air time flying in clear weather, practicing military maneuvers. They were not instrument qualified. Contrasted to airline pilots who flew day and night in good weather and bad, they were woefully inadequate. So was their equipment, which lacked the instrumentation and radios that the airlines had.

The author, Gordon Robertson, also recounted an in-flight engine failure and fire, about 200 miles from Japan.

What was the reward for taking these risks? A pilot with a rank of second lieutenant earned $245 per month in 1942 ($3,850 per month today). Recreation?

control was exercised by providing the soldiers on pass with an approved list of houses of prostitution whose inmates were medically supervised and where patrons could get preventive treatment upon leaving. However, even all these measures did not stop the incidence of the “social diseases,” so the final element of control was a brief genitalia specific monthly physical examination—usually on, or just before, payday. If a soldier was found to be infected, his pay was withheld and the time it took to cure him (called “bad time”) was added on to his enlistment period and an entry made in his medical records about the reason. … For the boys it was called a shortarm inspection, and for the girls it was called a tunnel inspection.

Life on Guam was a bit like Burning Man:

The island had been thoroughly sprayed from the air with DDT prior to the construction of the field and its environs, so there were no mosquitoes and thus no malaria. The clearing of the jungle and grading of the coral, however, created another problem. It was the dry season, and although hot and humid, there was nearly always a breeze which stirred up the red coral dust, and it got into everything, including our eyes and noses. My eyes were red rimmed and I had a ruddy complexion from a coat of it. Some of the mechanics and others on the flight line were forced to wear goggles much of the time. Even though it was the “dry” season, there was a rain shower from time to time, and then the problem was mud. It was like the clay back home—it stuck to everything in great gobs.

As at Burning Man, there was a perimeter fence:

We were not allowed in the jungle since there were still numerous hold-out Jap soldiers there and the Marines were rooting them out. During the first few weeks after our arrival, one or two a day were captured and others killed. Presumably the reason we were prohibited from the jungle was because the Marines were trigger happy and shot anything that moved. We didn’t have any great desire to explore the jungle anyway. One day in one of the lines for a mess hall, there was a slouched figure shuffling along with his head down and his U.S. Army fatigue hat pulled down over his face. Someone in the line didn’t think he looked just right and jerked his hat up to reveal—you guessed it—a desperately hungry Jap soldier. He was unarmed and immediately captured and turned over to the intelligence boys. At least he accomplished his objective in U.S. captivity he would eat well.

Pilots had standard officer tasks as well:

Another extracurricular duty to which we were assigned from time to time was censoring the enlisted men’s mail. … in a very significant number of the letters, after the expressions of love, were stern admonitions to the women to behave themselves. The guys didn’t trust them. As one writer put it, “Keep your panties on, your skirt down, and your legs crossed until I get home.” Some of the admonishments were even more graphic.

With all of those buttons, is it easy to push the wrong one?

We were loaded with GP (General Purpose) demolition bombs containing a new explosive known to us only as “Composition B.” It was supposed to be very touchy stuff and reportedly the bombs would detonate if dropped on any hard surface from a height of ten feet or more whether they were armed or not. We had preflighted the ship and were all on board with all four engines running just waiting for some other 29s to clear the taxiway as Bud read the last item or two on the checklist. One of those was to close the bomb bay doors. I responded with “bomb bay doors coming up” and reached down to the aisle stand between us to throw the switch. There were two upright switches next to, and in line with, each other—one marked, “Bomb Bay Doors,” and the other, “Bomb Salvo.” Don’t ask me how or why, but I mistakenly and inadvertently hit the Bomb Salvo switch, and the whole load dropped on the tarmac of the hardstand, rolling and tumbling all over the place under the airplane.

After my faux pas, an order was issued and distributed throughout Bomber Command and back to the factories in the U.S. that the bomb salvo switches on all B-29s were to have a half-moon guard installed on them, and the toggle switches safety wired so this couldn’t happen again.

Fatigue was an issue:

I had been without sleep for forty-two hours at this point but found myself scheduled to fly again almost immediately. I didn’t think I was physically able to go another thirty or forty hours without sleep, but there was no time to think about it. We were going—period! We grabbed about seven hours of sleep while the ground crew prepared the airplane for another mission, and we took off again that evening for a night strike against what most of us considered our roughest target, Tokyo.

