Friday, 21 July 2017

Quote of the Day: On the Ponzi scheme of contemporary economic theory

"Both the neoclassical synthesis and the neoliberal consensus ... condition economists to argue, without irony, in their roles as professors, private consultants, and high-ranking public employees, that they have special expertise in setting economic policy, but also that the most reasonable economic policy is no economic policy. Mainstream economists acknowledge their inability to predict the effects of economic policy in order to emphasise that when the economic policies they endorse have adverse economic consequences, nobody is to blame. But they still contend that in moments of economic crisis, only economists possess the special expertise to fix a failing economy. This is the Ponzi scheme of contemporary economics….

"One is tempted ... to wonder whether the 'Queen of the Social Sciences is a dry cellar, a cactus land, a paralysed force, a headpiece filled with straw. What part of the record of economics should persuade us economists aren’t altogether expendable? 'What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow, out of this stony rubbish?'"

~ Matt Seybold, from ‘The End of Economics’ in the LA Review of Books

[Hat tip Per Bylund, who adds his own very pertinent comment … ]

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: ‘Unpacking the Archive’

This to me is far more important than any election: Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) celebrating the work of Frank Lloyd Wright 150 years after his birth.

Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the most prolific and renowned architects of the 20th century, a radical designer and intellectual who embraced new technologies and materials, pioneered do-it-yourself construction systems as well as avant-garde experimentation, and advanced original theories with regards to nature, urban planning, and social politics. Marking the 150th anniversary of the American architect’s birth on June 8, 1867, MoMA presents Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive, a major exhibition that critically engages his multifaceted practice. The exhibition comprises approximately 450 works made from the 1890s through the 1950s, including architectural drawings, models, building fragments, films, television broadcasts, print media, furniture, tableware, textiles, paintings, photographs, and scrapbooks, along with a number of works that have rarely or never been publicly exhibited. Structured as an anthology rather than a comprehensive, monographic presentation of Wright’s work, the exhibition is divided into 12 sections, each of which investigates a key object or cluster of objects from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives, interpreting and contextualizing it, and juxtaposing it with other works from the Archives, from MoMA, or from outside collections. The exhibition seeks to open up Wright’s work to critical inquiry and debate, and to introduce experts and general audiences alike to new angles and interpretations of this extraordinary architect.


Here's the lecture/interview celebrating what’s been and being unpacked.


Quote of the Day: Politicians are always interested in people …

"Politicians are always interested in people. Not that this is always a virtue. Fleas are always interested in dogs.”
~ P.J. O'Rourke


Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Bonus Quote of the Day: On the ever-accelerating downward pull of the welfare state

"Morally and economically, the welfare state creates an ever accelerating downward pull. Morally, the chance to satisfy demands by force spreads the demands wider and wider, with less and less pretense at justification. Economically, the forced demands of one group create hardships for all others, thus producing an inextricable mixture of actual victims and plain parasites. Since need, not achievement, is held as the criterion of rewards, the government necessarily keeps sacrificing the more productive groups to the less productive, gradually chaining the top level of the economy, then the next level, then the next. (How else are unachieved rewards to be provided?)
"There are two kinds of need involved in this process: the need of the group making demands, which is openly proclaimed and serves as cover for another need, which is never mentioned—the need of the power-seekers, who require a group of dependent favor-recipients in order to rise to power. Altruism feeds the first need, statism feeds the second, Pragmatism blinds everyone—including victims and profiteers—not merely to the deadly nature of the process, but even to the fact that a process is going on…

"[A] real turning point came when the welfare statists switched from economics to physiology: they began to seek a new power base in deliberately fostered racism, the racism of minority groups, then in the hatreds and inferiority complexes of women, of 'the young,’ etc. The significant aspect of this switch was the severing of economic rewards from productive work. Physiology replaced the conditions of employment as the basis of social claims. The demands were no longer for 'just compensation,' but just for compensation, with no work required.

"So long as the power-seekers clung to the basic premises of the welfare state, holding need as the criterion of rewards, logic forced them, step by step, to champion the interests of the less and less productive groups, until they reached the ultimate dead end of turning from the role of champions of 'honest toil' to the role of champions of open parasitism, parasitism on principle, parasitism as a ‘right' (with their famous slogan turning into: 'Who does not toil, shall eat those who do’).”

~ Ayn Rand, from “A Preview,” The Ayn Rand Letter, I, 23, 1

Quote of the Day: Corbynomics explained

Satirical magazine Private Eye explains Corbynomics — and the electoral bribery thereof— better then the man himself. Metiria Turei, Gareth Morgan, and others, all appear to have been listening ….

[Hat tipHani Mustafa‏]

Monday, 17 July 2017

Quote of the Day: “You want a safety net, go do it…”

“…but don’t force me to participate if I don’t want to… [State] welfare is morally wrong. Spend your own money [if you want] to help the poor.”
~Yaron Brook

Friday, 14 July 2017

Quote of the Day: Individuals act

“All rational action is in the first place individual action. Only the individual thinks. Only the individual reasons.” ~ Ludwig Von Mises

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Quote of the Day: On rap “music”

“Today the dominant voice [in popular music] is thug poetry or [so-called] rap “music,” which is lower than even the genuine, original jungle impulse. Growing from the helpless ghetto child’s fear and insecurity, it expresses an enormous defensive facade hiding his feelings of weakness, vulnerability and inadequacy, overcompensating with an exaggerated mask and pageantry of impervious toughness, threatening might; it is an aggressive parade of the thug’s willingness and readiness to commit crimes against you here and now. It is the essence of a thug’s character and persona: a life of physical, criminal force negating the mind.”
~ M. Zachary Johnson, from his book Emotion in Life & Music: A New Science


Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Quote of the Day: On Dante v Shakespeare

"Dante made great poetry out of a great philosophy of life; and that Shakespeare made equally great poetry out of an inferior and muddled philosophy of life… Dante's pattern is the richer by a serious philosophy, and Shakespeare's the poorer by a rag-bag philosophy, [but] I should say that [as a writer skilled in the two arts of poetry and drama] Shakespeare's pattern was more complex, and his problem more difficult, than Dante’s.”

~ T.S. Eliot, writing in G. Wilson Knight’s The Wheel of Fire


Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Quote of the Day: Sanity?

“Sometimes I think that this is an era when sanity has become controversial.”
~ Thomas Sowell

Monday, 10 July 2017

Quote of the Day: On ideas being immune to criticism

"The moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.”
~ Salman Rushdie

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Quote of the Day: On the problem with the Treaty industry’s “quasi-judicial inquiry” into NZ’s colonial past


“But this is by no means a history of ‘fatal impact,’ in which European contact and colonisation lead unremittingly to the destruction of an indigeneous people that was throughout the innocent victim of European aggression and manipulation …
    “[My] emphasis on (bilateral) ‘outcomes’ rather than (unilateral) ‘impacts’ leads to a “dual agency’ view of settlement history – ‘Maori and Europeans sharing the initiative in developments and, by implication, responsibility for them.’ This perspective fits uncomfortably into the adversarial framework of Treaty claims history, to which admissions of joint initiative and responsibility are anathema pro facto.
    “Such quasi-judicial inquiry into our colonial past threatens to reduce it to a world of binary opposites: Pakeha were villains; Maori were victims. Colonisation was bad; indigneous society was good. Pakeha were devious; Maori were honourable. Maori were destroyed; Pakeha flourished.
    “By implication [then in the way history is now told], Maori became passive and Pakeha active participants in the encounter situation. Maori ‘agancy’ is acknowledged only in terms of political resistance, its exercise in economics ignored in the rush to blame the Crown for the material losses of Maori.
    “Although anthropologists have brought valuable cultural perspectivesto the inquiry,they have also widened gaps by reinforcing notions of the ‘other,’ making cultural dissonance between Maori and Europeans inevitable .. [and] have tended to reinforce notilns of frozen culture.
    “Giselle Byrnes articulates the concerns of many when she writes: ‘… treaty claims history is tending to invert colonialist paradigms of hegemony and reinvent old binarism’s.”
~ quoted from Paul Monin’s 2006 book Hauraki Contested, 1769-1875


