Musing and Remembering on D-Day

Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day. 70 years ago, over 100,000 men headed to a very uncertain fate in northern France. Many didn’t know exactly why they were there, other than a sense of duty and honor. It was only towards the end of the war, and after, that most people began to find out the horrors being perpetrated against civilians by the Nazi regime (and also by the Japanese in the Asia-Pacific theater). Many people now think that the Nazis only executed people with Jewish ancestry, but the concentration camps also included Roma (gypsies), people of color, people with handicaps, and more. They also carried out atrocities against civilians who simply lived in territory they occupied — the massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane in France being one of the worst. The motives of the Nazis were more than anti-religious. We should be so thankful for the bravery of those who brought their activities to an end.

Of course, we now have the terribly misguided — and sometimes evil — people who deny that that genocide and atrocities occurred. As more from that time pass away with time, we have fewer witnesses to proclaim the truth from first hand experience. Worse, there are those who would happily undertake such “cleansing” today, given the chance.

My father was one of many thousands who enlisted in the Army during the war because of a sense of duty. He had a deferment, but gave it up because he saw married men being drafted, and he felt it was important he went to maybe help keep one of them at home. Those in uniform came from all walks of life, for a variety of reasons. Many never made it home, and Memorial Day, a little more than a week past, is one special day on which we remember those who fell on the field of battle.

My father didn’t talk about most of the things he saw and did in Europe, for nearly 50 years after his return. He was one of the first into some of the concentration camps, and the images and memories were undoubtedly haunting. It took him decades to be able to talk about it. Post traumatic stress was not a term for WWII vets. I have heard a first hand account of some of the horrors. I have no doubts, and events in more recent times and other places have reinforced that organized evil can spring up almost anywhere.

My uncle served in the far east, in Korea and China. I never heard stories from him, but I know he had them too. All the vets who served did. Atrocities were not limited to Europe alone.

Over the years the US has been involved in other conflicts, some of which seemed to serve high principle — such as protecting the South Koreans, stopping some of the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, driving the Iraqis out of Kuwait — and others, of murkier goals and results (e.g., Vietnam, Iraq).

We have a generation for whom world war has no connection to their lives, who don’t really know about the horror of genocide, and who are largely distant from the military. They don’t understand the sacrifices made to allow them the comforts they have now, or the dangers that could arise in a very short time. They complain about the activities of the NSA, and don’t have the context to understand the horrors that could take us by surprise without some vigilance. Given the genocide of two short generations ago, and more recent actions such as at Tiananmen Square and in Georgia and Crimea, is it that inconceivable that some monitoring of German communications, and those of China, Russia, and others is being undertaken?

War is unfortunate. It is cruel. It is wasteful. It hurts many. Yet, sometimes, leaders of countries and groups are intent on forcing great hurt on others, and there is no other way to get them to relent except by force. Usually, it is an attempt to impose religion on others — such as the Boko Haram are doing now in Nigeria, and the Taliban have been trying to do in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Sometimes it is simply a grab at power or resources: that we could transition from the Sochi Olympics to the occupation of Crimea in a matter of months shows some of the volatility in the world, and the potential for conflict.

Unfortunately, we also see it with extremists inside our own country, who want to impose their religious views — to force women to have children and live second-class lives, to deprive minorities of the vote on the pretext of preventing voter fraud, preventing people who love each other from getting married, and more — all in the name of their narrow religious views (and fears). We can’t invade our own country — force is not the option here. But we should not idly let that behavior occur without resistance.

Our best hope of avoiding future wars is to remember the wars we have had, and the losses we sustained (on all sides) when those occurred. We should honor those who voluntarily took up arms to protect ideals we cherish, whether they returned or not.

One of the best ways to prevent some of these future wars is to honor the very principles those people sought to protect. We should honor and protect our freedoms. That means educating ourselves about issues, and actually voting in elections based on that education. It means really respecting fundamental rights and acting against those who deny to others what we cherish for ourselves — ability to make personal choices about our bodies, ability to love (and marry, if we choose) others freely, ability to vote, and more. We should respect the freedoms of speech and of press, and the rights to be secure in our homes and privacy. That means pushing back on the agencies and politicians behind them who use fear as a justification to intrude too deeply into our lives and keep fundamental information away from us.

The greatest way to honor those who served 70 years ago is to not be complacent about the world, and to never forget what their sacrifice and bravery were all about.