There were a few times when I just couldn’t keep the lids up, so after taking off and setting up the autopilot, I’d tell Bud to watch everything and to wake me up at Iwo if I was asleep; then I’d doze in my seat with my chin on my chest as we droned on.

Will our military fight, if necessary, even if some members are disappointed Hillary voters? The author kept fighting despite saying that he wasn’t sorry when President Roosevelt died because he was “leading us down the road to socialism.”

Robertson was surprised that the Japanese didn’t surrender:

I was thinking about the massive force we had in the air—and this was only the beginning: before long we would be sending out a thousand planes at a time as they had in Europe. I hoped the Japanese would realize this and spare themselves the annihilation that was bound to be their lot, but I really doubted that they would. … I couldn’t help wondering what the Japanese people below thought when they looked up and saw us. Their government had promised and convinced them that the war was being prosecuted to the fullest and, indeed, that they were winning the war. Yet there we were, four hundred strong, deep into Japanese territory and there wasn’t a single fighter up to defend them. Couldn’t they see what was happening? Did it matter?

He also ponders the nature of courage:

One of the effects of this on some individuals was the loss of the ability to cope with it all, and their courage and bravery abandoned them. We had one crew who, after a number of missions, requested and was sent on a rest leave. I don’t recall that they ever returned to combat status. We had another crew whose pilot, upon approaching the target, or simply arriving at the coast of Japan, would feign some aircraft malfunction, or fake some excuse to avoid going over the target, and, instead, would drop his bombs on some insignificant little village or in the middle of nowhere. His crew ultimately mutinied for fear they wouldn’t get credit for missions flown. They went to their squadron CO requesting a new pilot. The CO told them that their request would not be tolerated, and if they knew what was good for them, they’d better just continue as they were. They were stuck with him.

At one point, we had several crews out of commission because one or two members were in the hospital complaining of “combat fatigue.” This brought on some lectures by the brass to the effect that there was no such thing as “combat fatigue,” and we’d better get it out of our heads. The flight surgeons couldn’t find anything physically wrong with the boys in the hospital, but they were tired and scared and just couldn’t face doing it anymore. Were they lacking in moral fiber? How could you get their courage back for them so they would be dedicated fighting men again? Or is it possible? Perhaps not for some people.

Robertson expresses no regret that we dropped atomic bombs on Japan and is happy about the end of the war:

This was a time also when I felt at peace with myself. The war was over, and I would not have to take off into combat again. I had been challenged and had met the challenge. Indeed, all America had been challenged and passed with flying colors. The war had united the people of the country like nothing else ever before in history. It had been a moral war—right against wrong, good against bad, good guys against bad guys, white hats against black hats—and we had been the good guys in the white hats.

We lost 485 B-29s in total in the Pacific and almost half of the 29th Bomb Group—weren’t all those guys just like me? All I can say is that I shall always be grateful—what else is there that I can say?

What is it like to grow old in the U.S. after this experience?

at first you were talking to your own generation who, for one reason or another, didn’t go to war; then you were talking to the generation just behind you who were slightly too young to be in World War II; then you were talking to everybody else—all the generations that came along later. How could you convey to them what it was really like to be pinned down for days at a time in freezing cold in a foxhole in northern Italy under withering German artillery fire, your buddies being blown to bits all around you; or what it was really like to be aboard a ship off Okinawa taking kamikaze attacks against which it was almost impossible to defend yourself, and where your fellow sailors were killed by the hundreds; or what it was really like to fly through flak thick enough to walk on while tracers were coming up from the ground like rain in reverse and where enemy fighters shot down airplanes and then shot your fellow airmen while they were suspended in their parachutes?

There was another aspect of not understanding, and that was the lack of an appreciation for the thinking, the beliefs, the presumptions, the convictions, the principles, and the attitudes, the zeitgeist, the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of our era and our generation. Much of what we might have said would fall on deaf ears because the zeitgeist of those following was quite different from that of our World War II generation. Over the years, many of us had become very disappointed in the behavior, the demeanor, the manners, and the morals of our young people. They had, in our opinion, deteriorated far below our standards and had lost the strength of our convictions. So many just shut up about who we had been and what we had done. Not only did the listeners fail to understand, but most were not interested.