Monday, 3 July 2017

Quote of the Day: On bludging sailors and subsidised Cups

“It’s starting to look as if Grant Dalton is well-named, because he’s after another one. A grant. A handout. A reach-around from taxpayer to pocket -- the pocket being his and his colleagues, the lever to extract the dosh being the fear “we” may not have [an] America’s Cup [defence…
    “Because his America’s Cup programme is looking increasing like it’s just welfare for well-fed sailors.
    “If he and his colleagues want to run another challenge, then I suggest they approach a few of those businessmen and women who can be heard saying the America’s Cup would be “good for the economy.” People like
Marine Industry Association bludger-in-chief Peter Busfield [who says “a decision not to invest would be disastrous for New Zealand.” If people like Mr Busfield think it would be good for their economy, then let them either front up, or shut up. Put your hand in your own pocket, Peter, and keep it out of ours."
~ quote from this blog’s 2014 post ‘Piss Off, Grant.

“The bottom line is this: if people with their own money want to enjoy having a team in the Cup,  then all power to them. Great. Put up your own dosh.
    “If businessmen and women think a Team NZ in the America’s Cup will help their business, then all power to them too. Let them put up their own money to help their business out.
    “And if politicians, like [Bill English] and Steven Joyce et al want a place at the international sporting table, then let the bastards go out and get a real job to earn it.
    “[And] don’t employ economists to write bullshit on your behalf to justify your expensive grandstanding.”

~ quote from this blog’s 2014 post ‘Sailing in Subsidised Waters


Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Bruce Goff's Crystal Chapel


Bruce Goff’s Crystal Chapel, designed in 1949 - unbuilt, but recently modelled digitally so you too can see the genius …


Monday, 29 May 2017

The naked & the nudes

I spent the weekend with several dozen nudes. it was thrilling!

There were women and men, big and small, young and old. They were bathing, washing, dancing. There were groups picknicking, drinking, playing. One (or two?) were sitting strangely in armchairs. One was trying on hats. Another caressing a dying young hero. One woman was even lying down as a fish.

And there was a couple kissing, or about to. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Flesh-like marble. Intertwined and interlocking. Erotically charged. Moving and alive. Only a true master at the top of his game could have created it, and it took him a decade.

Of course, I’ve seen it before. In protographs. But photographs can give only the suggestion of a story like this. The shadow, but not the substance. Nothing prepares you for the real thing, live and in the flesh and in front of you. There is nothing else in the world like it!

It took me several hours to walk around it — studying it, enjoying it, imbibing it — and I look forward to many more before it returns home in July. It seems to have the whole world in it, and create whole new worlds of its own.

If you have an ounce of soul yourself stiil unstrained, still unfiltered, then take it along to Auckland’s Art Gallery to see the Tate Gallery’s exhibition of nude masterpieces. Take an hour, at least, to walk around Rodin’s The Kiss. Any direction. Sit with it. Study it. if there is a greater work of art in the world, I don’t know it.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Postmodernism is bunk

If you want to know what’s wrong with the modern world, then most of what’s wrong (apart from Geelong’s inability to play consistent football) is due to bad philosophy. And most of that bad philosophy in the modern world comes under the heading of postmodernism.

Every student at every institution will have encountered it, and then either absorbed it (in whole or in part) or, if they’re particularly courageous, combatted it. Every one of those students — and you! — needs this book by Stephen Hicks in their backpack: something now made infinitely easier by author Stephen Hicks having made the first edition available to download completely free!

Download free here.

As my friend Jeffrey Perren says,

This is your chance to get FREE one of the best books on philosophy written in the past 25 years. If you want to understand much of what's happening today, read this.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Projects, Day 7: Howick renovation



So some of you have been asking why blogging here has been so light, recently. There’s a simple answer: it’s not just that politics is so dire, it’s that the workload of my current projects has been so heavy.

Among the (too) many projects is this one, another renovation project for a ‘mid-century modern’ in Howick which, like every good renovation project, involves a bit of untangling …



Monday, 15 May 2017

Quote of the Day: On automation & A.I.

Author Henry Hazlitt makes an interesting differentiation between types of automation that is entirely pertinent to what some are calling “the Fourth Industrial Revolution,’ i.e., the predicted revolution in robotics artificial intelligence, the differentiation being:

1. Automation of a task previously done manually ("labour saving")

2. Automation of a task inherently impossible to humans ("possible-making")

3. Automation of a task via usage of superior materials ("quality improving")

4. Automation of tasks via breaking into contexts formerly unknown or inaccessible ("integrating") 

(NB: The expansion and the terms in brackets were chosen by online commentator Felix Mueller.)

Hazlitt’s original quote is here:

"Not all inventions and discoveries, of course, are “labour-saving” machines. Some of them, like precision instruments, like nylon, lucite, plywood, and plastics of all kinds, simply improve the quality of products. Others, like the telephone or the airplane, perform operations that direct human labour could not perform at all. Still others bring into existence objects and services, such as X-rays, radios, and synthetic rubber, that would otherwise not even exist."

Friday, 5 May 2017

Projects, Day 6: Remuera bungalow


So some of you were asking why blogging has been so light here recently – and it’s not just that politics has been so dire, it’s that the workload on my current projects has been so heavy.

So among the projects that have been keeping me away from the writing keyboard is this one, untangling an existing Remuera bungalow, and better connecting its occupants to sun, to views, and to its difficult site.





Thursday, 4 May 2017

The Commerce Commission should ban itself


Here’s a post from February that is relevant again today in the wake of the Commerce Communist Commission’s prohibition of the Fairfax/NZME merger. ACT’s David Seymour calls the Commission a dinosaur, suggesting it had its day once. It’s more like a dangerous man-made virus that should never have been released into the wild at all.

So Vodafone and Sky want to merge with each other. And so do Fairfax and NZME.  But the Commerce Commission has ruled the former two may not, and has now declared the latter two must not.

Who is this Communist Commission when it’s at home, and what gives it the right to tell shareholders of major businesses what they should do with their property? I went to their website to find out:

The Commerce Commission [they say] enforces legislation that promotes competition in New Zealand markets and prohibits misleading and deceptive conduct by traders. The Commission also enforces a number of pieces of legislation specific to the telecommunications, dairy and electricity industries. In ensuring compliance with the legislation it enforces, the Commission undertakes investigation and where appropriate takes court action; considers applications for authorisation in relation to anti-competitive behaviour and mergers; and makes regulatory decisions relating to access to telecommunications networks and assessing compliance with performance thresholds by electricity lines businesses.

So we have a monopoly that allegedly fights monopolies, a Quango that allegedly “promotes competition”; as if it were possible for bureaucracy to do that, or a bureaucrat to even fathom what competition looks like and how it works in the real world –  as if “competition” itself were a primary, and not the result of the freedom of free people to do deals and make contracts with each other which are the job of governments to enforce.

That enforcement is the real job of government here. Instead, we have a quango enforcing what for them is a floating abstraction –so-called pure and perfect competition – a thing never seen alive in the wild -- so no wonder they can frequently be seen, for example, “enforcing” competition by prosecuting for “price gouging” when prices are too high, for “predatory pricing” when they’re too low, and for collusion when they’re the same. Such is the nature of bureaucratic enforcement of something they know nothing about. Yet due to their random decision-making all business activity becomes less certain, so by that amount already decreasing the range of options open to consumers – and so making monopolies even more likely, not less.

