World War II, Food Insecurity, And the Modern Situation.

The lack of sufficient food and outright famine was widespread problem in World War II although it is not something most Americans are aware of. Typically, the urban areas had it worst. This was partially because those in the countryside were growing their own food and partially because of German policy. Take the “Hunger Plan” for example……

The German “Hunger Plan” called for “the annihilation of what the German régime perceived as a superfluous population (Jews, and the population of Ukrainian large cities such as Kiev, which received no supplies at all); extreme reduction of rations for Ukrainians in the remaining cities; and reduction in foodstuffs consumed by the farming population.”

Now this plan was not fully implemented, but there were massive famines in the Ukraine. And from everything I have read, those in the countryside faired far better than those in urban areas in part because it was impossible for the Germans to get farmers to grow food for them and at the same time prevent the farmers from feeding themselves. Also, disruptions in supply lines from the fighting impacted the urban areas that needed to import their food a lot more then it impacted the rural areas that grew the food. We can see this same dynamic (urban famine, rural areas doing comparatively better) all over Europe.

One example would the be the “Great Famine” in Greece. As Wikipedia puts it (emphasis mine)…..

The nutritional situation became critical in the summer of 1941 and in the autumn turned into a full-blown famine. Especially in the first winter of occupation (1941–42) food shortage was acute and famine struck especially in the urban centers of the country. Food shortage reached a climax and a famine was unavoidable. During that winter the mortality rate reached a peak, while according to British historian, Mark Mazower, this was the worst famine the Greeks experienced from ancient times. Bodies of dead persons were secretly abandoned in cemeteries or at the streets (possibly so their ration cards could continue to be used by surviving relatives). In other cases, bodies were found days after the death had taken place. The sight of emaciated dead bodies was commonplace in the streets of Athens.

The situation in Athens and the wider area with its port, Piraeus, was out of control, the hyperinflation was in full swing and the price of bread was increased 89-fold from April 1941 to June 1942. According to the records of the German army the mortality rate in Athens alone reached 300 deaths per day during December 1941, while the estimates of the Red Cross were much higher, at 400 deaths while in some days the death toll reached 1,000. Apart from the urban areas the population of the islands was also affected by the famine, especially those living in Mykonos, Syros and Chios.

There are no accurate numbers of the famine deaths because civil registration records did not function during the occupation. In general, it is estimated that Greece suffered approximately 300,000 deaths during the Axis occupation as a result of famine and malnutrition. However, not all parts of Greece experienced equal levels of food scarcity. Although comprehensive data on regional famine severity does not exist, the available evidence indicates that the severe movement restrictions, the proximity to agricultural production and the level of urbanization were crucial factors of famine mortality.

We can read similar things about the Dutch famine during World War II. Again, going by Wikipedia (emphasis mine) …..

Food stocks in the cities in the western Netherlands rapidly ran out. The adult rations in cities such as Amsterdam dropped to below 1000 calories (4,200 kilojoules) a day by the end of November 1944 and to 580 calories in the west by the end of February 1945. Over this Hongerwinter (“Hunger winter”), a number of factors combined to cause starvation in especially the large cities in the West of the Netherlands. The winter in the month of January 1945 itself was unusually harsh prohibiting transport by boat for roughly a month between early January 1945 and early February 1945. Also, the German army destroyed docks and bridges to flood the country and impede the Allied advance. Thirdly, Allied bombing made it extremely difficult to transport food in bulk, since Allied bombers could not distinguish German military and civilian shipments. As the south-eastern (the Maas valley) and the south-western part of the Netherlands (Walcheren and Beveland) became one of the main western battlefields, these conditions combined to make the transport of existing food stocks in large enough quantities nearly impossible.