Spafford/Spofforth Family History + Trivia

[Updated 8/26/13 to include the contested 21st generation entry and fix small typos.]

Intro

Recently, my family vacationed in England. While there, we visited the town and castle ruins in Spofforth, a small town in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. Spofforth is strongly suggested as the ancestral home of the Spafford, Spofford, Spufford, Spuford, Spoford, Spauforth, Spofer, Spawforth, Spofforth, Spoforth, Spoffurth, Spoffort, Spofferd, Spofforths, Spauforthe, Spoofourthe, etc. family lines, at least as far back as they can be traced. (And no, not the Staffords — that is a totally different family.) That has prompted me to write up some things about the family and family history for my daughter, nieces, nephews, and other Spaffords. Read on — if you dare.

A note about spelling. Up until a few hundred years ago, spelling really wasn’t viewed as “fixed.” There were many reasons for this, including lack of references, evolving language, and low literacy rates. Thus, things were often spelled out as the scribe heard them, and there are some different spellings over time. I try to spell things in an accepted way, and reproduce the ancient spellings the way I found them in the references.

Spafford Narrative History

If you go back far enough (100 generations, certainly), every family likely interweaves with every other in a locale. I imagine if you go back 100,000 generations or so you come up with the few original homo sapiens, so in that sense every family is connected. Thus, at some levels, we are all related.

Throughout time, there was a lot of intermarriage of families and clans, and even among not-too-distant relatives, so family trees don’t really branch out quite so much as mathematics would predict. But for purposes of this essay, if we base our story on the Western view of descent of family name via the paternal line, and if we assume that all the women directly on that line were truthful about who was the father of the children involved (not necessarily a given in any family line), then my family can trace back as far as Orm in Yorkshire, England in the 10th century.

Orm (or Arm; old Danish for Dragon) was apparently a Christian lord of Viking descent, born around 965 AD. It is entirely possible that he arrived in England during the conquest by King Cnut around 1010, and may have been one of the clan chiefs (or son of a clan chief) who helped Cnut in that conquest: Orm was mentioned in an early charter of land by Cnut in 1033. Orm was a Thane in the area, of the “family” Ormerod. Orm has record of being a significant leader, and shows up again in the “Ormulum” text. Little is really known of his life, but he apparently lived near what is now Leeds. Orm paid for the restoration of the church in Kirkdale, and an engraving above the door still commemorates that. He held significant estates in Northumbria, either by conquest or gift.

Orm married into royalty. His wife, Etheldreda was the daughter of Aldred, Earl of Northumbria. Her uncle was Duncan, King of Scotland. Her great grandfather had been King of Northumbria before it had been conquered and added to the kingdom of England.

Gamel, Orm’s son, had significant land in York, Dereby, Lincoln, Stafford, Salop and Chester. He was Lord of Thorparch, on the river Thorpe in Yorkshire, There is record that he was generous to the Church, as he gave one of his manor homes to the Church of St. Peter in York. Given the time when he lived, he may have participated in Earl Siward’s 1054 military expedition against the Scottish king Mac Bethad (Macbeth!). Gamel’s mother was sister to Siward’s wife, and he was thus viewed as “family” in that household. Siward, the Earl of Northumbria, died in 1055 from dysentery. His son was too young to assume rule, so King Edward the Confessor appointed Tostig Godwinson, one of his own brothers-in-law, as Earl.

Tostig was not well-liked in Northumbria, being a Saxon in a land of many Danes and Scots. A few years earlier, he had been exiled by King Edward, briefly, from England along with his father, the Earl of Wessex. Tostig spent a lot of time in the court of King Edward, preferring the company of his kinsmen in Wessex to the people in Northumbria. He also likely secretly allied himself with the Scottish king Malcolm III. Tostig heavily taxed the locals, made unpopular decisions, and generally was disliked. He increased this dislike by appointing an inept administrator in the form of someone named Copsig who was inept. Tostig ordered the killing of several lords who objected to his heavy hand, including Ulf, son of Dofin, and Gamel, son of Orm, in 1064 during a visit to his manor in York under safe conduct.

