Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Video: A Nazi U-Boat and her victim in the Gulf of Mexico

Immediately after Nazi Germany declared war on the United States in December 1941, Hitler began a submarine naval campaign to strangle Allied shipping and prevent the flow of oil, Aluminum and other key commodities from Gulf Coast and Eastern Seaboard ports to the theaters of conflict in Europe and the Pacific.

From early 1942 through 1943, German U-Boats terrified the East and Gulf Coasts.At least 56 ships were sunk along the Gulf Coast, while only one German U-Boat was sunk by the US Navy and US Coast Guard in the Gulf.

CNN had a report from a couple of weeks ago (that, sadly, this history buff missed):

Silent and shadowy, two hulks lie under the Gulf of Mexico's warm waters, unmoved since their deadly encounter 72 years ago during World War II.

Now, the future has come to take a closer look.

From July 6 to 14, the 211-foot research ship Exploration Vessel Nautilus conducted dives to the final resting places of the American steamer SS Robert E. Lee and the German U-boat U-166, about 45 miles south of the Mississippi River delta.

The Robert E. Lee was torpedoed by the U-166 while ferrying victims of other U-boat attacks from Trinidad to New Orleans. The sub succumbed to depth charges fired from an escort ship. These doomed ships are now separated by only two miles of seabed.

I touched on the terror campaign conducted by the Deutsche Kriegsmarine U-Boat campaign in this post, during coverage of the BP Macondo Oil Spill in 2010. A great many of the ships sunk were oil tankers, ill-equipped to deal with a torpedo amidships.

The point of that post was to explain that tar balls washing up on such pristine beaches as those found from Dauphin Island, Alabama to Apalachicola, Florida are not unusual, and this has been true for decades.

When my father was a boy during WWII, he and his father could see the glow of burning, sinking ships on the horizon at night, and columns of black smoke during daytime hours. In fact, the Gulf and Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway systems were built to prevent or blunt attacks on shipping between Gulf and Atlantic Coast ports, with no regard to their economic viability. Shipping between coastal ports in the US was deemed a matter of national security. For all intents and purposes, a relatively shallow draft vessel or barge shipment can travel from Brownsville, Texas to the Manasquan River in New Jersey, virtually unmolested by submarine-based attacks.

In July 1942, a passenger ship converted into a civilian transport vessel, the Robert E. Lee, was torpedoed and sunk by U-166 during the height of Operation Paukenschlag (Operation Drumbeat). At the time, there were at least a dozen German U-Boats prowling in the Gulf of Mexico, and potentially many dozens more prowling the East Coast from Maine to Miami.

When the US finally managed to organize a legitimate coastal shipping defense system in 1943, which included airplanes armed with torpedoes, PT-type boats armed with depth charges and coastal batteries, the carnage dropped off significantly and Germany moved its focus back to the central and northern Atlantic Ocean.

But not before the US got its pound of flesh by sinking U-166.

Today, both sites—located within two miles of each other—are designated as graveyards and are not subject to marine archaeological investigations or salvage.  

Click the image to watch the haunting minute or so of imagery.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

On why Soccer isn’t more popular in the US, Kareem skyhooks it

1758742ADB_DNA023133068Few understand sports in the United States like NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul Jabbar. The legendary big man played for 20 years in one of the world’s most physically demanding professional sports leagues. He was a member of six NBA championship teams and earned NBA Most Valuable Player awards six times as well.

His signature shot—the Skyhook—was a deadly hook shot for which there was no defense. The 7’2” giant would put up an uncannily accurate, yet graceful shot while everyone else watched helplessly.

When a legend like this weighs in on a sports topic, his gravitas makes his opinion worth considering and in explaining why soccer hasn’t wildfired through America like it has in the rest of the world, he nails it:

Finally, soccer doesn’t fully express the American ethos as powerfully as our other popular sports. We are a country of pioneers, explorers, and contrarians who only need someone to say it can’t be done to fire us up to prove otherwise. As a result, we like to see extraordinary effort rewarded. The low scoring in soccer frustrates this American impulse. We also celebrate rugged individualism, the democratic ideal that anybody from any background can become a sports hero. We like to see heroes rise, buoyed by their teammates, but still expressing their own supreme individual skills. Certainly soccer has its celebrated stars, from Pele to Beckham, but those skills seem muted on TV where we’re often looking at small figures on a large field and therefore these feats appear less impressive than they really are. In football, basketball, baseball, and hockey, team effort is rewarded with points and individual greatness is as instant and immediate as a one-handed snagged football pass, a three-pointer from the corner, stealing home base, or a [slap]-shot of the puck into the goal.

Read the whole thing here. He’s absolutely right.

I am no “soccer hater.” All of my kids have played the sport, and two of them were on teams that won league championships. I am familiar with the rules of the game. And when any team wearing the red white and blue steps onto a field of competition, I’m right there chanting “USA! USA!”

But like a large percentage of Americans, I am altogether unimpressed with the game at the professional level. It’s therefore not hatred of soccer that explains its relative lack of popularity in this country. It’s antipathy. We just don’t care, and we don’t care for the reasons Kareem articulates so well in his op-ed at Time.

This line of thought tends to escape the talking heads on sports radio and television. They can’t seem to understand why so many Americans are uninterested in a sport that is loved elsewhere on the planet.

In her typically sarcastic, provocative manner, Anne Coulter explains the antipathy more harshly. But I think she nails a snarky skyhook with this:

You can't use your hands in soccer. (Thus eliminating the danger of having to catch a fly ball.) What sets man apart from the lesser beasts, besides a soul, is that we have opposable thumbs. Our hands can hold things. Here's a great idea: Let's create a game where you're not allowed to use them!

Not only are you not able to use your hands, doing so results in a penalty. Do it inside “the box” and it results in a penalty kick, pitting a representative of the offended team against the goalkeeper in a one-on-one situation. Now that’s something Americans can take a modicum of interest in.

Many disinterested Americans don’t care about soccer because of this aspect of the game, and it’s probably sub-conscious. We built this country using our hands, and we’ve defended it using our hands. I’m typing this post with my hands. You get the idea.

While that’s probably part of the issue, I think the driving force in American antipathy towards soccer is best captured in the quote from Kareem’s essay, wherein he describes us as “pioneers, explorers, and contrarians who only need someone to say it can’t be done to fire us up to prove otherwise.”

In all of the other sports that we love so much in this country, it is the chance for individual achievement—combined with the risk of individual failure—that captivates us and makes us watch on television and sell-out stadiums. We like to see teamwork, but we like to see teams of exceptional individuals who are taking exceptional risks in displaying their exceptional talents. That’s excitement for Americans.

That’s missing in Soccer.

Being told otherwise by talking heads and those who hail from the left of the political spectrum isn’t going to change the fabric of America. We like what we like because of who we are. Pointy-headed elites telling us what we should like isn’t going to move the needle very much;, the rest of the world be damned.