Sunday, October 19, 2014
THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS, AS VIEWED FROM A SOVIET LAUNCH FACILITY
This month marks the 52nd anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world dangerously close to thermonuclear war.
A couple of years ago, I read Rockets and People, the totally fascinating memoir of Soviet rocket developer Boris Chertok, which I’m still hoping to get around to reviewing one of these days.
Chertok’s career encompassed both military and space-exploration projects, and in late October 1962 he was focused on preparations for launching a Mars probe. On the morning of Oct 27, he was awakened by “a strange uneasiness.” After a quick breakfast, he headed for the missile assembly building, known as the MIK.
At the gatehouse, there was usually a lone soldier on duty who would give my pass a cursory glance. Now suddenly I saw a group of soldiers wielding sub-machine guns, and they thoroughly scrutinized my pass. Finally they admitted me to the facility grounds and there, to my surprise, I again saw sub-machine-gun-wielding soldiers who had climbed up the fire escape to the roof of the MIK. Other groups of soldiers in full combat gear, even wearing gas masks, were running about the periphery of the secure area. When I stopped in at the MIK, I immediately saw that the “duty” R-7A combat missile, which had always been covered and standing up against the wall, which we had always ignored, was uncovered.
Chertok was greeted by his friend Colonel Kirillov, who was in charge of this launch facility. Kirollov did not greet Chertok with his usual genial smile, but with a “somber, melancholy expression.”
Without releasing my hand that I’d extended for our handshake, he quietly said: “Boris Yevseyevich, I have something of urgent importance I must tell you”…We went into his office on the second floor. Here, visibly upset, Kirillov told me: “Last night I was summoned to headquarters to see the chief of the [Tyura-Tam] firing range. The chiefs of the directorates and commanders of the troop units were gathered there. We were told that the firing range must be brought into a state of battle readiness immediately. Due to the events in Cuba, air attacks, bombardment, and even U.S. airborne assaults are possible. All Air Defense Troops assets have already been put into combat readiness. Flights of our transport airplanes are forbidden. All facilities and launch sites have been put under heightened security. Highway transport is drastically restricted. But most important—I received the order to open an envelope that has been stored in a special safe and to act in accordance with its contents. According to the order, I must immediately prepare the duty combat missile at the engineering facility and mate the warhead located in a special depot, roll the missile out to the launch site, position it, test it, fuel it, aim it, and wait for a special launch command. All of this has already been executed at Site No. 31. I have also given all the necessary commands here at Site No. 2. Therefore, the crews have been removed from the Mars shot and shifted over to preparation of the combat missile. The nosecone and warhead will be delivered here in 2 hours.
Chertok, who at this point was apparently viewing the Cuban affair as a flash in the pan that would be resolved short of war, was concerned that moving the Mars rocket would cause them to miss their October 29 launch date, and suggested that the swap of the rockets be delayed for a few hours. Kirillov told him that this was impossible, and that he should go to the “Marshal’s cottage,” where some of his associates wanted to see him. Chertok’s response:
Yes, sir! You’re in charge! But, Anatoliy Semyonovich! Just between you and me—do you have the courage to give the ‘Launch!’ command, knowing full well that this means not just the death of hundreds of thousands from that specific thermonuclear warhead, but perhaps the beginning of the end for everyone? You commanded a battery at the front, and when you shouted ‘Fire!’ that was quite another matter.
There’s no need to torment me. I am a soldier now; I carry out an order just as I did at the front. A missile officer just like me, not a Kirillov, but some Jones or other, is standing at a periscope and waiting for the order to give the ‘Launch!’ command against Moscow or our firing range. Therefore, I advise you to hurry over to the cottage.
At the cottage, four men were seated at a table playing cards while a fifth was trying to glean the latest news from a radio and Lena, the housekeeper, was in the kitchen drying wine glasses. It was suggested that since Chertok didn’t like playing cards, he should help Lena fix the drinks. This involved a watermelon and lots of cognac.