Gamelbar, Gamel’s son, was successful and inherited his father’s lands. He was Baron of Spofforth, was recorded (after the Norman Conquest) as having the following fiefs: Folyfate, Aiketon, Spoford, Ribbeston, Plumpton, Colthorp, Stockton, Lynton, Heselwode, Sutton, Sighelinghale, Lofthowse, Kibelingcotes, Guthmundenham, Cloughton, Pokethorp, Esthorp, Hoton, Fosseton, Wandesford, Nafferton, Queldryke, Wartre, Thriberg, Edelington, Middleton, Stubbum, Skaln, Colesburn, Nesselfeld, Inwely, Wheteley, Askwith, Dalton, Horton, Casteley, Letheley, Walton, Bergheby, Arlesthorp, Soreby, Hemelsby, Steynton, Asmonderby, Merkingfeld, Hornyngton, Wolsington, Yedon, Rondon, Oxton, Tadcastre, Snawes, Haghornby, Gramhope, Kerkby, Kerkby-Orblawers, Carleton, Midhope, Remington, Neusome, Boulton, Horton, Gersington, Lynton, Ketelwell, Thresfeld, Arnecliffe, Addingham, Routherneck, Stynton, Estborne, Malghum, Brunby, Swyndon, Halton, Pathorne, Elgfeld, Thornton, Bunyngeston, Difford, Gisborne, and Westeby. Spoford or Spofforth was a place name, derived centuries earlier, and means “spot of land where the ford is” (as in ford of the river). It is uncertain what river that may have been, but the town of Spofforth is along the River Crimple, which empties into the River Nidd.

Clearly, Gamelbar was a wealthy and powerful thane.

On 3 October 1065, all the thegns (thanes) in the region rebelled, marched to Eoforwic (York) and defeated Earl Tostig’s house troops (all Danish mercenaries — he didn’t trust the locals, and apparently for good reason); Gamelbar was a leader in this revolt. King Edward sent Harold, Earl of Wessex (his brother-in-law), to York as his emissary. Harold secured a truce, and returned to the king with the recommendation that Tostig be stripped of his title. It was so ordered by the king, and Tostig again went into exile, now with a big grudge against Harold.

Tostig raised some troops via his father-in-law, Count Baldwin of Flanders, and made several raids along the coast. In January, 1066, King Edward died and Harold became king. Many others wanted to claim the throne, including Harald Hardrada of Norway, who launched an invasion. In September Tostig joined forces with Hardrada to invade Northumbria where they conquered York. Nearly simultaneously, William the Bastard of Normandy invaded Wessex (he claimed that Edward had promised the throne to him; he and Edward were cousins).

King Harold learned of the fall of York, first, and he put his troops on a forced march to the north where he caught Tostig and Hardrada by surprise. Their army was not prepared for a battle, and were defeated at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, with both Tostig and Hardrada killed and Gamel avenged.

However, as this concluded, news reached the King about William’s Norman force landing to the south. He put his exhausted (and bloodied) army on a march south to meet them. They eventually met at the battle of Hastings, where Harold — making some poor decisions along the way — died (as did his two remaiming brothers) and William became William the Conqueror; had he lost, he would probably still be known to history as William the Bastard.

Meanwhile, Gamelbeorn, also known as Gamelbar de Spofford, had been loyal to King Harold. He participated in the revolt to the Normans in 1068-1069, but the effort was defeated. William exacted terrible revenge on everyone in Yorkshire, including Gamelbar. He forfeit his estates, his mansion in York, and his many other manor homes. Those were given to William’s ally, William de Percy, who was made a Baron. Gamelbar’s main manor home was in the town of Spoford (Spofforth, now.) Gamelbar was almost certainly put to death if he was not killed in battle. (See the section below on Spofforth Castle)

So, the early history of the Spafford (et al) line has them being significantly involved with the incidents that led to the victory of William the Conqueror: Gamel’s assassination as a cause of rebellion against Tostig, leading to bad blood with Harold, leading to the attack that sapped Harold’s troops and thus unable to defeat William’s forces. As we will see later, they also were involved, very indirectly, with the Magna Carta. The family also had an indirect connection to Shakespeare via the real King Macbeth.

Line of Descent

Based on the available information (linked in above), the following appears to be the line from Orm, my (great-)29grandfather to me; there is some small dispute about whether there was another generation in 20-22. I’m leaving out siblings, although some are known (but not all are). A rather comprehensive family history up to 1888 is available as an online book, although at least one alternate and well-researched history presents some disagreement.