Related:

Try not to work for a high school…

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“Phillips Exeter Deans Failed to Report Sex Assault Case, Police Said” (nytimes)

The case began more than two years ago, when two female seniors, aged 17 and 18, told the deans that a male classmate had groped them against their will, in separate incidents in the basement of the church on the campus in Exeter, N.H.

In a detailed report by the state police that was obtained by The New York Times, an investigator with the major crime unit wrote, “I determined that there was probable cause to believe that” the two deans committed a misdemeanor by not reporting the accusation by the 17-year-old, who was covered by the state’s mandatory reporting law.

What actually happened to the 17- and 18-year-old victims?

The younger accuser said that days before she went to the deans, a popular male senior texted her that it was his 18th birthday, and asked her to meet him in the church basement, a quiet place where students sometimes studied, and which he was assigned to monitor. There, she said, he touched her buttocks and breasts and kissed her, even as she repeatedly told him not to, until she left.

The other accuser recounted a similar incident in the same place with the same male student, who she said put his hands under her shirt and touched her breasts, prompting her to leave.

Several months later, the girl felt unsafe with the male student still on campus, and showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, her faculty adviser told investigators.

[The journalists at the New York Times express no skepticism that teenagers are studying in a church basement rather than in their dorms. They don’t say “What a shame that a wealthy school like Exeter can’t build a library where students can study in a well-lit above-ground environment.”]

Why are the two adult deans busted?

A state law mandates that anyone in a long list of positions, including school officials, “having reason to suspect” sexual abuse of a person under age 18, which it defines very broadly, must report it to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

[i.e., the standard is the same whether it is a 4-year-old child or a 17.9-year-old “child”; note that the age of consent in New Hampshire is 16]

Who won’t ever be able to get a job unless he changes his name?

After the second meeting, the girl went to the police, and prosecutors soon charged the male student, Chukwudi Ikpeazu, with misdemeanor sexual assault. But a year later, in July 2017, as his trial was about to begin, they set aside the charge, and if he meets certain conditions — which have not been made public — prosecutors will drop the case.

$500,000 of private school tuition that can be flushed down the toilet. What university would admit him? If an admissions officer types his name into Google the first page will show “Sex assault charge against ex-Philips Exeter student dropped in last-minute deal”. This article is interesting because the initial idea for settling this without criminal prosecution was that the perpetrator and survivor would meet back at the church where the assault had occurred; the survivor agreed to accept daily fresh-baked bread “for the remainder of the school year,” but reneged on the deal and “eventually reported the incident to Exeter police. So the fact-pattern matches a lot of what went on in Hollywood. Survivors took the cash in exchange for keeping quiet, but ratted out their abusers and didn’t refund the cash.

Of course as someone who has worked as a teacher it is difficult to have sympathy for the deans (our natural enemies). But on the other hand I think this should be a cautionary tale for anyone who had planned to work in a high school. Failure to achieve full regulatory compliance can result in being arrested, something that is unlikely to happen to an employee at a tire shop.

Why wouldn’t a Massachusetts town set up a school for gifted and talented students?

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In a lot of states it is conventional to have special classes and/or schools for the highest academic achievers (the “gifted and talented” (a.k.a., those who read books instead of play video games and watch TV)). Massachusetts, however, isn’t one of them. It doesn’t seem to be illegal to do this. This letter on massgifted.org (“MAGE”!) says that “We have 407 school districts in MA but only about a dozen of them have programs for the gifted…”

Our Boston suburb of Happy Valley wants to spend $50 million on a same-size replacement for the K-8 school building. If the experience of other towns is anything to go by, it will cost $100 million. There are roughly 600 students who use this building, which means that the $100 million cost amounts to $166,667 per student.

This is roughly comparable to the endowment-per-student at some of our nation’s most prestigious and richest colleges and universities, e.g., Johns Hopkins, Boston College, Tufts, Wake Forest, Brandeis, Bates, et al. It is substantially more than some great colleges and universities, such as Hanover, Barnard, Georgetown University, Carnegie Mellon, et al.

[It may actually be more than the real endowment per student. A money-expert friend who has served as a college trustee says “The dirty secret is that these endowment numbers are not net of debt. A college can boost its ranking simply by borrowing money and putting it in the endowment. Also, when the college invests in a leveraged private equity or hedge fund, the entire nominal amount of the investment is recorded as part of the endowment. The real numbers are typically at least 30 percent lower.” He cited RPI as one of the worst examples of a school using leverage (not a bad example from the point of view of the president, who gets paid more than $7 million per year).]