I took the enormous watermelon and two bottles of cognac out of the fridge. When everything was ready, we heard a report that U.N. Secretary General U Thant had sent personal messages to Khrushchev and Kennedy. Once again, Voskresenskiy took the initiative and proposed the first toast: “To the health of U Thant, and may God grant that this not be our last drink!” This time we all drank down our toast in silence and very solemnly, realizing how close we now were to a situation in which this cognac and this watermelon could be our last.
Still hoping to avoid the cancellation of the Mars mission, Chertok went to another cottage and, with considerable difficulty, made a forbidden call to S P Korolev, overall head of the Soviet rocket program, who was then in Moscow. Korolev told him that things were being taken care of and not to worry.
It was already dark when I returned to the Marshal’s cottage. On the road, a Gazik came to an abrupt halt. Kirillov jumped out of it, saw me, swept me up in a hug, and practically screamed: “All clear!” We burst into the cottage and demanded that they pour “not our last drink,” but alas! The bottles were empty. While everyone excitedly discussed the historic significance of the “All clear” command, Lena brought out a bottle of “three star” cognac from some secret stash. Once again the Mars rockets were waiting for us at the launch site and in the MIK.
Reflecting on the crisis many years later, Chertok wrote:
Few had been aware of the actual threat of a potential nuclear missile war at that time. In any event, one did not see the usual lines for salt, matches, and kerosene that form during the threat of war. Life continued with its usual day-to-day joys, woes, and cares. When the world really was on the verge of a nuclear catastrophe, only a very small number of people in the USSR and the United States realized it. Khrushchev and Kennedy exercised restraint and did not give in to their emotions. Moreover, the military leaders of both sides did not display any independent initiative nor did they deviate at all from the orders of their respective heads of state. Very likely, Khrushchev wasn’t just guided by the pursuit of peace “at any cost.” He knew that the U.S. nuclear arsenal was many times greater than ours. The Cubans did not know this and viewed Moscow’s order to call off missile preparation and dismantle the launch sites as a betrayal of Cuba’s interests. President Kennedy had no doubt as to the United States’ nuclear supremacy. The possibility of a single nuclear warhead striking New York kept him from starting a nuclear war. Indeed, this could have been the warhead on the R-7A missile that they didn’t roll out of the MIK to the pad at Site No. 1.
Saturday, October 18, 2014
A COOL STARTUP STORY, REVISITED
In 2005, I posted about a company called Theranos, as part of the “cool startup story” series at Photon Courier. The company was founded by Elizabeth Holmes, who left Stanford at age 19 in order to pursue her idea for a quantum improvement in blood testing. The original focus was on the detection of adverse drug reactions and the analysis of drug effectiveness on a more-individualized basis.
My, how this little company has grown up. Theranos now has 500 employees and a valuation of about $9 billion. They can currently perform 200 of the most commonly-ordered blood diagnostic tests, and can do it without a syringe–only a few drops of blood are necessary, and these are obtained from a finger prick using “a patented method that minimizes even the minor discomfort involved with that procedure.” (The Fortune writer tried it, and said “to me, it felt more like a tap than a puncture.”) Theranos now has a deal with Walgreens, initially making its service available in stores in California and Arizona and with plans to roll the service out to all 8200 Walgreens stores nationwide.
There are a billion tests done every year in the United States, but too many of them are done in the emergency room. If you were able to do some of those tests before a person gets checked into the ER, you’d start to see problems earlier; you’d have time to intervene before a patient needed to go to the hospital. If you remove the biggest barriers to these tests, you’ll see them used in smarter ways.
Phlebotomy is such a huge inhibitor to people getting tested. Some studies say that a substantive percentage of patients who get a lab requisition don’t follow through, because they’re scared of needles or they’re afraid of worrying, waiting to hear that something is wrong. We wanted to make this service convenient, to bring it to places close to people’s homes, and to offer rapid results.