  1. Orm, Lord of Thorpatch. Born probably around 965, died before 1042
  2. Gamel of Spofforth. Born ca 990, killed 1064. Lord of Thorparch and Lord of the Manor of Ilkley. King’s fowler and Ranger of the Forest of Knaresborough. Assassinated by Tostig, Earl of Northumbria.
  3. Gamelbar or Gamelbeorn. Born ca 1015, died in or after 1068. Lord of Spofforth, Plumpton, Braham, etc.
  4. William de Spofforth. Born ca 1040. Joined Aldred, Archbishop of York in resisting Normans. His properties were also confiscated by the Normans in 1086 as a result of William’s scourge of Yorkshire.
  5. Walter de Spofforth. Born ca 1063, died ca 1091. Walter was killed in an invasion of England by Scottish king Malcolm III.
  6. John of Spofforth. Born ca 1085, died ca 1091. Married Juliana de Plumpton, daughter of Nigel, a lord. This was the first in a long familial association with the Plumptons over 200 years.
  7. Henry. Born ca 1115. Married the daughter of Sir Richard de Stokeld.
  8. Elwine or Elerina de Spofforth. (Also known as Robert.) Born ca 1145 and died after 1186.
  9. Gamel de Spofforth. Born ca 1175. Was Marshall to Nigel de Plumpton, Lord of Plumpton.
  10. William of Spofforth. Born ca 1200. Noted as attending a Parliment at St. Albans
  11. Nicholas de Spauford. Born ca 1235, died ca 1265. Married Dyonysia de Plumpton.
  12. Roger Blase de Spofford. Born ca 1260, died after 1325. Joined Lord Pembroke in the insurrection vs. Edward II in around 1320.
  13. Robert of Spofforth. Born ca 1285, died after 1338. Married Agnes Castelay.
  14. Robert of Spofforth. Born ca 1310, died after 1339. Married Evorta de Norwode. Served as the Prior of Helaugh.
  15. Robert Spofforth. Born ca 1340, died after 1361. Married Mary de Malebis, daughter of Sir Thomas de Malebis. Robert’s nephew, Thomas Spofford, was in the House of Lords in the reign of Henry V as Abbot of St. Mary’s in York. It is alleged that Thomas was a hero in one of the ballads of Robin Hood while Bishop of Hereford! He was also elected one of the four presidents of the Council of Constance.
  16. John Spofford. Born ca 1360, and died after 1396. Married Maria Meynel. Lived in Newsham, England.
  17. Robert Spofforth. Born ca 1405, died after 1431. Married Ann Anlaby, daughter of William Anlany and Alice Ughtred. Lived in Menthrope, near Selby, and in York.
  18. Robert Spofforth, born ca 1460, died after 1494. Married Ellen Roncliffe, daughter of Baron Bryan Roncliffe. They lived in Wistow Manor, near Selby.
  19. Bryan Spofforth. Born ca 1500, died ca 1555. Was rector of Barton-le-Street from 1536-1554. Married Agnes Aslaby (a nun), daughter of Walter Fawkes, in 1530. He was ejected from the church in 1554.
  20. Robert Spofford (sometimes listed as Richard). Born ca 1532. Married Agnes Clare, daughter of Gilbert Clare, in 1565. Robert was the first Protestant from birth in the family.
  21. [According to some accounts, there was another generation here, with Richard, b. ca 1565, died 1611. Married Anne. He was esquire to Sir Wm. Bambrough.]
  22. John Spofforth. Born ca 1588, died 1668. John was the Vicar of Silkstone, but was ejected as a nonconformist (Puritan). Married Ellen.
  23. John Spofford. born 1612 died ca 6 Nov 1678. Emigrated to Massachusetts in 1638 as a Puritan aboard the “John of London” sailing from Hull with a group led by the Rev. Ezekiel Rogers. Married Elizageth Scott, who came to MA at the age of 9 in April 1634 aboard the ship “Elizabeth.” She was the daughter of Thomas Scott and Elizabeth Strutt; the Scott family traces back to Charlemagne. John & Elizabeth lived in Ipswich and Newbury. John was 13 years older than Elizabeth. As a matter of trivia, each traveled to the colonies aboard a ship bearing their names.
  24. John Spaford II. Born 24 Oct 1648 in Rowley, MA and died 22 Apr 1696 in Bradford MA. He married Sarah Wheeler, daughter of David Wheeler and Sarah Wise. John’s name appears in the list of soldiers with Capt. Thomas Prentice’s Company in King Philip’s War, Feb 29, 1675-1676, and also in Capt. Appleton’s troop in the Narragansett campaign of the same war. John and Sarah had 8 children.
  25. Jonathan Spofford. Born 28 May 1684 in Rowley, MA and died 16 Jan 1772 in Georgetown MA. Married Jemima Freethe, daughter of John Freethe and Hannah Bray. Jonathan and Jemima had 13 children, not all of whom lived to adulthood.
  26. Jacob Spafford. Born 17 Aug 1722 Rowley, MA and died 1769 in Salisbury CT. He married Rebecca Smalley, daughter of Benjamin Smalley and Rebecca Wright. Jacob and Rebecca had 11 children. He was the first to use the last name Spafford with that spelling.
  27. Solomon Spofford. Born 21 Sep 1756 and died 2 Feb 1837 in Athol, Ontario. He Married Sally Sheldon. He had achieved the rank of Colonel in the army. He fought with the colonists in the Revolutionary War, but his allegiance changed and he fought with the British in the War of 1812, moving to Canada after the war ended. Solomon and Sally had 9 children.
  28. Abijah Pratt Spafford. Born ca 1787 and died 1842. Married Margaret Sheldon Ferguson, daughter of J. Ferguson and Polly Young. They had 9 children.
  29. Abijah Spafford. Born ca 1825 in Athol, Ontario, and died 4 Dec 1909 in Cherry Valley, Ontario. He had a paralyzing stroke in July of 1908. He married Anna Eliza Ketchum, daughter of Thomas H. Ketchum and Caroline Jackson. Abijah was a Methodist minister.
  30. Thomas Franklin Spafford. Born 16 Mar 1857, died Dec 1937, both in Cherry Valley, Ontario. Married Sarah Catherine Wood, daughter of Nehemiah Wood. He was a schoolteacher.
  31. Marcus Vernon Spafford. Born 11 Jan 1883 Sophiasburg, Ontario, and died 23 Jun 1948 in Rochester, NY. He married Ila Maude Foster, daughter of William Asa Foster and Lucritia Iantha Anderson. They emigrated to the US ca 1902, and he worked as a foreman in the film doping plant for George Eastman at Kodak. He became a naturalized US citizen on 29 November 1921. Ila lived to age 100.
  32. Howard Franklin Spafford. Born 22 Apr 1918 in Rochester, and died 3 July 2007 in Hartford, CT. Married Elizabeth Ann Gallagher, daughter of Eugene Paul Gallagher and Ruby Viola Shoemaker. Howard served in WWII in an antiaircraft battery deployed in Europe. He later served as an accountant and financial officer for several small companies in the Rochester area.
  33. Eugene Howard Spafford. The current affront to civilization from the Spafford family.

