Naked Capitalism: Your Stable Ship in the Stormiest of Stormy Seas

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

The historical fiction writer Patrick O’Brian, in The Far Side of the World (tenth in the Aubrey-Maturin series, set during the Napoleonic Wars) describes how a British 28-gun frigate, the HMS Surprise, survives a typhoon (and if you’ve simply been procrastinating, you can skip directly to the Donations page):

The horizon all round was a blackish purple and over the whole sky there rolled great masses of cloud in a deep copper color, moving in every direction with a strange unnatural speed; lightning flashed almost continually in every part and the air was filled with the tremble of enormous thunder, far astern but traveling nearer.

The topgallants had already been struck down on deck and all hands were now busy securing the boards on the booms with double gripes, sending up preventer stays, shrouds, braces and backstays, clapping double-breechings onto the guns, covering the forehatch and scuttles with tarpaulins and battening them down.

If your gripes are doubled — mine certainly are — the Tip Jar is to your right.

On deck all hell broke loose as they were striking in the maintopmast half an hour later; the preventer top-rope reeved through the fid-hole parted at the very moment a deluge of warm rain beat down on the ship, so thick they could scarcely breathe, much less see. From that time on until full darkness and beyond it was an incessant battle with mad blasts of wind from every direction, thunder and lightning right overhead, unbelievably steep seas that made no sense at all, bursting with such force that they threatened to engulf the ship….It was not until sunset that the weather began to have a direction and some sort of meaning. The whirling turning formless blasts passed…

It was a hard blow, a very, very hard blow, with a dangerous following sea; but it was what they were used to in their calling, and compared with the maniac day it was a positive relief.

That typhoon, dear readers, is what the media environment has felt like to me — and I am sure to many of you — over the past year, at least. “All hell broke loose.” “Mad blasts of wind.” “Strange unnatural speed.” “Made no sense at all.” (If you were waiting to donate until I actually brought the metaphor home, the Tip Jar is over there.)

Alarms and excursions, moral panics, memes and virality, stories from once-respected venues that have turned out to be false, down to the details. Engineered narratives. Complex fabrications. Outright lying. Well-funded shouting heads who have lost their minds. Intelligence officials posing as pundits, and making out very well indeed for it. (And, far away from the storm, echoing silence in so many newsrooms whose publishers got eaten up by Google, Facebook, or the locust plague of private equity.) Then, just as we think the storm has calmed, the horizon darkens again, and a new episode of shrieking, whirling wind begins.

Naked Capitalism has retained its balance through all these storms, like a well-architected and weatherly naval ship should do. It has been difficult, but we have done it. There is no need for me to list the media typhoons where critical thinking skills, subject matter expertise, rapid response, penchant for detail, and propensity for being “right and early” have kept us stable and enabled us to keep on course. Covid. RussiaGate. The Democrat or Republican scandal du jour. The onrushing Jackpot. (And then there are the stories that the typhoons overwhelm, but we salvage: Strikes. CalPERS. The Bezzle. And the continued warmongering machinations of The Blob.)

Naked Capitalism is a very small ship in a very large and very stormy ocean, and, like any ship, needs constant maintenance and care. (The Tip Jar beckons.)

However, Naked Capitalism is not made from wood, canvas, hemp, tar, copper, or oakum. Nor is Naked Capitalism made from digits coursing over cables, or stored on disk. Naked Capitalism is a community made from writers and readers, whether posting, commenting, doing Links, sharing links, or passing reading on to other readers. Some read and write a lot; others read and write a little. All are important, and the small (like the “preventer top-rope reeved through the fid-hole”) and the large (“the mainmast”) are both important; the ship will founder unless all its parts are whole and sound. So, if you must, please give a little. If you can, please give a lot. Won’t you help keep Naked Capitalism stable and on course?

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > 17 volumes and a wonderful read

      One or two volumes to start is a wonderful present, for the person who likes the genre and the era. O’Brian is quite a stylist, too.

  1. Bob

    Quite a dramatic description, although from here things seem border and trend more towards ennui. Larcenous ennui to be sure but still pretty tame.