If we wanted to boost our property values, why not keep the old building (add a few Japanese split-system HVAC units) and use the $100 million to set up something in the academic realm? Property values in Lexington, Brookline, and Newton have been off the charts because of their schools’ reputations. Houses in those towns sell within days, oftentimes to Asian-American cash buyers.

Since, by comparison to Maryland, Florida, or Texas even those suburbs don’t have much to offer gifted and talented students, why not make the “something in the academic realm” a gifted and talented program? Childless homeowners in our town can pocket a $2 million wire transfer from Hong Kong each time the parent of an academically advanced child is drawn in by the offering.

Maybe our town is too passionate about mediocrity to do this, but if you consider that suburbs ringing a city compete with each other, isn’t it strange that none of the towns would try it? Massachusetts towns have a lot of independence in terms of how they fund and run schools. Why wouldn’t town property owners get together and vote to make their property a lot more valuable? Are they more passionate about mediocrity than about getting rich? Or is there a flaw in the above analysis such that this wouldn’t be a likely way to raise real estate values?

Related:

Why do politicians have to be morally pure?

12

The news right now is all about politicians and their moral shortcomings (shortcomings as judged from the perspective of people who aren’t wealthy or famous enough to be significantly tempted).

There are articles on Bill Clinton partying with interns in the Oval Office. Al Franken did some stuff three years before he became a Senator (and now the Senate Ethics bureaucracy is “investigating”?). Roy Moore did some stuff 40 years ago.

Stepping back from all of this, I’m wondering why people are demanding resignations. Given that the U.S. runs a crony capitalist economy, shouldn’t we expect politicians to be among our most corrupt citizens (here’s a senator who just got done with a corruption trial and nobody seems interested or surprised)? Why the demands that these folks be somehow exemplary, especially if what gets them in the news wasn’t related to their current jobs?

[In the case of Clinton I guess you could argue that he was having sex at work with at least one co-worker (presumably there are more interns that we just never heard about?). In the case of Franken maybe you could argue that he was on government business (a USO tour).]

Is it that we think the replacements will be morally superior? Maybe they will be; a New York Times columnist says

I would mourn Franken’s departure from the Senate, but I think he should go, and the governor should appoint a woman to fill his seat. The message to men in power about sexual degradation has to be clear: We will replace you.

and women seem to be less likely to disgrace themselves sexually (I’m disappointed that the NYT would appear to be satisfied with the appointment of a cisgender white heterosexual woman; why not demand the appointment of a transgender homosexual of color who came to the U.S. as a refugee?). Or maybe it is simply not possible for a woman to be disgraced sexually because it would be considered “slut-shaming” or “judging”? But women can be just as corrupt overall? Hillary had the Clinton Foundation. Corrinne Brown (Florida congresswoman) was indicted for having a smaller-scale charity.

Ted Kennedy never had any difficulty being reelected, despite having killed a young woman on Chappaquiddick. Voters in Massachusetts presumably liked what Ted Kennedy was doing in terms of the actual job of being a senator. Is it fair to say that times have changed? Our future politicians will be people that have never been alone with another person (NYT complains about that too!) and therefore can’t be credibly accused of having done something sexual?

Related:

 

Amazon and IBM parental leave

2

A (childless) friend works at Amazon. She’s been working extra hard because one of her colleagues has been on maternity leave with a fourth child. The company pilloried in the New York Times for slave-driving provides six months of maternity leave, one month prior to birth and five months after. “The month before birth is supposed to be only in case of medical need,” my friend explained, “but the company coaches people to get a doctor’s note saying that it would be better for the baby so almost everyone takes this.” The 6-month benefit extends to fathers and to parents who adopt children (perhaps the month prior to birth has to be finessed in that case?).

I wondered if it would be possible to obtain a 30-year stream of cash from Amazon without ever coming into the office. Suppose that an Amazon employee adopted a 17.5-year-old foster child. Six months of paid vacation! How about the next 29.5 years? It is reportedly tough to adopt healthy infants, but I don’t think that there is any waiting list for 17.5-year-old children in foster care. So the Amazon employee does another adoption and gets another 6 months off! Lather, rinse, repeat.

What about the fact that it could take a few hours per week to take care of a “child” and therefore the dream lifestyle of consuming OxyContin while playing Xbox might not be fully realized? Teenagers are famous for wanting to be left alone by adults.