The areas affected were home to 4.5 million people. Butter disappeared after October 1944, shortly after railway transport to the western parts of the Netherlands had stopped in September due to the railway strike. The supply of vegetable fats dwindled to a minuscule seven-month supply of 1.3 liters per person. At first 100 grams of cheese were allotted every two weeks; the meat coupons became worthless. The bread ration had already dropped from 2,200 to 1,800 and then to 1,400 grams per week. Then it fell to 1,000 grams in October, and by April 1945 to 400 grams a week. Together with one kilogram of potatoes, this then formed the entire weekly ration. The black market increasingly ran out of food as well, and with the gas and electricity and heat turned off, everyone was very cold and very hungry. In search of food, young strong people would walk for tens of kilometers to trade valuables for food at farms. Tulip bulbs and sugar beets were commonly consumed. Furniture and houses were dismantled to provide fuel for heating.

In the last months of 1944, in anticipation of the coming famine, tens of thousands of children were brought from the cities to rural areas where many remained until the end of the war. Deaths in the three big cities of the Western Netherlands (The Hague, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam) started in earnest in December 1944, reaching a peak in March 1945, but remained very high in April and May 1945. In early summer 1945 the famine was brought quickly under control. From September 1944 until May 1945 the deaths of 18,000 Dutch people were attributed to malnutrition as the primary cause and in many more as a contributing factor.

There are a lot of other similar stories that could be told about World War II but the bottom line is that food scarcity was an issue in many areas during World War II and it always seemed to hit hardest in the urban areas. Now I think to a lot of people this is sort of like announcing that water is wet. Who would expect anything differently?

But the fact that the experience of World War II accords with people’s natural expectations is precisely the problem. The things that enabled rural areas to do better during times of food shortages at the time of World War II no longer hold true and yet I don’t think people have updated their thinking to account for the changes.

As Chelsea Green’s “A Short History of the Agricultural Seed” says (emphasis mine)……

These changes didn’t “take” with farmers overnight. First of all, many of these inputs were expensive, and most farmers were not operating on a cash-intensive system—they produced all or most of their own fertility, feed, and seed for their farms. Pesticides, nitrogen fertilizer, and even tractors wouldn’t become commonplace on North American or European farms until after World War II, and even later in other parts of the world. The main source of fuel on the farm was the grain and hay produced on-farm for horses. It’s hard to believe now that only 100 years ago, even in countries that were rapidly industrializing, most of the population lived on farms that were largely self-sufficient, breeding their own animals and growing their crops from seed they had grown.

I don’t think many people have fully internalized how unprecedented modern times are compared to most of recorded history. Urban areas have always been vulnerable to the collapse of complicated supply lines since the time of the Bronze Age collapse. Rome famously lived in fear of its grain supplies being cut off just as much as Great Britain feared submarines. But at the time of World War II a farmer in Great Britain could feed himself even if there were not enough famers in Great Britain to feed the largely urban population of what was one of the most urbanized countries in the world at the time. But now a farmer cannot feed himself without the aid of a long and complicated supply line anymore then a city dweller can.

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Some Thoughts on Preparedness

I know a good man who has some serious health problems that were sadly predictable. He worked for a long time in a very dusty environment. He knew that was a health risk and whenever his son helped him he made him wear a respirator. He had the equipment to protect himself and he had the knowledge that it was dangerous. But for whatever reason, he did not make use of those things.
You see that a lot. There are people who know that smoking is dangerous but only get serious about quitting after they get lung cancer. There are people who know that that tree work is dangerous but only become serious about safety after their brother is killed by a falling limb. It is human to know something, to have no real doubt that what you know is true, and yet to still fail to act on it.

The book of James mocks those who profess to have faith and yet fail to act on it. The same sort of logic can be applied to knowledge. We all dam ourselves by what we say we know and being flawed as we are, we can never totally avoid it. But it is worth making an effort to avoid condemning ourselves by what we say we know.

This is a particular danger for me because I am a very judgmental man. I look at the middle class in Lebanon and wonder how they can be crying in the newspapers about how they losing all their savings. Didn’t they realize they were living in a country that is a byword for instability? How could they have money in the bank but no food in the pantry? I feel the same way about the middle class panic buying in the shops in South Africa because they are afraid that the riots might cause supply disruptions. You live in Africa and you are not prepared for the stores to be empty for a few weeks?

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A rant on the “second wave” and calls for more lock-downs.