John Spofford (#23) was the ancestor of almost all of the Spaffords, Spoffords, and similar in the US and Canada. A few others have since immigrated from other parts of the British Empire.

To the best of my ability to tell, there are no male heirs to this line after at least Thomas (#30), and possibly earlier — all lines end in daughters. If I were to somehow have sons at this point, I might try to name them Orm and Gamel.

Crest and Motto and Etc

The family motto has been rendered as Fidelis ad extremum or “Faithful to the extreme.” Another version has been “Rather Deathe than false of Faythe,” which is rather the same thing. Given some of the family history of continuing to serve on the losing side of disagreements long after the outcome was decided, this certainly seems apt!

A commercial service has a version of the Spafford coat of arms. This is one of two versions. The other version is shown to the right.

There have been a few notable Spaffords about. Check out the Wikipedia page for Horatio Spafford, for instance, especially if you think your luck is bad; the Spafford Center in Jerusalem is related.
Suzy Spafford is a notable cartoonist. Spafford Lake on the campus of UC Davis is named after a long-time administrator in the UC system, Ed Spafford. Roz Spafford is an award-winning author. George Spafford has coauthored several books with my former student Gene Kim.

There is a jam-rock band from Arizona named Spafford, although I have no idea why they picked that name.

NY State has a town of Spafford. I’ve been there — it is a pleasant little town in the Finger Lakes region.

There are other Spaffords about, if you know where to look for them, and many are worth finding.