…in how many nations of the world could A TEENAGE GIRL get a serious audience, and then MILLIONS OF DOLLARS in VC funding, to develop her idea ?!?
There are many unpleasant consequences to American society being perpetually adolescent, a bit shallow and thrill-seeking, with an attention deficit and a naive optimism born of ignorance about the odds, but this type of thing is one of the UPSIDES of being that way.
In America, if you can do, the odds are pretty good that you’ll be allowed to do, regardless of your shortcomings and quirks. We’re flexible and goal-driven, not so much wedded to process.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
WHERE ARE THOSE SPACE ALIENS?....WITH QUESTIONS ON SOCIAL EVOLUTION
The universe is many billions of years old. Fermi calculated that an alien species smart enough to become spacefarers could reach any point in the galaxy in five million years. But we we have no scientific evidence that aliens beings have been here…So, Fermi asked, where is everybody?
Standard answers to the Paradox involve emphasizing the vast distances involved, and the fact that “as far as our galaxy is concerned, we are living somewhere in the sticks, far removed from the metropolitan area of the galactic center,” as Edward Teller put it. Another theory is that species which are sufficiently intelligent to achieve interstellar travel have a tendency to blow themselves up long before they reach anywhere in our vicinity. But another possible explanation is suggested by Geoffrey Miller:
I suggest a different, even darker solution to the Paradox. Basically, I think the aliens don’t blow themselves up; they just get addicted to computer games. They forget to send radio signals or colonize space because they’re too busy with runaway consumerism and virtual-reality narcissism. They don’t need Sentinels to enslave them in a Matrix; they do it to themselves, just as we are doing today. Once they turn inwards to chase their shiny pennies of pleasure, they lose the cosmic plot. They become like a self-stimulating rat, pressing a bar to deliver electricity to its brain’s ventral tegmental area, which stimulates its nucleus accumbens to release dopamine, which feels…ever so good.
Reading the above, I was reminded of an old science-fiction story…I couldn’t remember the name or the author, but, amazingly, I was able to locate it online. The story is called “Ambition,” and it was written by William Bade in 1952. The idea is that a scientist working on space travel finds that he has somehow been brought by time-travel to an era hundreds of years in the future. He is thrilled, because he assumes that the people of the future will have developed space travel to a high degree, and that he will actually be able to fulfill his dream of journeying to the planets. ”Somewhere, out there in the night, there must be men who had walked beside the Martian canals and pierced the shining cloud mantle of Venus…Surely, a civilization that had developed time travel could reach the stars!”
And he finds that the future civilization indeed has created vehicles that would easily be capable of such exploration…but they are used only as super-airliners. Nobody has any interest in traveling into space, indeed, they can’t imagine why anyone would want to do such a thing. A sympathetic woman explains to the protagonist that “this is the Age of Man. We are terribly interested in what can be done with people. Our scientists…are studying human rather than nuclear reactions.” There appears to be no thirst for adventure in a form likely to be recognized by a 20th-century man. (Indeed, it seems that the reason the future people chose the protagonist as a research subject is that they found his interest in going to the moon and beyond to be so bizarre as to be worthy of psychological investigation.) The story’s subtitle is:
To the men of the future, the scientific goals of today were as incomprehensible as the ancient quest for the Holy Grail!
So…when a society reaches a certain level of wealth and sophistication, does the desire for adventure tend to die out? I’m reminded of a passage from another SF story, this one by Heinlein, in which a Martian is asked why he and other members of his species just sit around all day, “growing together,” as they called it, never actually doing anything. The Martian’s reply is: ”My fathers have labored, and I am weary.”