My “somebody on the internet is wrong” personality flaw has been triggered. Or maybe it would be better to say that people are missing the obvious point. At any rate, this is going to be a little bit of departure from normal links to news.
To set the stage, let us consider the following opinions from the great and good.

1. There are “bad people” who believe that we should strive for herd immunity and who argue that we can achieve herd immunity from smaller number of infections then “good people” this is possible.

2. The current rising number of infections in places that have already been hard hit (like Spain) show that the “bad people” are wrong (was there ever any doubt?).

3. “Bad people” are trying to switch the subject to talking about how low the case fatality rate is. But this lower date rate is only because the demographics of those getting infected are currently different and have nothing to do with the seriousness of COVID.

Granted, the above is a little over simplified, but I think (despite the snark) it is a pretty fair representation of the views of a lot of people. If you want to see someone who is struggling to be fair minded address this issue, you can read this Marginal Revolution post so you can see the argument being made sans the snark.

Now I am not going to defend the work of the “bad” herd immunity people. I suspect that they are making a critical error in modeling a “herd” as being a given group of people located a geographical point and we know this model is flawed. For example, studies of anti-body samples seem to show quite clearly that there was a big COVID class divided in New York City. It seems that COVID was much more prevalent in the poor and working class in New York then it was in the middle and upper classes. In fact, the difference is so stark that they might as well been two different cities. So the lower economic classes of New York might very well have “herd immunity” were as the upper economic classes are ripe for a “second wave” as it were. And regardless of what mathematical models show, it is hard to see how lower classes having herd immunity (assuming they do) will protect the upper classes who do things like go to weddings in Brazil and vacation in Mexico. I suspect the same logic plays out in places like Spain/Madrid or other areas that were hard hit but still experiencing a “second wave”.

But this brings to me much lower death rate that is being experienced as part of this “second wave”. The great and good will tell you this is because of the younger age demographic of those getting infected and they have statistics to back that up. I also suspect that a much higher percentage of those now being infected are better off and whiter then the first wave. I have not seen statistics to that effect but given the lack of stories about “minorities hardest hit” and “meatpackers are all going to die” I would guess that a lot more of the infections are in the upper class then previously. This would also tie into the lower death rate because as a general rule the wealthier you are the better your health and the better health care you receive. The bottom line is that a younger and wealthier set of victims goes a long way to explaining the lower case fatality rate for COVID currently being observed.

So far, I don’t have a problem with the story that the great and good are spinning (except that I think that testing and other methodological problems plays a bigger role then they are acknowledging). My problem is that obvious implications about the “success” of lockdowns are being ignored and the clamor is for “more lockdown.” This to me is missing the obvious point that the case fatality rate is so low now because vulnerable and the poor were not protected during the lock down. The people getting infected now are the people who were protected during the lockdown.

The wealthy and middle class who were able to work from home and keep their kids home with them were protected by the lockdown. The poor who could not afford to stay home and had to keep going to work (often in nursing homes, hospitals, meat packing plants, and so on and so forth) and had to have their kids in daycare (often their elderly parents since all other options were closed) were heavily hit on the first wave and not suffering as bad with the “second wave”.

What bugs me is that now that upper classes see the infections are hitting them, they want another lock down because it successfully protects them. They don’t care all that much about the economic fallout because so far that has disproportionately hurt the lower classes that have never been protected by any lock down.

The bottom line: The current rise in infections is occurring in people previously protected by lockdowns. The fact that the case fatality rate is currently so low shows that the lockdowns never did a very good job a protecting the vulnerable. Current calls to re-instate the lockdowns should be looked at as privileged people trying to protect themselves from something that the poorer classes have already suffered.

Maybe there is another way of interpreting the data, but if there is, I have not seen the argument being made. Mostly, the great and good seem to prefer to ignore the implications of the fact that infections are only now impacting them and comparatively ignoring the poor and vulnerable who were so hard hit last time.

Justin Offers A Link

In a comment on this post, Justin offered the below video as a comment on this link.

I will make the following observations……

1. It is stories like the above that lead to socialism, communism, and other associated ideas having continued support in spite of their bad track record.