They are morons given power by idiots.

The idiocy leads to more idiocy. The Communist Commission's draft decision to discourage (in February) and now ban altogther the Fairfax NZME merger on the basis it creates a monopoly saw analysts tell Fairfax that if it doesn’t merge then it must withdraw from NZ, which would of course create the same alleged monopoly over which the Commission is this week wringing its hands. (I say alleged monopoly because the Commission ignores all the other national and international news sources by which New Zealanders may acquire their news now and in the future, many far superior to the superficial offerings of these two fat-headed giants.)

Meanwhile the Commissars’ determination that that Vodafone and Sky must not merge leaves shareholders in both already poorer, and consumers less able to access the sport the Commissars have decided is a human right -- and gives existing telcos less competition than would have otherwise been the case, the very reason some of these non-competitive vultures are crowing today: because they can now safely put their prices up.

  We should prosecute the Commissars themselves for false advertising:

  • They say they act to prevent monopoly, but their actions often encourage it;
  • They say they act to prevent monopoly, yet fail to break up government monopolies or (where they would face the same capital costs as their competitors) to call for their divestiture;
  • They say they enforce competition, yet they fail to recommend the abolition of legislation (such as the RMA, the OSHA, corporate taxes etc.) that helps prevent small companies being able to compete with big companies;
  • They say they enforce competition, yet in telecommunications especially they penalise the most competitive company and keep less competitive companies alive;
  • They allege to have consumers’ interests at heart, yet they delay mergers from which operational synergies can be gained -- thereby raising costs, lowering wages and profits, and thus further reducing capital accumulation and real wages; and
  • They allege to have consumers’ interests at heart, yet their months-long meddling raises investment uncertainty and thus capital costs and hurdles to new investment, so that new services that might benefit consumers are still born, never to see the light of day – and older services, that might have merged in a way that makes them compeittive again, are prohibited from simply trying to stay alive.

Quite simply, they are the legislative manifestation of the tall-poppy-syndrome - they attack any big private business and do nothing meaningful to the protected positions of bloated, wasteful, bullying government organisations just like themselves.

They are not a dinosaur, as David Seymour suggests, they are a dangerous man-made virus that should never have been introduced into the wild.

The idea that a bureaucrat could command competition sounds like it would be a product of a central planning mindset, yet the Communist Commission was not even a product of Muldoon’s command economy – it was a creation of Roger Douglas, a product of the flawed floating abstraction of 'pure and perfect competition' held by the Chicago economics he espoused, a floating, 'Platonic,' idea of competition bearing so little relation to the real world that it needs a bureaucracy with government power to try unsuccessfully to make it happen, damaging all and sundry in the process.

They should prosecute themselves as a predatory monopoly.



Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Bruce Goff, architect

While I was visiting Canberra recently (as my more astute readers spotted), I met up with inspirational practitioner of organic achitecture Laurie Virr — to the delight of both of us.

Bruce Goff has been an architectural hero for us both over many years, but never having heard him speak, I was delighted to find that Laurie had a video of Goff talking about and visiting many of the homes he’d designed: homes as unique as the characters he’d designed them for.

The video quality is poor, but I find every minute thrilling!

Monday, 1 May 2017

Occupational licensing doesn't protect who you think it does

Occupational licensing doesn't protect who you think it does. Rather than protecting consumers, its more about protectionism for those being licensed — and ideal way to bar competitors and minimize the dangers, to incumbents, of the new, novel and innovative.

In fact, argues Jason Sorens in this guest post, Licensing tradesmen and professionals is about little more than consumer exploitation, .

Do occupational licensing laws protect you from unscrupulous and unqualified practitioners? Or do they just protect the current practitioners against new competition?

These laws ban ordinary people from practicing a certain trade or profession — be it dentistry or hair-styling — until they have paid fees, undergone a certain number of hours of schooling, and usually passed certain examinations in order to get a license.

The proponents of such licensing laws generally claim that they help keep consumers like you safe from harm and fraud.

But let’s take a look at the evidence for ourselves.

Licensing’s Effect on Quality, Pricing, and Availability

We can examine the effects of occupational licensing on practitioner quality in part by looking at complaints to state governments. University of Minnesota economist Morris Kleiner has found in his book Licensing Occupations and a series of related papers that states that license practitioners see no fewer complaints than states that do not license them.[1]

In terms of pricing, an Obama White House report from 2015 noted that “the evidence on licensing’s effects on prices is unequivocal: many studies find that more restrictive licensing laws lead to higher prices for consumers.”

Furthermore, occupational licensing reduces the supply of new entrants into a profession. A study of Vietnamese manicurists in the American Economic Review found that lengthier training requirements reduced the number of practitioners significantly.

Occupational licensing also reduces low-income entrepreneurship activity significantly. Low-income workers often find it hard to pay for training, particularly when they have to go to school for a year or more to achieve certification for skills they already possess, over which time they still have to support themselves somehow.

Because licensing requirements vary by country and by state, and many do not automatically recognise those of other territories, licensing also prevents practitioners from moving easily or practicing across state lines.[2]

As Econ 101 tells us, that reduction in new entrants raises the wages of existing practitioners at the expense of increased prices to consumers—whom these laws are allegedly intended to protect.

How Licensing Laws Happen

You could call into question a lot of the prior evidence, and it’s not hard to find a few studies that find no effects of licensing (this isn’t too surprising, given the difficulty of measuring these effects). But what makes the incumbent-protection theory of licensing most plausible is actually the politics of the licensing process.

1. Legislators Only Hear from Lobbyists
Who proposes new licenses? It’s almost always a practitioner group that lobbies the state legislature. Very rarely do you see a new licensing proposal emerge because of consumer outcry for it. When state legislators hear testimony on a licensing bill, only practitioners show up to testify, and they are almost always unanimously in favor of licensing.

Consumers don’t show up, and neither do people who might want to enter the profession someday. So it would be really surprising if state legislatures didn’t overregulate occupational entry when the information and pressure they are getting is always so skewed.

2. Licensing Always Grandfathers Existing Practitioners
If licensing were about protecting the public, then licensing requirements would be applied equally to all practitioners. But that’s not what state governments do. Invariably, they exempt incumbents (known as “grandfathering”)and apply the new requirements only to future practitioners. This discrimination makes sense only if you want to restrict supply in order to help incumbents, not if you want to protect the consumer.

3. Strong Sunrise Review Helps
Some places (but very few) have strong “sunrise review” provisions. These require all new licensing proposals to be reviewed by an executive department before the legislature can vote on them, and specify that licensing is only justifiable if it is the least restrictive means necessary to achieve the objective of protecting public health and safety. Colorado and Vermont are two American states that seem to have strong procedures. And these two states have much less licensing than other states.

If review by government licensing bureaucrats (who are hardly free-market ideologues) results in less actual licensing, that fact suggests that the additional licensing seen in other states is probably not justified by consumer protection.

Certification Is Rare

If you want to protect the consumer, so-called ‘certification' almost always makes more sense than licensing. Certification — or “title regulation” —merely applies penalties to illegitimately calling yourself a certified practitioner if you haven’t met the criteria for certification. Laws against calling yourself a registered architect for instance wouldn’t forbid you from practicing architecture if you were unregistered, simply from claiming to be registered if you weren't. (And if registered architects are perceived to be superior, then consumers won’t be fooled by fellows fraudulently preteneding to be so.)

In essence, certification lets consumers decide if they want to get services from a certified or an uncertified practitioner, alllowing them to be the purveyors of quality.

But certification is in fact rare. Where it exists, governments usually end up replacing it with licensing. Why? Because certification doesn’t restrict entry — it doesn’t serve the interests of incumbents the way licensing does, and it’s incumbents who pay the lobbyists.