Is there psychological truth in this remark? Are many modern-day Americans and Europeans “weary” because of the heavy lifting done by their forefathers in creating civilization? To what degree has the desire for adventure and achievement been replaced by first, low-risk fauxadventure (play a videogame rather than start a business, for example), and second, obsessively narcissistic self-focus?…and, to the extent this has actually happened, is it an inevitable consequence of a certain stage of social evolution?…or is it rather a consequence of certain currentreversible social factors? (For example, there are apparently a considerable number of young men focused on viewing porn and playing videogames rather than going out with actual women and pursuing real-world careers and/or advenures. To what extent does this phenomenon reflect a lack of courage and initiative versus to what degree does it reflect a social and economic environment that has damaged the relationship between the sexes and, in many cases, blocked the career ladder?)
In my 2005 post Skipping Science Class, I commented on the UK’s then-new GCSE science curriculum, to be studied by all pupils from 14 to 16, which was to no longer have much actual science in it…
Instead of learning science, pupils will “learn about the way science and scientists work within society”. They will “develop their ability to relate their understanding of science to their own and others’ decisions about lifestyles”, the QCA said. They will be taught to consider how and why decisions about science and technology are made, including those that raise ethical issues, and about the “social, economic and environmental effects of such decisions”.
They will learn to “question scientific information or ideas” and be taught that “uncertainties in scientific knowledge and ideas change over time”, and “there are some questions that science cannot answer, and some that science cannot address”. Science content of the curriculum will be kept “lite”. Under “energy and electricity”, pupils will be taught that “energy transfers can be measured and their efficiency calculated, which is important in considering the economic costs and environmental effects of energy use”. (The above is from John Clare’s article in the Telegraph.)
Melanie Phillips said: “The reason given for the change to the science curriculum is to make science ‘relevant to the 21st century’. This is in accordance with the government’s doctrine of ‘personalised learning’, which means that everything that is taught must be ‘relevant’ to the individual child.” The assumption seems to be that no child would likely be interested in anything much beyond his day-to-day life.
In A Preface to Paradise Lost, C S Lewis contrasts the characters of Adam and Satan, as developed in Milton’s work:
Adam talks about God, the Forbidden tree, sleep, the difference between beast and man, his plans for the morrow, the stars and the angels. He discusses dreams and clouds, the sun, the moon, and the planets, the winds and the birds. He relates his own creation and celebrates the beauty and majesty of Eve…Adam, though locally confined to a small park on a small planet, has interests that embrace ‘all the choir of heaven and all the furniture of earth.’ Satan has been in the heaven of Heavens and in the abyss of Hell, and surveyed all that lies between them, and in that whole immensity has found only one thing that interests Satan.. And that “one thing” is, of course, Satan himself…his position and the wrongs he believes have been done to him. “Satan’s monomaniac concern with himself and his supposed rights and wrongs is a necessity of the Satanic predicament…”
One need not believe in a literal Satan, or for that matter be religious at all, to see the force of this. There is indeed something Satanic about a person who has no interests other than themselves.
I suspect that “educators” who think only in terms of narrow “relevance” are often projecting their own limited vision and interests onto the children for whom their programs are targeted.
But is there something much darker going on in our societies? Have we reached a level at which the desire for adventure, whether physical, financial, or intellectual, has necessarily become less common?
Have our fathers’ labors made us weary?
Saturday, October 11, 2014
ASPIRING AMERICAN ELITES VERSUS AMERICA
Here’s a video in which various Harvard students assert that the United States is a worse threat to world peace than is the terrorist organization ISIS.
This isn’t a statistically-valid survey, and we don’t really know from it what proportion of Harvard students share these views. But there are certainly a disturbing number of highly-educated (or at least highly-credentialed) Americans who feel this way about their country. I am reminded once againtof an essay that C S Lewis wrote in March 1940. At that time, there was evidently a movement among British youth to “repent” England’s sins (which evidently were thought to include the treaty of Versailles) and to “forgive” England’s enemies.
Young Christians especially..are turning to it in large numbers. They are ready to believe that England bears part of the guilt for the present war, and ready to admit their own share in the guilt of England…Most of these young men were children…when England made many of those decisions to which the present disorders could plausibly be traced. Are they, perhaps, repenting what they have in no sense done?