2. It is common for people who are good at something to think that they can therefore lead or manage a project that encompasses things that they are good at. But often, leadership skills don’t come with other strong skills. In particular, my own experience would lead me to believe that strongly artistic people are rarely good managers. A lot of Mr. Kern’s bad decisions as laid out in the above video strike me as a classic example of an artistic person let off the leash with no oversight. Computer gaming history is filled with similar stories of developers who were an integral part of strong teams but absolutely failed on their own in such spectacular fashion as to make you wonder if they were ever truly good at anything. In my judgement, the common thread in those tails of self-destruction is giving an artistic person a pot full of money with no controls.

3. It is common for people to exaggerate the evil nature of poor leaders and forgive the evil deeds of good leaders. That is to say the failure of leadership skill is often attributed to moral failings while successful leaders are forgiven moral lapses because they get things done. We all have moral failings and I am sure that Mr. Kern has more then his fair share. But I think a lot of what is laid out above is rooted above all else in lack of managerial talent and not some particularly black heart compared to other people in the same industry.

4. It is common for people to point out someone’s hypocrisy or other moral failings as if they demonstrate that that person does not have good points or sincerely held beliefs. A classic case of this is the attempts to delegitimize everything Winston Churchill did because he was a supporter of imperialism. In this case, nothing in the above video really has anything to do with Mark Kern’s points about China or the current management of Blizzard except to warn against turning Mr. Kern into some kind of hero.That is always a good warning to have, but no one should go in the opposite direction and think it demonstrates more then it does.

5. A broader hypocrisy of the west in general is the focus of things seen on TV instead of any kind of tangible yardsticks. For example, what has been done over the years in Tibet have been and continue to be far worse then anything currently going on in Hong Kong. And yet, Tibet has not developed into nearly as big of an issue as Hong Kong is becoming.

6. That said, I think it is truly alarming how determined China is to use its economic clout to regulate what is being said in other countries. It is one thing to control your own country’s internet. It is another thing to try to control what everyone else is saying all over the world. And that does seem to be what China is seeking to do. Imagine the outrage if the American government worked as hard as China has been working to get sport’s people fired for being critical of US policy.

Did an Inuit (Eskimo) woman kill a polar bear with a 22?

I recently told some people that smallest cartridge documented to have been used to killed a polar bear was a 22 but now I can’t find any proof of that fact. I had a clear memory of reading an article in a print magazine that documented such a thing, but I will be danged if I can find it now. Apparently I am not the only person with this memory as I did find this quote from a forum….

I read an article where an Inuit woman killed one of the largest polar bears ever killed with a .22 rifle. Hid behind a door in the kitchen, when the bear poked its head in the kitchen, she put the muzzle of the rifle in it’s ear and shot; dropped like a rock. They reported it was very difficult getting the bear out of the house.

This report was greeted with considerable skepticism on the forum and I don’t blame them for the skepticism in the absence of proof. All I can say is that I remember reading a similar article a long time ago. But I will be danged if I can find that article now so either I am totally mis-remembering or the all encompassing internet failed to preserve any kind of documentation. Best I can come up with something semi-official looking is the off hand comment in this article that references what my dubious memory recalls saying….

Marauding bears have been killed by .22 rimfire pocket pistols; not very often, but it has been done by an Eskimo woman I happen to know about.

But the article offers no documentation to support that claim so it might be a commonly repeated tall tale. All I can offer in defense of my memory and the undocumented hearsay found on the internet is that it is well documented that a 22 in the hands of native American woman can kill a very large bear. But the bear is question was a very large grizzly and the woman in question was Cree and not Inuit. Her name was Bella Twin and she got into the record books for that particular bit of daring.

The Education of the Normans

This video is not in the Educate Deb series and can only be appreciated by people who have some knowledge of English history. If you know what happened during the battle of Battle of Agincourt, if you know your Shakespeare well enough to know who Henry V was, and if you know what Henry V connection to the Normans was, and you have 12 minutes to spare, then you may be interested in watching this short video on how the Normans got educated.

Granted, this is just one interpretation of the battle but it is a plausible one. It strikes me as an obscure battle that had a larger affect on history then many would think (although undoubtedly this was not the only time that the Normans had to learn this lesson).