To be sure, government certification is hardly necessary today, especially as it can be easily achieved by private sector certification done by experts such as Underwriters Laboratory, voluntary organisations like Master Builders or Certified Builders, or by the public at review aggregation services like Yelp and Trip Advisor and in sharing apps like Uber, Lyft, and AirBnB.

The Upshot

The combination of all these facts strongly suggests that the motivation and function of occupational licensing is not to protect consumers like you and me, but to exploit them, and to protect existing practitioners from new competition.

Where there really a grave risk to public health and safety from incompetent practice in a certain industry, there is a simple and effective solution: bonding. Require a prospective practitioner to put up a bond or prove liability insurance coverage sufficient to cover the costs of a reasonable lawsuit judgment. And require both incumbents and new entrants to meet the requirement.


Jason Sorens is a lecturer in the Government Department at Dartmouth College and received his Ph.D. in political science from Yale University in 2003. He is also vice president of the Free State Project.
His post has appeared previously at Learn Liberty and FEE.


[1] Note that this research can look only at occupations that are licensed in some states but not others.

[2] From the Obama Administration report: “Forthcoming analysis of five licensed occupations finds that, controlling for observable differences that could affect migration rates, individuals in three of these occupations have lower interstate migration rates than their peers in other occupations, while their intrastate migration rates are similar. This is to be expected if a State-based licensure system depressed mobility” (15).

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Brazier! ‘Left Turn at Midnight’

When Graham Brazier died nearly two years ago, he’d been working with producer Alan Jansson on his fourth solo album — recording with him every Thursday night across several months.

Since his death, Alan Jansson has been continuing to produce the album. A labour of love in every sense, Alan has also produced it in virtually every sense: starting with just the raw acoustic tracks they’d originally laid down, he has summoned musicians; enlisted the help of friends and followers; and with the help of Kelly Addis initiated a ‘kickstarter’ (and more) to help complete the great work they’d begun.

It’s the final testimonial of this great man.

"I feel like all the experience in my life was leading up to this point,” [says Jansson].

Jansson said the songs on the new album are as good, if not better, than Brazier's Blue Lady with Hello Sailor and solo hit Billy Bold.

"There is no B-side, all of the songs pop out of the speakers.”

Jansson said Graham's sudden death, after a heart attack, had "hit him hard". He took a year off from producing the album because the grief was too raw.

"Losing him was heartbreaking. I have lost family and not cried but when I was told about Graham I just broke down," Jansson said.

"It was the saddest day of my life.”

The pair had were working on Brazier's album in the months before his death.

"I would sit there in the studio trying to start the album and I'd bring the track up and I couldn't do it. For a year it was too hard," Jansson said.

"Then a few weeks ago it was decided to finish the album for release around Graham's 65th birthday."

“This is such an important album for New Zealand music,” says Janssson, how helmed and co-wrote Paulie Fuemana’s US number one, ‘How Bizarre.'

And now it’s complete and ready for launch next week — May 5th — and with your help we can get it to number one (and wouldn’t that be a great thing to do for our mate).

All you have to do is pre-order the album (which you have to buy anyway; having heard an advance copy, I can tell you it’s up there with the very best things he ever did). And your pre-order will help maximise sales in the first week of release — which is next week.

So get on to it:

NB: Graham had to wait until death for the sort of mainstream press that could have done so much to help back in the day, but the (non) usual suspects have stepped up with stories — and good on 'em for that!:

Oh, and there’s an album launch party at the King’s Arms on Sunday afternoon, May 7th, complete with every guest musician you could ever hope for. See you there. :-)

Friday, 28 April 2017

Projects, Day 5: Montessori school

So I told you the other day I’d give you some idea of some of the things I’ve been working on recently that have kept me away from blogging.

This is a new three-classroom Montessori school in a central Auckland suburb, behind two existing houses used as admin and accommodation ...

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Projects, Day 4: Victoria country weekender

So I told you the other day I’d give you some idea of some of the things I’ve been working on recently that have kept me away from blogging.

This one is a small, inexpensive weekender on a tiny Victorian country street…

16018-Perkins~19 - Picture # 1
16018-Perkins~19 - Picture # 3
16018-Perkins~19 - Picture # 4


Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Guest post: ANZAC, a counter-argument


Did you read my piece yesterday about what the ANZAC legends were fighting for on those beaches in southern Turkey all those years ago? Robin Grapefield did, and he penned this guest post in response …

I'm going to pick away at a few things in your analysis [he begins].

(1) "...why were they doing it in Turkey, for Galt’s sakes!?"

I'm afraid that the answer for this is not to be found in a book of general WWI history [in fact, you can – Ed.] . It is found in a study of military logistics, military logic and a larger look at the strategies Britain has used to combat its continental enemies throughout the ages. [In fact however, what the guest post discusses is not really *strategy* but *tactics* – it is in those history books that one does finds the bungled geopolitical strategy that ended up in them being dumped them on those beaches largely to please Russia – Ed.]

There are two maxims of military that anyone seeking to serve needs to understand:

(1) The first is that Army (or Navy or Airforce) will never send you where you want to go nor necessarily where you are trained to go. They will send you where you are needed.
The ANZACs were closer to the scene of a military campaign than British troops in Britain. Timing was thought to be critical and so they were used along with available British and French troops. Shipping an additional British division out from England to replace the 1.5 ANZACs divisional units committed would have taken too long at the average 5-7 knot speed of WWI era cargo/troop ships to say nothing of the number of ships and escorts that would have been required and the havoc that would have played to ongoing operations in France. So, there is your reason for the ANZACs in Gallipoli. Cold, hard, boring, unexciting economics – or as the Army refers to it: logistics. [A cold, hard boring answer that, unfortunately, ignores the actual question, i.e., why were the Allies fighting Turkey at all? What did they hope to gain? – Ed.]

(2) The other maxim is simply this: if the government hands you a rifle, no matter the nature or location of your duty-assignment, if the war lasts long enough you will have to use it (see point 8).
    In other words, if your politicians declare war, then things like Gallipoli, the Somme, Stalingrad, Chosin Penninsula, Khe Sanh, and the battles for Fallujah are ~GOING~ to happen. To paraphrase Prussian Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke: “No plan survives contact with the enemy.”

(2) I want to emphasise something here: Gallipoli occurred because Britain declared war on Turkey and Germany. That was a failure of diplomacy. If we are looking for root causes for military disaster X, Y and Z that is where your blame should go. [And, indeed, that is largely where I aim it too; but the bungling occurs on virtually every level but the soldiers’ – Ed.]

Thus we go back before your narrative begins to observe that the Turks entered the war on the German side because a British Naval commanders (Milne and Troubridge) in 1914 failed to stop the German cruisers Goeben and Breslau from entering the Dardenelles. When those ships arrived in Istanbul, they placed an implied threat over the Turk government that if Turkey didn’t join the Germans, their capital would be shelled. That (along with British diplomatic bungling over two Dreadnoughts being built for Turkey but appropriated by Britain when war was declared) changed the political calculus to the Pro-German side. [In fact, scared of both Germany and Russia, the ‘Young Turks’ who had taken power had no intention of joining the war on any side, to the despair of both Von Sanders – who wrote the Kaiser that he proposed to challenge the various leaders to a duel! – and of Churchill, who wanted to send a flotilla up to Constantinople to sink both boats in order to bring Turkey into the war without them. It was only when Enver Pasha saw German victories against Russia he manouevred them into a declaration. A good account, with recent research, can be found in David Fromkin’s ‘A Peace to End All Peace’ – Ed.]

