Category Archives: History

Phone cameras are quite handy

My pocket is now full of images…

Ghost-like clouds travelling along the shore:
huntington water

Two WWII-era B-24H bombers lay below these waters. Always gives me the creeps to sail here and know that they still haven’t been exumed and laid to rest properly:
huntington lake

(Bio)diesel technology at work…I averaged 25 mpg overall (over 40mpg on the downhill sections), compared with under 15 mpg for most other tow vehicles (including large pickups):
a-cat in tow

A Ford F-150 V6, for example, has 260 lb/ft of torque @ 3750 RPM, while a VW Passat little four cylinder has 247 lb/ft @ 1900 RPM.

My engine was practically idling up the mountains at 65 mph with the AC on (it was 110F in the valley) and I was still getting reasonable mpg. A friend who drives a giant american “dually” pickup said he almost over-heated and was barely getting 12 mpg.

On big trips I get a strong sense of security and independence knowing that my vehicle can travel over 600 miles per tank. The numbers speak for themselves, but you really haven’t towed (less than 2K lbs) in comfort until you’ve tried a modern (bio)diesel passenger car

British Navy Fire Drill

After my last entry about the Chinese Firewalls I started to get curious about the origins of the phrase “Chinese Fire Drill”. The Phrase Finder has an odd story that someone posted:

It is my understanding that this phrase originated in the early 1900s. It came from an naval incident where a ship officered by the British and crewed by the Chinese set up a fire drill for fire in the engine room. In the event of a fire the crew was to draw water from the starboard side, take to the engine room and throw it on the fire. Another crew in the engine room was to take the thrown water and throw it over the port side.

When the drill was called the first moments went according to plan then it got confused. The crew began drawing the water from the staroard side and runing over to the port side and throwing the water over, by-passing the the engine room completely.

Thus the expression “Chinese Fire Drill” entered our lexicon as meaning a large confused action by individuals accomplishing nothing.

Perhaps “British Navy Fire Drill” did not have the same ring to it, but it seems to be a more accurate description of the event. After all, wasn’t the reason for the Chinese being employed on the ships their experience and talent for seafaring that Europeans had always envied and emulated, combined with their willingness to work in high-risk endeavors? In other words would you blame the workers or management for a failed disaster plan? And would you really come up with a phrase for a single event like this, or were there other more likely reasons (prejudice against the Chinese)?

I guess the phrase is an unfortunate or even unfair turnabout. Reminds me of the “Chinaman’s minute” or “Chinaman’s chance” which were apparently coined by those who employed the Chinese for building railroads but did not mind leaving them exposed to high risk and physical harm from dynamite. Workers were lowered by rope and boatswain chair down steep inclines in order to set dynamite. When they weren’t pulled back up in time…I remember reading once that the delay could even have been intentional, due to rivalries and ethnic strife among the workers and managers.

Bierce could be fierce

His report on the assassination of a governor-elect:

The bullet that pierced Goebel’s breast
Can not be found in all the West;
Good reason, it is speeding here
To stretch McKinley on his bier.

The Wikipedia has a nice summary of the events that led to this poem:

On January 30, 1900, before the committee had formally published its findings, [Democratic candidate] Goebel was shot by a sniper as he was walking up the steps of the State Capitol building. Incumbent Republican governor William S. Taylor declared a state emergency, called out the militia, and called the General Assembly into special session. In the immediate aftermath of the events, the legislature certified the election in Goebel’s favor, although the Republicans in the General Assembly refused to accept the commission’s finding.

And speaking of death, here is how Bierce put things in his last correspondence:

Good-by — if you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico — ah, that is euthanasia.

Sometimes I wonder if people living in the United States ever think about what life was like 100 years ago, or how things could end up if they don’t think about it…

French trials and Denard again goes free

Here’s a late twist to the story of Gilbert Bourgeaud (aka Bob Denard), the infamous mercenary: apparently his lawyer argued in French court that Denard simply was acting on behalf of the government to destabilize foreign nations including the Comoros. The French authorities have rejected his claims and ruled that Denard should get a five-year suspended sentence. The BBC describes him thus:

Bob Denard, 77, contributed to bloody conflicts across Africa for nearly 40 years, but the French mercenary is best known for his interventions in the Comoros Islands, one of which has led to his conviction in a French court.

He once described himself as “a soldier never an assassin”, and has claimed he was acting in the interests of France or other European powers, though he was once accused of plotting to assassinate a French prime minister.

So, to recap, Denard led a sucessful military coup against Ahmed Abdallah in 1975 (after the islands declared independence from France). Denard then led another coup in 1978, this time installing Abdallah as President. In 1989 President Abdallah was killed by Denard’s men, but Denard avoided any charges in French court for wrongdoing. Then in 1995 Denard staged another coup in the Comoros, which “failed” when the French army moved in to “restore order”…and so Denard, a free man, settled in Paris to await sentencing for what he described as serving French interests.

Imagine trying to keep information secure when you never really know who you work for and who will be next in power or what they will declare right and wrong. Non-repudiation and plausible deniability is an important factor in these international webs of intrigue.

In slightly related news, an intelligence officer turned General (now retired) has continued to argue that he was not only ordered by the French Government to torture Algerians, but that it is the right thing to do in times of conflict:

The Paris appeals court confirmed that General Paul Aussaresses, 84, must pay a fine of 7,500 euros ($8,300) – the punishment handed down by a criminal court in January last year.

Aussaresses admitted torturing and killing 24 Algerian prisoners-of-war in a book he published in 2001 about the conflict.


Aussaresses said Friday’s ruling was “stupid”. He added that he had “neither remorse nor regrets” and would appeal to France’s highest criminal court.