  2. The Rev

    Maybe not so much a wild storm as much as traveling through a heavy fog like at the beginning of the film “Master And Commander The Far Side Of The World.” There is the constant nervousness of feeling our way along while taking continuous soundings below us for true depth. You would be listening to the static of sounds to try to discern the sounds of regular waves and the sounds of waves splashing which could indicate rocks & shoals ahead. There would be also scanning the near distance for any signs of hazards or threats – odd shapes – that can be made out in the dense fog while trying to make sense of what can be seen.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      OK, I went and found it. From a blog quoting the Times of London in 2003 (!):

      Nelson is Jack Aubrey’s hero. Long after more fashionable officers have started wearing their cocked hats “fore and aft”, he continues to wear his “athwartships” in honour of the great man. Yet Nelson never appears in person in any of the Aubrey/Maturin novels — we are told that Aubrey met him only once, at a dinner.
      His memory of the occasion is vivid. He often talks about their encounter and says that he has never forgotten the two things that Nelson said to him. One was professional advice: “Never mind manoeuvres, always go at ’em!” The other was more mundane: “Would you pass the salt?” Jack remembers the friendly smile with which Nelson accompanied the request and the kindly way in which the words were uttered Patrick O’Brian was usually meticulous in his research, but in attributing these two remarks to Nelson the Master nodded. In fact, Nelson never took salt with his meals — the surgeon in HMS Victory at Trafalgar, Dr William Beatty, noted that the admiral “left off the use of salt” when a young man, believing it to be the main cause of scurvy.

      “Always go at ’em” has long been a maxim attributed to Nelson, but modern research has challenged this view and it now appears that the phrase belongs to the dashing frigate captain Lord Cochrane, on whom, in some ways, Aubrey was based.This small-scale readjustment of Nelson’s story is symbolic of a much larger movement that is challenging the traditional Nelson narrative. Until recently there was a consensus among historians that there was little new to be said about Nelson, but that view has been shot out of the water by a recent discovery.

      Over the past two years the Nelson Letters Project, jointly sponsored by the National Maritime and Royal Naval museums, has been making a survey of archives with Nelson material, in Britain and overseas. The project has uncovered a large body of new material: at the last count more than 1,200 letters. It is the most significant addition to the Nelson “canon” in more than 100 years.

      The Nelson that is emerging is a more subtle and rounded figure. He is an accomplished diplomat, a canny intelligence officer, a very able administrator and an adept manipulator of the complex system of patronage that kept Georgian England running smoothly. Indeed, some of the stories that have come to light read like the Aubrey/Maturin novels.

      Nelson is also a careful tactician. The most dramatic discovery was that last year of a sketch, in the archive of the National Maritime Museum, drawn by him in the autumn of 1805 to illustrate the tactics for his next battle — what he called “The Nelson Touch”. One historian called it “the Holy Grail of naval history”.
      The lower part of the sketch shows the enemy fleet in a thick diagonal line.

      Nelson’s fleet (on the left of the diagram) is formed in three divisions. One division ranges alongside part of the enemy fleet, holding it down [Grant], and preventing it from doing anything to help the rest. In the meantime, the other two divisions cut through the enemy line [Sherman] in two places, dividing it into three segments to be surrounded and dealt with piecemeal.

      Looking at this crude drawing is like looking over Nelson’s shoulder as he explains his ideas. We can even sense the excitement with which he has demonstrated the cutting of the line — his pen has dug into the paper. This is not an unsubtle headlong attack. This is a masterplan created by one of the greatest leaders Britain has produced. Far from simply “going at ’em”, Nelson is using carefully thought-out manoeuvres to, as he put it, “confuse and confound” the enemy.

      So two key aspects of Aubrey’s recollection of his hero are now known to be wrong.

      Either the master nodded…. or it’s an Easter Egg. This is, after all, a work of fiction. Perhaps another timeline?

  3. Eudora Welty

    I just donated. I gain so much from reading the links and comments. Sometimes my life gets busy and I skip a few days, but then I have a wealth of reading to catch up on, so it always works out. I feel much more able to navigate my life because I read Naked Capitalism.

    1. lambert strether

      Thank you! I was afraid everybody was admiring O’Brian’s deathless prose (and mine), and forgetting the object of the exercise….

  4. ilpalazzo

    I was more of a CS Forester guy myself. When we were around thirty the Hornblower saga burned through us like a forest fire, a friend bought couple of books on old stock sale and soon everyone in my enhanced social circle had read all tomes. They are perfect page turners.

    1. KLG

      Trivial note so I don’t have to think of pandemic. Sorry.

      Speaking of Hornblower, during his acceptance in August 1980, in which he honored Senator/Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota, Jimmy Carter referred to Hubert Horatio Hornblower…uh Humphrey, followed by one of his famous smiles. The young naval officer had probably read all of Hornblower. Hubert Horatio Hornblower got a rousing response. Probably the apex of the 1980 campaign for the Democrats.

      Short video, HHH just after 3:00. I was watching in real time. By 1992 I had stopped watching any and all TV news.

  5. Scott1

    Ocean warfare in the age of sail. In which of the novels did Jack see the pursuing Dutch ship fly over the cresting wave and bow first into the trough, and gone like that with all hands as if never even there in the first place?

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