Had the British done better both diplomatically and with the pursuit of these ships (demonstrating the RN’s legendary naval prowess) then Gallipoli wouldn’t have been necessary. Of course, then we’d be lamenting the first echelon of ANZACs being slaughtered pitilessly on the Somme or Messines or wherever in France – as they were in 1916-1918.

(3) Now in the case of the British Empire there was also a failure of preparation. Britain’s failings (described below) were mirrored in Australia and New Zealand. For neither country was prepared to equip and train their combined 6-division plus assets force anywhere let alone the Middle-East and Europe. Nor were they prepared philosophically to understand what they were committing to. Had someone had the foresight to understand that NZ’s 100,000 military men would suffer 60% casualties between 1914 and 1918 they might have paused before declaring war on Germany.
Britain pre-WWI spent the Lion’s share of its defense budget on the Navy (and NZ/Australian defense plans relied on the RN too much). The Army was left at colonial levels in terms of manning. The regular army stood at 7 volunteer Infantry and 3 Cavalry Divisions with only about 70% strength (numbers prior to the BEF being landed were made up from Reservists). The Territorial force was also present but not trained nor equipped for rapid mobilisation.

The theory was that this Regular force would serve as the Cadre for an army around three to four times its size to be raised and trained in England while Continental armies battled it out. British military agreements with France and Belgium ignored this military compromise and committed the British Regular force to instant deployment. [In fact, intentionally, none of the agreements formed any kind of firm commitment that, if the Asquith Government had so chosen, necessitated any particular action on the part of Britain beyond patrolling the northern coast of France – Ed.] The BEF suffered 90% causalities between Mons and the First Ypres and Kitchener’s New Army and the Territorial force; bereft of the martial knowledge held by those dead men had to relearn the lessons on the Somme and Gallipoli and a dozen other places.

In other words, Britain’s military planners examined the options Britain had based upon its available manpower and economic power and prepared to wage a decisive Naval war with its army to play a peripheral role until it was large enough to take on the Germans in Europe. All while its diplomats committed them to both a decisive Naval campaign (the blockade) and a decisive land-campaign – and right from the opening minutes of the war! [But see my comment above – Ed.]

This is why the British General Officer Corps sucked so badly in WWI, and sucked again in WWII. Lop-sided expansion of the Army combined with a mistaken cultural heritage of selecting its officers from a narrow social class doomed thousands of Empire troops to be slaughtered until the fault could be rectified either by policy or attrition.

This was the sucking hole into which the New Zealand and Australian politicians blindly committed their men. [A good account of which is given in Douglas Newton’sHell-Bent: Australia’s Leap into the Great War’ – Ed.] Later in WWII they would install a “relief-valve” -- insisting that the ANZACs fight together as a homogenous Corps or at least under their own officers and that their governments be consulted before these troops be committed to a campaign.
(4) When fighting a continental enemy (or group of them) the British have ~always~ sought to attack them in the periphery. This is simple military logic dating back to Sun Tsu. Use your strengths (in Britain's case - maritime mobility) on their weak points. Britain has also always sought to us politics to build its own alliances against continental enemies and to break apart those that oppose them. See the Napoleonic wars. The attempt to knock Turkey out of the war early before it could get organised must be understood in this light before people jump on bandwagon of blaming Churchill. [And yet the thinking was more about what Britain could do for Russia, rather than what it could do against Turkey, about whom there was very little military respect, and far too much talk of “soft underbellies” – Ed.]

Had Churchill been strangled at birth, some other Briton would have come up with a plan like this. It’s how Britain fought back when it was a genuine super-power.

(5) I understand that you love to hate Churchill. [To be clear, I think he made the wrong call on virtually every decision in his political life but one, leading too aften for too many to spectacular and far-reaching disaster. But that does not mean what I feel towards him is hatred – Ed.] Remember this. The man is probably the most enigmatic politician of his era. He is interesting and divisive at the same time. [And too often too clearly wrong, one reason he was rejected pre-war by his colleagues, and post-war by British voters – Ed.] Retelling or reanalysing his story sells books now and newspapers then. His patronage doubtless speeded along policies both good (the tank) and bad (Gallipoli), but he wasn’t the PM and nor was he a General in charge of the campaign. For instance: (a) In General Hamilton you had a man who never visited the front. (b) Later in WWII you have two Generals (Mark Clark and Collins) who conspired to dull the usually aggressive nature of the US-Army and condemn the invaders at Anzio to being surrounded and ground down despite achieving (as was the case initially at Gallipoli) nearly complete tactical and strategic surprise.

The fact that the forces employed in both these “Churchillian follies” were not up to the task was a symptom of a disease that I allude to in (3).

Parenthetically the ANZACs were initially supposed to be committed to a supporting attack. The main attack on the toe of the peninsula was entrusted to Regular British and French forces, more numerous than, and (supposedly) more reliable and better trained than the ANZACs. There was a navigational screw up and the ANZAC landing ground was too far North to support the British thrust against the critical town of Krithia and the rest is history.
(6) Had Krithia fallen and the coastal forts been destroyed by the Royal Navy [but it is precisely because the Royal Navy failed in this task that the landings were being undertaken! – Ed.] then the story of Gallipoli might well be viewed like the story of Beda-Fomm. There the Western Desert Force defied over-whelming odds and destroyed an Italian army many times their own size. Sometimes they who dares actually does win. Battles and wars can be won and lost by luck alone. The Battle of Midway turned the US way because a broken catapult failed to launch the very Japanese search plane that was assigned to cover the sector in which the US carrier force was hiding. Seen in this light, if Gallipoli had been undertaken by a force fully assembled, and trained and equipped as a contingency before the naval end-run gambit was attempted, thereby giving away all surprise, then it may very well have succeeded -- had they also been blessed with a leader as decisive as Mustafa Kemal was on the Turkish side.

(7) In that vein, I do wish that pundits would examine the war from the German side in order to learn about how they screwed up. If they did, they might get a better appreciation for what I want to emphasise here in point 7: That is war is unpredictable. For instance, I’m positive that the Germans would (or should) view their 1914 campaign as a ghastly failure. They sacrificed god knows how many men only to be checked first at the Belgian forts, then at Ypres and then repulsed at the Marne. This forced them into a defensive war in the West while they wrestled with the Russians in the East until they resorted to undermining Russia culturally by sending Lenin through their lines to sow confusion and chaos and take Russia out of the war. And while that got them a respite in 1917, it bit them in the arse between 1943 and 1990(ish). Western histories often paint the Germans as more than implacable enemies. They have a tendency to portray them as unerring Gods of War. They had superior armies initially. But the enemy misses opportunities too by both chance and mismanagement – these being called Allied Victories -- further encouraging the impression that a war between major powers can be done “clinically” like a smoothly practiced back-line move in Rugby. It can’t. And to demonstrate why, try playing rugby (substitute whatever civilian – emphasis on civil – physical team pursuit you choose) with a hand-grenade as the ball, the full-back is manning a 105mm howitzer and the half-back equipped with a machine-gun…

(7) So war is unpredictable, chaotic, violent, mindless destruction and death. And when men have not experienced this for several generations, they begin to delude themselves that their generation is the one that has mastered the art of containing or sanitising war. Be it because they have an impenetrable rampart (France before the fall of the Maginot line) or an invincible military force (Germany’s army in WWI and WWII, or Britain’s Navy in WWI) or an impenetrable geographical barrier (America’s Pacific and Atlantic ramparts prior to Pearl Harbor and the U-Boat campaign along its coasts in 1942). This delusion leads people to predict that war will be “Over by Christmas.” How many cemeteries have been filled by that phrase?