If they are, it might be supposed that their error is very harmless: men fail so often to repent their real sins that the occasional repentance of an imaginary sin might appear almost desirable. But what actually happens (I have watched it happen) to the youthful national penitent is a little more complicated than that. England is not a natural agent, but a civil society…The young man who is called upon to repent of England’s foreign policy is really being called upon to repent the acts of his neighbor; for a foreign secretary or a cabinet minister is certainly a neighbor…A group of such young penitents will say, “Let us repent our national sins”; what they mean is, “Let us attribute to our neighbor (even our Christian neighbor) in the cabinet, whenever we disagree with him, every abominable motive that Satan can suggest to our fancy.”
Lewis points out that when a man who was raised to be patriotic tries to repent the sins of England, he is attempting something that will be difficult for him.
But an educated man who is now in his twenties usually has no such sentiment to mortify. In art, in literature, in politics, he has been, ever since he can remember, one of an angry minority; he has drunk in almost with his mother’s milk a distrust of English statesmen and a contempt for the manners, pleasures, and enthusiasms of his less-educated fellow countrymen.
It’s hard to believe that this was written more than 50 years ago–it’s such a bulls-eye description of a broad swath of our current “progressives.” (The only difference being that many of them today are a lot older than “in their twenties.”)
But now Lewis comes to the real meat of his argument.
Friday, October 10, 2014
ERDOGAN, FOLLOWING IN STALIN'S FOOTSTEPS
Winston Churchill pleaded with Stalin and Franklin D. Roosevelt to help Britain’s Polish allies, to no avail. Then, without Soviet air clearance, Churchill sent over 200 low-level supply drops by the Royal Air Force, the South African Air Force and the Polish Air Force under British High Command. Later, after gaining Soviet air clearance, the US Army Air Force sent one high-level mass airdrop as part of Operation Frantic. The Soviet Union refused to allow American bombers from Western Europe to land on Soviet airfields after dropping supplies to the Poles.
While the US has apparently sent some weapons to the Kurds, the aid so far seems rather desultory. Meanwhile, ISIS has fifty-two American-made 155mm howitzers. ”The Kurds of Kobani feel let down by the Europeans, by the Americans, and particularly by their Muslim neighbors…Everybody here is ready to fight ISIS: old men, pubescent children, young women. They’re all waiting in line in front of the YPG recruiting station. It looks as if they are waiting to vote, but actually it is to register for the war.” link
Meanwhile, the US air campaign does not seem to be of a sufficient level to destroy ISIS or even to stop its advance.
If the US strategy is to fight ISIS by arming intermediaries, rather than directly with US troops, then why is heavy support not being provided to the Kurds? Almost certainly, the main reason is a reluctance on Obama’s part…and maybe on the part of certain people in the State Department…to do anything that would anger Turkey. (In 2012, Obama named Erdogan as one of the world leaders he feels personally closest to.) The result of this attitude will very likely be further ISIS advances, and mass slaughters of Kurds.
Arthur Koestler wrote that the Soviet non-support of the Warsaw uprising was ”one of the major infamies of this war which will rank for the future historian on the same ethical level with Lidice.”
Monday, October 06, 2014
The Dutch government has told its soldiers to refrain from wearing the uniform in their own country. The reason? A series of tweets from a single jihadist, who warns of forthcoming attacks against Dutch soldiers in revenge for Holland’s participation in the military operations against ISIS.
It should be obvious that this policy of caving in to a threat will lead directly to more and escalated threats in the future. As the linked article says:
By ordering Dutch soldiers to become “invisible” in The Netherlands, what message is the government sending to its enemies, let alone its own citizens? Dutch-Iranian law professor Afshin Ellian rightfully asks: if Dutch soldiers aren’t safe anymore, than who is? Jihadists now know that a few tweets from a single Dutch jihadist can fundamentally alter Dutch defense policy. Dutch citizens now know that a few tweets from a single Dutch jihadist will send shivers down their government’s spine and that — instead of making sure all threats are neutralized — it will order the personnel tasked with keeping them safe, to hide.