Spofforth Castle

The ruins of Spofforth Castle still stand in the town of Spofforth. Actually, it is the remains of a fortified manor house, but at one point it would have been seen as a castle. Only the western part of the castle still stands — there was originally more to the East, North, and West. After the castle fell to ruins, the locals took a great many of the stones to build their homes, churches, and common buildings, thus leaving much less of the grandeur that was once there.

After William took Northumbria, he gave all of Gamelbar’s lands and manors to his buddy, William de Percy. Spofforth Castle was constructed in the 11th century. It seems likely (although there is no clear archeological evidence) that Spofforth Castle was built on the foundations of one of Gamelbar’s early homes.

Legend has it that the first version of the Magna Carta was drafted at Spofforth Castle!

One account notes that Harry Hotspur was born here at Spofforth Castle in 1364. He is a notable character in Shakespeare’s play Henry IV, as a friend of Henry V. In real life he also was a notable knight, who rebelled against King Henry IV and killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403.

The castle was ruined in 1461, after the Percys sided with Lancaster in the War of the Roses — and lost. Over 100 years later, the castle was restored, but it was not used as a primary residence and fell into disuse. It was last occupied in 1604, and again ruined in the civil war (1642-1651).

The castle has a ghost, too!

One might make the comment that the castle is like the Spafford authoring this blog — old, weathered, and in ruins.

Here is a video tour of the castle, taken in 2011, with silly music in the background.

This is a gallery of pictures I took in August 2013 of the castle and its interior:

Historic marker

Long view from ENE

NE side

East side & entrance

SE side, looking NW

SE side looking W

South side, outside

NE corner

North side

NW side & tower

NW base of tower, looking S

West side

Entering in via N wall

Inside undercroft, looking North

Inside undercroft, looking South

Inside undercroft, looking NE

Stairs in SE corner

Another view looking South

NW corner with chapel window

View to NE from inside

View to NW from inside

Paranoia or Pattern Recognition?

Last year, I wrote this post about the increasing danger posed by fundamentalism in the U.S.A. — not Islamic fundamentalism, but so-called Christian fundamentalism, and its threat to science. (And here are some supporting thoughts published via Scientific American and the UK Guardian.)

This morning, as I finished my second gallon of coffee :-), this post set me off: Blind, severely disabled boy forced to take standardized test. That was on top of the news from yesterday that Senator Coburn had finally succeeded in getting one of his attacks against NSF included in a funding bill.

I can’t help but wonder if these kinds of things aren’t continuing salvos in a deeper agenda — one that not all of itds supporters may have even thought about. Then again, maybe I’m feeling especially paranoid and caffinated today, but….

First, think about the ideological attacks on public school teachers as moochers and incompetent (think: Wisconsin as a glaring example, and here’s a good explanation of the phenomenon). The thrust of these efforts is to drive their pay and benefits so low that the profession is completely unattractive to anyone with competence (let alone, excellence). Coupled with this are passage of laws that threaten their pensions and prevent them from using unions to resist.

More or less concurrently, the laws have been set up to penalize schools based on testing — forcing every student to take tests that they are set up to fail, thus depressing the scores to provide “proof” that public schools are “failing.” (As an aside, if only we had similar evaluation of the legislators passing these laws based on scores rather than financed, partisan elections…..)

Another step is to open up voucher programs and make them easy to get for parents who want to opt out of public schools. This further erodes the resources for public schooling. It also boosts the attendance at schools that teach crap creationist “science” and revisionist history (think: the fairy tales that Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin spout). The adults educated as children in these schools will almost certainly tend to vote for the know-nothings who are engineering the destruction of real education, and will want their own children to attend these New World madrassas rather than be exposed to reality.

So goes the spiral as secular, scientific, reason-based education circles the drain.

Couple this with the mantra of “must eliminate the debt and big government” that are used as excuses to cut research (Senator Coburn’s vendetta against NSF is one example, and shuttering NASA programs another), cut early education and child support, continually reduce higher education support and scholarships, and block appointment of any Federal judges many of whom show evidence of understanding separation of church and state,… hmmm, what else? Concentrate the wealth and thus much of the political power in the hands of an elite that are largely separated from average people. Mix in the advocacy of increased military spending. Paint Islam and China as looming threats. Extrapolate from those data points, and many more you can add in.