(8) The only real way to wage a war IMHO is to do the following: If you want peace, prepare for war. And if, in the last resort, you are forced into war – wage it the way Sherman did when he marched from Atlanta to the Sea: quickly, pitilessly and decisively. Because the longer a war lasts, the more awful it becomes. Many hate Sherman. But by grinding the South into the dust in 1864-’65 he and Grant utterly destroyed the prevailing Zeitgeist of Southern martial superiority and with it any realistic hope that the South would rise again. Setting aside the initiation of the war, the next real pity of WWI was that the Allies stopped in 1918 and didn’t drive a stake through the heart of Prussian militarism in 1919. That doomed the following generation to an even more destructive blood-letting.

(9) You want the final overall answer to your question of why? It is simply this: those who seek out war generally get more than they bargain for. The culture of the time was geared up for war. Well, they got almost all of it that they could handle and more. As to the moral question as to whether they should have gone: that’s a question for them. Something impelled them to volunteer and then fight like demons once they were there. Maybe it was for their mates. Or maybe they made a value judgement between the imperfect British Empire and the proto-fascist(?) leanings of the Kaiser et al. and decided to back the former. I haven’t decided on that one yet. It is difficult to look into the hearts of the dead through their writings and diaries. With this much water under the bridge I wonder if there is anything to gain from the attempt.

Robert Grapefield is a scientist and military historian with an enthusiasm for cricket and a penchant for reverse sweep.


Monday, 24 April 2017

Q: But what were the ANZACs fighting *for*, Grandad?


Today, all the stories from Anzac Cove seem so inevitable. But what were all those ANZAC troops even fighting for – and why were they doing it in Turkey, for Galt’s sakes!? What on earth were they hoping to achieve over there? And why exactly is their sacrifice and botched battle considered part of the “birth” of our two nations?

From the centenary’s Countdown to Anzac Day here at NOT PC comes this blog’s answer to those questions.

* * * *

Did you know that Australian and New Zealand soldiers embarking in November 1914 on ships towards Britain thought they would be fighting for Britain on the Western Front, not fighting in Turkey to gift Constantinople to Russia --against whom for decades New Zealanders and Australians had been defending their shores and ships? Yet that is the reason they embarked – not to beat the Hun, but to save the Czar …

THE MYTHOLOGY OF ANZAC is that the battle at the Dardanelles gave birth to two nations. If that’s true, it is an odd birth, fathered out of failure by way of disaster.

It’s mostly a modern invention, this mythology, and if there’s any truth to it at all then it applies more in Australia than it does in New Zealand, where they have made “the anniversary of a botched battle into virtually the country’s national day.”[1]

It’s truly, truly odd. In what way did a butchered battle give birth to these two nations so far away from the carnage, or from any genuine understanding of what the total waste of human life was for?

It’s true that for the first time, outside the few sports played internationally, NZers and Australians could compare themselves on a world stage and begin to identify (if they could) the sorts of national differences that distinguish one group of people from another. But NZers’ similarities with Britons were still greater than any real differences, and both at war’s beginning and end NZers still identified themselves thereat: Indeed, NZ’s war began with Prime Minister Massey’s abject declaration to parliament “that, if necessity unfortunately arose, New Zealand was prepared to send her utmost quota of help in support of the Empire,”[2] and at war’s end held even tighter to Britain than at war’s start, remaining for decades (especially by contrast with Australia) “a particularly Anglophile part of the Commonwealth.”[3]

So it’s not really clear why this legend even arises, in NZ at any rate.

Even in Australia, the legend has only a short heritage. The publicity poster for Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli, released in 1981, tells a tale of the legend’s birth: “’From a place you have never heard of … comes a story you’ll never forget.”  Take careful note of that phrase “a place you have never heard of” – it describes where the ‘legend’ sat just three-and-one-half decades ago: nowehere. “[It says] a lot about where the Anzac saga had been,” says an Australian author who’s examined this frequently overlooked point, “and equally where it would be going.”[4]

ODDLY ENOUGH, FOR A BATTLE that supposedly gave birth to two nominally independent nations, it was one hatched, devised, planned and bungled entirely without the input of either -- and the participation of the Australian and NZ Army Corps themselves was entirely accidental.

It couldn’t be more appropriate that the reason these two were chosen for the ill-fated mission was born out of battlefield disaster. Unable to break the deadlock on the Western Front and under political pressure to achieve a breakthrough somewhere (even a place no-one had heard of) the war chiefs found a plan drawn up years before that some of them thought might have legs.

Not Kitchener however. Britain’s wartime icon and then war chief Field Marshall Kitchener had declared that in this campaign Britain could afford neither British troops from the Western Front nor the British navy for escort duties, so when Churchill's plans for a naval breakthrough at the place of legend failed as dismally as naval tacticians had predicted, the fortunate happenstance of colonial troops already en route for the Suez escorted by Japanese warships was seized upon.

The resulting irony (among  many) was that, entirely unknown to anyone when they departed, the ANZAC troops were headed to a place they'd never heard of to deliver a city to a natural foe, escorted there by ships of a navy against whose threat (after Japan's stunning victories in the Russo-Japanese war) Australia and New Zealand had huddled even further beneath Britain's defensive skirts.

Perhaps the final irony in this disaster was that Britain cared nothing for those infant nations’ troops, throwing them away in a campaign of unmitigated disaster whose success, if it had even been possible, would have done nothing to shorten the war, and whose drawn-out failure few wanted to acknowledge.

IT WAS ARGUED BY no less than Lloyd George that knocking the Ottomans out of the war would “knock out Germany’s props” and leave its “soft underbelly” exposed. Nothing, really, could have been further from the truth. The campaign undermined whatever reputation remained of both Royal Navy and British military acumen – and if it were costing thousands of young lives on the flat and easily supplied Western Front “to move General Haig’s drinks cabinet a few yards closer to Berlin,”[5] then it swiftly became clear that in the distant and mountainous terrain between Constantinople and Berlin there lay no shortcut. Nonetheless, 1stBaron Maurice Hankey, who as Secretary of Britain’s War Council “carried all before him [in cabinet] with his persuasive memorandum of 28 December 1914”[6] proposing British, Greek, Bulgarian and Romanian troops “occupy” Constantinople. As if it were simply a matter of the the choosing being the doing.

For his part, Churchill, at this early stage of plans being hatched, favoured the “diversion” of landing troops on an island in the Baltic, for which he received the much-deserved disdain of his cabinet colleagues, but when shown Hankey’s memo he jumped quickly on board, “commenting that he himself had advocated an attack at the Dardanelles two months earlier...”[7]

Not that failure of an attack was inevitable. Tragically, and

in retrospect, it seems clear that if the Greek army had marched on Constantinople in early 1915, alongside the British navy, the Ottoman capital would have been defenceless.[8]

It wasn’t to be—mostly because no-one saw any strategic advantage to Britain in occupying what is now Istanbul. Not until a desperate Russian high command pleaded for “a diversionary attack”[9] to help relieve its beleagured troops were plans finally drawn up – but for a naval-only attack on the Dardanelles: Kitchener refused to make troops available, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill boasted they would be unnecessary, and by the time his Royal Navy had blundered around there long enough even the beleagured Bosche worked out something was afoot in the mountainous underbelly of Europe, and encouraged its new Turkish ally to rapidly reinforce the peninsula to repel whatever it was perifdious Albion was cooking up there.

SO BEGAN THE BLUNDERING, even as the first of many ironies began piling on. Because the very reason Russian troops were so beleaguered was an Ottoman attack on the Caucasus that had already been swiftly repelled three months before ANZAC troops landed to give them some relief.

Logically, after crushing the Ottoman invaders that month, the Russians should have told Lord Kitchener that it was no longer necessary for him to launch a diversionary attack on Constantinople in order to relieve it from a Turkish threat that no longer existed. [But this was not how these ‘allies’ operated.]
    Thus began the Dardanelles campaign, which was to so alter the fortunes of Churchill and Kitchener, [Prime Ministers] Asquith and Lloyd George, Britain and the Middle East

And, of course, of Australia and New Zealand, and of the many bold, bright-eyed young men in their respective army corps.