(If this is the response from the Dutch government to a few threatening tweets, what level of appeasement will we see from them if the Islamists who control Iran gain the ability to provide intimidation via nuclear-armed ballistic missiles with Amsterdam within the circle of range?)
It is commendable for a government to be concerned about the safety of its citizens, including the members of its military, but an obsession with safety, if carried too far, can result in its opposite. Not for the first time, I’m reminded of a passage from Walter Miller’s great novel, A Canticle for Leibowitz:
To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law—a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security.
Thursday, October 02, 2014
WORTHWHILE READING & VIEWING
Three Irish girls win the Google Science Fair with an approach to bacteria-enhanced crop growth
Two versions of “Oklahoma” at Bookworm, with discussion
The lost art of political persuasion. This piece at Ricochet argues that politicians are now less about converting the opposition and persuading the undecided, and more about activating those who are already members of their choir.
Book giveaways during WWII contributed greatly to the popularization of reading and the subsequent growth of the publishing industry.
This article by a Wharton professor argues that “emotional intelligence is overrated” and, specifically, that it is overrated in sales. He cites a study in which hundreds of sales people were tested both for emotional intelligence and cognitive ability, and their sales performance subsequently tracked…with the conclusion that cognitive ability was more than 5X as powerful as emotional intelligence in predicting sales performance. (Actually, I’m pretty sure that the importance of cognitive ability and the importance of emotional intelligence both vary greatly depending on what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to, and also on what kind of resources the salesman needs to leverage within his own organization.)
Monday, September 29, 2014
Here’s one view of life and of leadership, from the French writer and pilot Antoine de St-Exupery:
”A chief is a man who takes responsibility. He does not say, ‘my men were defeated,’ he says, ‘I was defeated.’”
Well, I think our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.
What a pathetic excuse for a leader.
Nor should anyone kid themselves to the effect that Hillary Clinton would take a significantly more responsible approach to the job of President, or that that she took a serious and responsible approach to her job as Secretary of State—see my post excusing failure by pleading incompetence. Neither Ms Clinton nor Mr Obama appears to have much understanding of what it actually means to be responsible for running an organization.
Sunday, September 28, 2014
Cold Spring Shops reminds us of the political value of mockery, linking Instapundit and Sarah Hoyt, and cites, as a classic example of the effective use of mockery as a propaganda weapon. the 1943 Donald Duck film Der Fuehrer’s Face.
For your Sunday evening enjoyment and enlightenment, here it is.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
ELECTION DAY IS FAST APPROACHING
In addition to the advertising that they can explicitly buy with the money they get from contributions, the Democrats also have the advantage of overwhelming support from the media–indeed, a considerable % of news and editorial coverage consists basically of unpaid advertorials for Dem positions and Dem candidates.
If you care about the future of the United States, and are not happy with the “progressive” approach to government, as exemplified in the administration of Barack Obama, please consider maxing out your political contributions and doing it soon. If the Democrats keep control of the Senate, and especially if they are able to regain control of the House, the next two years may be very dark indeed, and the country may well slide into a place from which it will be very difficult to recover.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
CATALIST, "THE 480," AND THE REAL 480
There has been much discussion recently of Catalist, a database system being used by the Democratic Party to optimally target their electioneering efforts…see Jonathan’s post here. I’m reminded of Eugene Burdick’s 1964 novel, “The 480.” The book’s premise is that a group within the Republican party acquires the services of a computing company called Simulation Enterprises, intending to apply the latest technology and social sciences research in order to get their candidate elected. These party insiders have been inspired by the earlier work of the 1960 Kennedy campaign with a company called Simulmatics.