Let’s see. Cut away at good secular education, deny advanced education for any but the dogmatic, undercut chances at economic freedom, the privileged are “more equal than others because they work harder,” promote an agenda of extreme ideals, and beat the drum for “vigilance” against heretical foes. What comes to mind? Orwell’s 1984, Nazi Germany, the early Soviet Union, North Korea… and the USA of 25-35 years from now? Foster ignorance, economic stagnation, and rabid ideology, and it is simple to move to totalitarian control.

All this is coming from one end of the US political spectrum, and one political party. Is it surprising to anyone if they might have delusions of the US as a sectarian military power dominating the world with their ideals? If not, ask yourself — what threatens that vision? What is “under attack” according to their rhetoric? How could they change the U.S. to be more suitable to their view of domination? And is that inconsistent with what has been happening?

Am I getting all that from 1 report of insane rules overapplied to a child in Florida? Nope. But I’ve seen so much of this in the last few years, and especially this week (the Coburn move against NSF being the most irritating) that, coupled with too much coffee, here’s my rant.

I can guess at some of the people who will read this far and who will denigrate everything about it. Sadly, those people are almost certainly aligned with the ones helping perpetrate the decline, perhaps even without thinking about where it all might lead. The most dogmatic are the ones who are most easily misled and who most quickly rise to their defense.

If we care, we need to push back. Push back against Senator Coburn, and Governor Scott Walker, and Reps. Paul Ryan and Michele Bachmann, and all the other demagogues who would happily push us into the world of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Even if I’m not paranoid it doesn’t mean that the know-nothings aren’t out to destroy all teaching of science and history they don’t like (which the rest of us can call “reality” for short). It doesn’t mean they won’t try to push their religious views on us. And it doesn’t mean they won’t seek to hobble — economically and politically — everyone who doesn’t agree with them.

All it takes for those ideals to win out is for the rest of us to allow those demagogues to keep getting elected and spouting their nonsense on radio and TV without correction (e.g., that “reality” stuff). Does it matter to you, or are @lolcats, “The Batchelor” and “Jersey Shore” all you really care about? Based on response from three different classes this week, less than 10% of even the best educated are bothering to keep up with the news — they didn’t know about the cyberattacks in South Korea, that the President was in Israel, that China had elected a new premier, the financial crisis in Cyprus…. but wow, several of them certainly knew about who was on “Dancing with the Stars” and which teams were in the NCAA basketball tournament. I’m beginning to wonder if the forces of ignorance have not already won. 😦

Musing on the Near Future

I read an interesting article online today. It is simply the latest in a long set of articles on related topics that have sparked some discussion with people over the last year or so.

I want to give this a little spin that I haven’t seen in the news or commentary, simply to provoke some thought. That, and I’m getting tired of all the Chik-fil-a discussions and yet more evidence of politicians being less concerned with the people than with (re)election. Here’s a chance to get some discussion on something else. (Yes, I suppose that makes this a long-winded troll.)


First, it is clear that Iran’s leadership is trying to push things as far as they can. In some senses, they do indeed have a right to enrich uranium so long as they allow international inspections and don’t head towards weaponizing it. After all, they have signed the non-proliferation treaty. However, statements and actions by the government there do not lead to any sense of calm and confidence that they would abide by the treaty, and to date they have violated it in several ways. They’ve repeatedly rejected attempts to resolve some of the issues.

So, the international community has pushed sanctions. The U.S. just ratcheted up the issue by setting indirect sanction in place on banks and firms in countries doing business with Iran.   

Some critics of the current U.S. administration have been claiming that the sanctions aren’t working, and we need a military option. In fact, reports out of Iran are that the sanctions are increasingly degrading the quality of life for common Iranians, and that is increasing their dissatisfaction with the government. That is precisely the plan. The more unrest and discontent in the populace, the more the government has to beat the drums about being under siege by the rest of the world because of their “righteous cause.”

OK, this isn’t news to anyone who has given it some thought, or thought about prior instances of countries under sanctions. However, given the sanctions, one wonders if they are likely to achieve the desired goals. The question is one of “what goals are those?

Here’s where some interesting events could come about, and may be the actual intent.

There have been repeated public claims by the Iranian government that it views the sanctions as hostile acts. There have also been statements about how they aren’t afraid to go to war and close the Straights of Hormuz, and will do so if provoked. There has been a fair amount of sword-rattling. This is one of the few ways they can really do anything militarily, because they really don’t have a strong navy or a lot of resources to employ.