In the end, the attempted occupation was decided upon partly because in any bureaucracy once plans are begun they are very hard to stop, and partly too as an altruistic gift to an “ally” who was the most autocratic in Europe, who had shown no sign of earning British trust -- the price for the sacrifice to be paid for in the blood of those Australian, New Zealand and British young men and their families.

Such is the code of sacrifice under which the decision was made to go.

EVEN WITHOUT THE NEED for a diversion, however, the gift would have meant everything to the backward, autocratic Russian empire for whom the young Anzacs were asked to give their lives.

As an almost landlocked nation Russia had always been desperate for a warm-water port. For virtually the entire 19th century, or at least since Napoleon had passed away, Britain had been manoeuvring in the Mediterranean to keep Russia out (this was after why the Light Brigade were famously and self-sacrificially charging the guns in Sebastapol only a few generations before), and in the Middle East to keep Russia away from India.

As long as Russia was held at arm’s length, the two aims were mutually reinforcing. The trouble began when the two aims were crossed in an increasingly muddled foreign policy by an increasingly distracted British Foreign Minister.

Russia’s desperation for a secure warm-water port had always set it on a collision course with the rest of Europe.

From Russia’s point of view it made eminent sense to search for secure warm-water ports but, as Kuropatkin had warned [Czar] Nicholas in 1900, it ran a great risk: ‘However just our attempts to possess the exit to the Black Sea, to acquire an outlet to the Indian Ocean, and to obtain an outlet to the Pacific, these missions touch so deeply on the interests of almost the entire world that in pursuit of them we must be prepared for a struggle with a coalition of Great Britain, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, China, and Japan.’ Of all Russia’s potential enemies, Britain, with its worldwide empire, seemed to be the most immediately threatening.[11]

During the peace of the 19th century, Russia’s Black Sea ports eventually came into their own commercially. “As Russia became a major exporter, especially in food, the passage from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean via the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles – known collectively at the time as ‘the Straits’ – became particularly vital; 37 per cent of all its exports and 75 per cent of its crucial grain exports were flowing past Constantinople by 1914.”[12]

But as its treaty with France made clear enough, it wanted these ports for military use as well – extracting France’s agreement that Russian interests should predominate at the east end of the Mediterranean.

Also clear enough from many centuries of Russian-Ottoman enmity was that the Ottoman capital of Constantinople, past which Russian grain, war materiel and battleships must pass, was under threat.

This should, of course, have put Russian plans on a direct and very visible collision course with British interests in Egypt, Malta and the Suez Canal that helped form Britain’s naval strategy of keeping The Med as “a British lake,” and the Ottoman Empire as, if not a friend, then at least a fairly benign neighbour. It should have put it on a collision course, but it didn’t, because Britain also wanted Russian kept away from India.

You see how I said things would get muddled?

Because the new 1905 Liberal government and its new Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, saw nothing in this conflict of interests to slow them down.

One of Grey’s first meetings after he took office in December 1905 was with Benckendorff to assure the Russian ambassador that he wanted an agreement with Russia. In May 1906 Sir Arthur Nicolson arrived as British ambassador in St Petersburg with authority from the Cabinet to sort out with Izvolsky the three main irritants in the relationship: Tibet, Persia and Afghanistan. The locals were not, of course, consulted while their fate was decided thousands of miles away. The negotiations were long and tedious as might be expected between two parties, ‘each of which thought the other was a liar and a thief.’[13]

The agreement worked moderately well in fending off Russian aggression on the North-West Frontier.

It worked appallingly in Europe, where it helped to set off the First World War.

The new British cosiness with Russia was seen by Germany (when combined with the coterminous Russian treaties with France) as a threat to its very existence – Russia, France and Britain forming an “iron ring” it was said that encircled and would eventually strangle them. (A man like Bismarck might perhaps have negotiated away this perceived threat; but Germany had no Bismarcks left, only a child-like Kaiser prone to tantrums. And a man like Gladstone may have recognised how the friendships would be seen by Germany, but Britain had no Gladstones left, just a Foreign Minister utterly out of his depth in a cabinet confused about Britain’s place in this new world).

It turned out this unlikely friendship between erstwhile rivals was the final link in the powder trail leading from Russia’s agreement to back Serbia that was finally ignited by “The Guns of August,” 1914.

It was not to be the only foreign-policy bungle from Sir Edward Grey, whose eleven-year tenure in the job offers few chances to transfer blame to others. It was the longest continuous tenure of any person in that office, and it could not have fallen to a less integrated thinker at a time when the world could not have been more complicated.

His own muddling, and that of his Prime Minister, made all the complications worse.

Because once war began (and you can read elsewhere here about the war’s beginnings) we can draw a straight line from the muddling to the murder on those beaches at the Dardanelles.

ONCE THE PLEADED-FOR “diversionary attack” had begun by naval means, even as the reasons for the pro-Russian diversion had disappeared (Russian troops no longer being so immediately beleagured), Russia quickly saw its chance for someone else to shed blood on their behalf anyway.

Simply assuming the inevitable success of what had begun as an ill-thought-out diversionary attack on his behalf, in March 1915 Czar Nicholas II already began issuing demands of his new Allies, insisting that at the operation’s end “the Allies turn over Constantinople and the Straits—and all adjacent territories—to Russia.” The response illuminate’s the intellectual and moral rot at the heart of the wartime Asquith Administration.

[British Foreign Minister] Grey and [his Prime Minister] Asquith, the leaders of the Liberal administration, were ... disposed to make the concession that Britain’s wartime ally required…
    At the outset of the Ottoman war, the Prime Minister wrote [to his young mistress Venetia Stanley] that ‘Few things wd. give me greater pleasure than to see … Constantinople either become Russian (which I think is its proper destiny) or if that is impossible neutralised…’
    In March 1915, when the issue arose, he wrote of Constantinople and the Straits that ‘It has become quite clear that Russia means to incorporate them in her own Empire,’ and added that ‘Personally I have always been & am in favour of Russia’s claim…’
    Unbeknown to the rest of the Cabinet [and of course to the Anzac troops who were eventually called upon to carry out his strategy], Sir Edward Grey had already committed the country [i.e., Britain] to eventual Russian control of Constantinople, having made promises along these lines to the Russian government [as long ago as] 1908[!]. His view [not supported by his advisers, nor by anything in Russian history before or since] was that if Russia’s legitimate [sic] aspirations were satisfied at the Straits, she would not press claims in Persia, eastern Europe, or elsewhere.

If the British response to the illegimate demand of the Russian Czar could be truthfully characterised as anything, it would be a catastrophic combination of altruism and wishful thinking.

So less than ten years after Asquith’s musings had developed and Grey’s muddled Russian strategy had taken effect, and with Winston’s ships firing ineffectually and the battlefield now fully reinforced, Australian and NZ forces landed in the Dardanelles to carry out their ill-starred mission. The real reason for the mission, not that they knew it: not to open a route to Berlin, which was always impossible, but to take Constantinople for Russia.