How about expenses associated with the “child,” such as food (teenagers eat a lot) and clothing? Will these eat into a $150,000-200,000/year Amazon programmer’s income? They should be offset by payments from the state foster care agency. In most states, collecting cash from the government for a foster child is not nearly as lucrative as collecting child support cash from a private defendant (see table in Real World Divorce). However, it can still be cashflow-positive and the government checks continue to arrive by agreement after adoption in 92 percent of cases (HHS). The employee now has at least a cashflow-neutral child and six months of paid time off from Amazon.

What about having to pay $73,600 per year to send Adoptee #17 to Harvard? Children of an intact family in the U.S. have no right to sue parents for support, such as college tuition, after age 18 (the story is different, depending on the state, for children of divorced or never-married parents; in Massachusetts, for example, the 18-year-old former adopted “child” could become a tuition plaintiff and the lower-income adoptive parent could use the 18-year-old to get child support cash for himself or herself until the “child” turned 23).

How are things at IBM, the traditional cradle-to-grave corner of our industry? Friends recently welcomed a second child. The father works at IBM and took his full 6-week paternity leave to relax at home, hike, etc. “I’m upset because they just changed the policy to give fathers 12 weeks.”

Related:

Et tu Tesla?

10

“The Tech Industry’s Gender-Discrimination Problem” (New Yorker):

AJ Vandermeyden drove to Tesla’s corporate headquarters, in Palo Alto, California, sat down on a bench outside the main entrance, and waited, in the hope of spotting someone who looked like a company employee. Vandermeyden, who was thirty years old, had been working as a pharmaceutical sales representative since shortly after college, but she wanted a different kind of job, in what seemed to her the center of the world—Silicon Valley. … A few weeks later, she was hired at Tesla as a product specialist in the inside-sales department.

… Vandermeyden, who worked closely with a group of eight other employees, soon learned that her salary was lower than that of everyone else in the group, including several new hires who had come to Tesla straight out of college. She was, as it happened, the only woman in the group. Her supervisors, and her supervisors’ supervisors, were male, all the way up the chain, it seemed, to Musk himself.

There was a sense that the male executives had little understanding of the challenges women faced at the company.

She noticed that sometimes, when female employees walked through certain areas of the plant, male workers whistled, catcalled, and made derogatory comments. Women called it the “predator zone.”

In July, 2015, about three months after Vandermeyden joined the team, several of her male colleagues were promoted. Although she was under the impression that she would shortly receive a promotion and a raise, she did not get either, according to court documents.

On September 20, 2016, Vandermeyden filed a lawsuit charging Tesla with sex discrimination, retaliation, and other workplace violations.

(The New Yorker writer and editors don’t address the question of whether it is  problematic to label a person with, apparently, no technical education or experience part of the “tech industry.”)

Some profound thoughts from a woman who, rather than waste her youth coding, was smart enough to marry a rich guy:

“Men who demean, degrade or disrespect women have been able to operate with such impunity—not just in Hollywood, but in tech, venture capital, and other spaces where their influence and investment can make or break a career,” Melinda Gates, the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told me. “The asymmetry of power is ripe for abuse.”

Will my friends who are passionate about social justice have to give up their Teslas? If so, what brand of car is ideal for signalling a commitment to gender equality?

Should the government charge higher fees for online transactions?

4

Facebook is an all-purpose outrage platform. Here’s a friend’s posting:

The MA RMV [Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles] wants $25 to replace a lost registration. They suggest that you do it online and print it yourself. So I logged in to do that. They still want the $25!

He thought it should cost less to use the web site compared to going into a Registry office and waiting in line for two hours.

Given the cost of managing Internet security (see Swiss pour cold water on our Internet dreams from 2015, for example, in which they predict that the cost of securing the Internet will exceed its value to a typical business by 2019), could it be that his proportional share of the security cost is actually more than $25? So it should actually cost more to deal with the government online compared to the in-person fees? (The RMV presumably has somewhat higher security risks than a vanilla ecommerce site.)

[Separately, why did paper registration survive 20 years of mobile Internet and 60 years of computer-managed databases? Police officers are supposed to be connected to a network, at least by voice communication to a dispatcher. Why can’t they look up a car by VIN or license plate? Why rely on a paper document that can be forged and that is a hassle to distribute?]

 

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