Closing the Straights — or even trying to — would raise some panic among shipping companies that transit oil tankers through there. Loss of a big tanker would be very expensive, and insurance doesn’t normally cover acts of war. It would likely stop some of the tanker traffic, which in turn would raise the market price (and some availability) of oil, thus leading to strain on Western economies. The Iranians — and everyone else — knows this. That is why the threat has some impact.

However, quietly over the last year, various western powers appear to have been building up bases and anti-mine capabilities in the region, and are well-equipped to counter any Iranian moves to interdict naval traffic. There have also been some moves to change oil usage and flow, including a new Saudi pipeline that bypasses the Straights.

So, here’s how the scenario might well play out:

  • the new sanctions really hurt and the Iranian people are even more unhappy with the government
  • the Iranian government feels forced to make a public move to consolidate its position
  • the Iranian government makes some move in the Straights of Hormuz, and/or the Revolutionary Guards, under pressure, make some error that results in apparent hostilities in the Straights
  • given the excuse of threats to shipping in International waterways, NATO and/or other powers intervene
  • there is escalation until there is an actual shooting conflict involved

Again, that isn’t overly surprising. What I want to suggest, however, is that when this happens, it will also be perfect cover for launching an offensive against the nuke plants. Iran will have proven itself an aggressor, and will be in a pitched fight at sea — that will be perfect political and tactical cover for airstrikes, and maybe even deployment of some special ops teams to get things that airpower can’t.

The question is whether or not the Iranian leadership is crazy enough, defiant enough, and/or desperate enough to create the incident. The problem is, they don’t have many options. If they don’t do something, it threatens long-term support from within. And ideologically, it seems unlikely they will back off on enrichment because that would show the world they submitted to demands from both the Little Satan (Israel) and the Big Satan (USA).

My prediction: conflict by early October.


As with anything else, however, there are secondary effects to consider. If the above scenario plays out in any way similar to the above, there are at least three probable secondary effects:

1) North Korea occupies a roughly similar political position as Iran in the world: nuclear capabilities, pariah state, erratic political behavior, population under stress from sanctions. There has been some apparent thawing beginning with Kim Jong Un’s consolidation in power. If shooting breaks out with Iran, expect North Korea’s military to gain ascendency. This is not likely to trigger a crisis, per se, but it will wipe out the chance of some reconciliation that appears to be appearing.

2) Any threat of conflict in the oil production zone or the shipping lanes will impact oil prices. If that happens for more than a few weeks, it will have a negative impact on many economies — especially within the EU. It will hasten defaults by several governments and the probable breakup of the Euro zone. (If there is no conflict, I expect the same to happen by the end of the year anyhow. Spain and Greece are going to go into default, and France and Italy may join them. The debt loads are unsustainable and default is inevitable. It is simply a matter of time, and an oil crisis would move it forward.)

Fallout of European defaults will not be pretty. It will cause significant hiccups in both the Chinese and US economies. It might be enough to trigger a slide into a global depression.

3) Depending on timing, this will have an effect on the US elections. Late in the fall, it will likely aid in Obama’s re-election as the decisive commander-in-chief will be the image voters will have going to the polls. Between now and late September will give time for the economy to slide, and that might well be in Romney’s favor.


Black swan events could change a lot of this, of course. My personal “favorites” involve major earthquakes (California, New Madrid fault, Istanbul, China); major eruption of Katla in Iceland, shutting down air travel across Europe; conflict involving Pakistan (accidental war with India or internal rebellion); major solar storm that damages electrical transmission systems in North America or Europe. There are undoubtedly others (that is part of the definition of Black Swan!), but any one of those would be sufficient to make the world situation much more complicated.

There are also the troubling issues of what happens if the al Assad regime uses its chemical weapons, or allows them to fall into the hands of jihadists. Or any scenario with Iran where they start lobbing ballistic missiles into Israel, even if only armed with conventional warheads. The results of either would be very ugly: Israel does allegedly have nuclear weapons, and the hardliners in charge will strike back, hard, at any perceived existential threat. The follow-on to something like that would be very bad.


Overall, I expect the rest of this year to be interesting.

My sincere hope is that I’m totally wrong. After all, my day job is computing. But if not, you read it here.

You may now return to your lolcats, Pinterest, and competing rants about the economy. 🙂

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