TO BE FAIR TO Churchill, who shoulders a large part of history’s blame for the campaign’s failure, he was initially wary at the idea of a naval-only operation, but he and the Asquith Cabinet were swiftly persuaded by the commander of the British naval squadron off the Dardanelles, Admiral Sackville Carden, who cabled back answering Churchill’s early question on the possibility of naval interventions there that “while the Dardanelles could not be ‘rushed’—in other words, could not be seized by a single attack—“they might be forced by extended operations with a larger number of ships.”[15] Churchill jumped on board with a decision he himself had finessed, and the decision was just as swiftly made.[16]

Yet even as Admiralty opinion began turning against the idea of a purely naval venture, and as British naval warships began bombarding the Turkish coast to little effect apart from alerting the Central Poweres of their interest in the area, Kitchener suddenly declared that troops would be used after all: primarily Australian and New Zealand troops who had just arrived in Egypt ready for re-embarkation to Western Europe, who would instead, in Kitchener’s plan, go in “once the navy’s ships had won the battle of the straits.”[17]

That battle was never won. The troops however were sent in anyway.

Turkish guns and Turkish mines in the Straits were sufficient to see off Churchill’s “extended operations.” The eight weeks of failed naval bombardment, beginning February 19, 1915, gave the Turks notice of the attack and time to marshal their defences at the Narrows—as did the glowing British newspaper accounts of the expedition’s assembly and embarkation in Egypt, the lights and the military bands of the vast fleet as it headed noisily through the Aegean, and the reports of parliamentary debates about the coming combined operation. Who needs surprise when sending in colonial troops to fight a third-world opponent. Turkish expert Sir Mark Sykes had pointed out to Churchill in late February that “though [Turkish troops] could be routed by a surprise attack, ‘Turks always grow formidable if given time to think.’”[18]

And so they were, behind defences expertly marshalled by one military genius, the German Liman Von Sanders, and led by the man for whom the battle would launch the legend known as Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey – the only modern country that was actually born out of the battle.[19]

IF YOU THINK THINGS were already muddled enough then hang on to your hats! On 15 March, before either Australian or New Zealand troops had even entered their ships for the operation, fearful Turkish negotiators met with British officials in European Turkey to discuss leaving the war they had never sought in return for the large, but not wounding, sum of four million pounds. This would have delivered everything British strategists had said they wanted to achieve by force of arms, delivered to them not by the blood of thousands but by money that would have been spent anyway on the cost of war. “The negotiations failed because the British government felt unable to give assurances that the Ottoman Empire could retain Constantinople—so deeply were the British now committed to satisfying Russian ambitions.”[20]

If it might be doubted why Australian and New Zealand soldiers were ordered to fight and die on Turkish beaches one month later, the reason by now could not be any clearer: Anzac troops were there to make real the single and long-held ambition against which Britain had fought for centuries

YET IF ATTACKING A place that pre-war British military studies had long ago concluded was “too risky to be undertaken”[21] wasn’t already made difficult enough, the commander of the land operation and his manner of appointment made things only more so.

Sir Ian Hamilton was appointed peremptorily on March 12, barely one month before the landings. Telling the disinterested War Minister “he knew nothing about Turkey,” he was briefed by the War Office “by showing him a map and a plan of attack borrowed from the Greek General Staff.” Despite the overwhelming strategic importance placed on the attack, and the lives of countless men and women being put in harm’s way, “the War Office had not even taken the time or trouble to work out their own [plan]. General Hamilton was sent out with an inaccurate and out-of-date map and little else to guide him.”[22]

On arrival in the theatre he promptly called off the naval operation, delayed the landings for a further three weeks, and agreed to attack only the European side of the straits. Whereupon, when the landings did finally happen – and for the Australian and NZ forces at Ari Burnu they were at the wrong beach – Hamilton decided at the first sign of opposition to dig in rather than move ahead to take up the battlefields’ dominating positions, dooming the expedition to a drawn-out replay of the very Western Front stalemate the campaign had been intended to circumnavigate.

If you feel like resurrecting the phrase “lions led by donkeys,” now might be about the right time.

OF THE BATTLES THEMSELVES AT the Dardanelles, much more is known and very little more needs to be said about the shambles that ensued.

Except perhaps that with Turks dug in on the heights to fire down on Anzac troops entrenched on beaches below, and with no obvious hope for any success in the campaign and the only obvious decision being evacuation, we might wonder why the soldiers were condemned to die there for months on those hills and beacheads?

The answer is that, against limp Cabinet opposition, Churchill and Kitchener simply refused all requests to withdraw –“Churchill because he was never willing to accept defeat, and Kitchener because he believed it would be a disaster for a British[-led] army to be seen to be defeated by a Middle Eastern one.”[23] Especially after the stain of near-defeat by Boer farmers just a decade was still so raw.

So the bloody, murderous shambles on the beaches continued until January, 1916, with no hope at all of success, withing nothing to be gained from victory in any case, and with the death and destruction in the end of 400,000 young lives.

What must those men have thought when they read of Churchill’s speech to his Dundee constituency in June that “the Allies were only “a few miles from victory” at the Dardanelles, “a victory such as the war had not yet seen.”[24]

It never would. It never could.

Instead, it all turned to omnishambles. The only thing in the end about which anyone had anything about which to boast was a successful and well-executed withdrawal.

It was a bloody mess that achieved nothing, that could achieve nothing, purchased at the price of a wholesale sacrifice of young lives that could have meant something. It was a total unmitigated disaster, but at least, now, dear reader, some reason for the whole, sordid shambles might be clearer.

The reason however for commemorating the shambles as the botched “birth” in some way of our nation is very much less so.

This post is part of NOT PC’s #CountdownToAnzacDay. Other posts in the series:


[1] From David Reynolds’s The Long Shadow: The Great War & the Twentieth Century, p. 376, who in his chapter 10 offers perhaps the best explanation for the birth of the mythology.
[2] Quoted in Douglas Newton’s Hell-Bent: Australia's leap into the Great War. Kindle edition, location 1680
[3] From David Reynolds’s The Long Shadow: The Great War & the Twentieth Century, p. 376
[4] Ibid, p. 375
[5] A quip pilfered from Black Adder Goes Forth.
[6] From David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, p. 127
[7] Ibid, p. 127
[8] Ibid, p. 128
[9] A plea emulated throughout the next war by Stalin, whose constant refrain in the meetings of the “Big Three” was a demand that Roosevelt and Churchill implement “a second front” to relieve the beleaguered Soviets
[10] From David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, p. 129
[11] From Margaret MacMillan’s book The War that Ended Peace: How Europe abandoned peace for the First World War, Kindle edition, location 3496
[12] Ibid, location 3492
[13] Ibid, location 3733
[14] From David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, p. 138
[15] “As Carden subsequently emphasized in his evidence to the Dardanelles commission, the operative word was ‘might’.” From Robert Rhodes James’s Churchill: A Study in Failure, 19900-1939, p. 66
[16] This may be being more than fair. Robert Rhodes James is one among many in arguing that Churchill cynically manipulated the callow Carden into his opinion, which Churchill himself had maintained without support since at least August 1914. Carden’s undistinguished prior experience was as supervisor of the Malta dockyard, “and one of the [many] puzzles of the operation is why Carden was not replaced when the importance of the naval attack was recognised.” [Rhodes James, p. 65 n. 8] Perhaps because he was so easily manipulated? In any case, at the Dardanelles Commission set up to examine the disaster,  it was seen that authorities cited by Churchill to Carden  as being in total agreement with his opinion were not, and in his own evidence to the Commission,“Churchill agreed that his telegram was framed to provide a favourable answer.” [Dardanelles Commission: Evidence, Q.1264]
[17] From David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, p. 133
[18] From Martin Gilbert’s Winston S. Churchill: Vol. 3, p. 343
[19] In that sense, Gallipoli represented the birth of three nations, not just two. No wonder the bond at contemporary commemorations at the battlefield is so deep.
[20] From David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, p. 151
[21] From Martin Gilbert’s Winston S. Churchill: Vol. 3, p. 358
[22] From David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, p. 156
[23] Ibid, p. 158
[24] From Richard Toye’s Churchill’s Empire, p. 133.