Simulmatics was a real company. It was founded by MIT professor Ithiel de Sola Pool, a pioneer in the application of computer technology to social science research. Data from 130,000 interviews was categorized into 480 demographic groups, and an IBM 704 computer was used to process this data and predict the likely effects of various alternative political tactics. One question the company was asked to address by the 1960 Democratic campaign, in the person of Robert F Kennedy, was: How best to deal with religion? There was considerable concern among some parts of the electorate about the prospect of choosing a Catholic as President. Would the JFK campaign do better by minimizing attention to this issue, or would they do better by addressing it directly and condemning as bigots those who would let Kennedy’s faith affect their vote?
Simulmatics concluded that “Kennedy today has lost the bulk of the votes he would lose if the election campaign were to be embittered by the issue of anti-Catholocism. The simulation shows that there has already been a serious defection from Kennedy by Protestant voters. Under these circumstances, it makes no sense to brush the religious issue under the rug. Kennedy has already suffered the disadvantages of the issue even though it is not embittered now–and without receiving compensating advantages inherent in it.” Quantitatively, the study predicted that Kennedy’s direct addressing of the religion issue would move eleven states, totaling 122 electoral votes, away from the Kennedy camp–but would pull six states, worth 132 electoral votes, into the Democratic column.
It is not clear how much this study influenced actual campaign decision-making…but less than three weeks after RFK received the Simulmatics report, JFK talked about faith before a gathering of ministers in Houston. ”I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end,” Kennedy said, ”where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind.” (Burdick’s novel also suggests that the Kennedy campaign used Simulmatics to assess the effects of a more-forthright posture on civil rights by the campaign, and furthermore to analyze Kennedy’s optimal personality projection during the debates–I don’t know if these assertions are historically correct, but the religion analysis clearly was indeed performed.)
Considerable excitement was generated when, after the election, the Simulmatics project became publicly known. A Harper’s Magazine article referred to to the Simulmatics computer as “the people machine,” and quoted Dr Harold Lasswell of Yale as saying, “This is the A-bomb of the social sciences. The breakthrough here is comparable to what happened at Stagg Field.” But Pierre Salinger, speaking for the Kennedy campaign, asserted that “We did not use the machine.” (Salinger’s statement is called out as a lie in the recent book The Victory Lab: the secret science of winning campaigns.)
In Burdick’s novel, the prospective Republican candidate is John Thatch, head of an international engineering and construction company. Thatch has achieved popular renown after courageously defusing a confrontation between Indians and Pakistanis over a bridge his company was building, thereby averting a probable war. Something about Thatch’s personality has struck the public imagination, and–despite his lack of political experience–he looks to be an attractive candidate. But initially, the Republicans see little hope of defeating the incumbent Kennedy–”the incumbent is surrounded by over four years of honorific words and rituals,” a psychologist explains. ”He seems as though he ought to be President. He assumes the mantle.” This outlook is deeply disturbing to a Republican senior statesman named Bookbinder, who strongly believes that defacto 8-year terms are bad for the country…but if it is true that Kennedy is unbeatable, then the best the Republicans can hope to do is lose as well as possible. Things change when Kennedy is assassinated and the election becomes a real contest.
Bookbinder and Levi, another Republican senior statesman, are introduced to Simulation Enterprises by a young lawyer named Madison (Mad) Curver and his psychologist associate (quoted above), a woman named Dr Devlin Mad and Dr Devlin explain that what Sim Enterprises does is different from the work done by garden-variety pollsters like the one they have just met, Dr Cotter:
“The pollster taps only a small fragment of the subject’s mind, attention, background, family influence, and habits. The Simulations thing, just because it can consider thousands of elements influencing the subject, even things he may not know himself, gets much better results.”
“And one further thing, Book,” Mad said. ”Simulations Enterprises can predict what people will do in a situation which they have never heard of before. That was the whole point of the UN in the Midwest example. No one has gone out there and asked them to vote on whether we should get out of the UN, but Dev outlined a procedure by which you can predict how they will react…if they ever do have to vote on it.
Again Bookbinder had the sharp sense of unreality. Unreal people were being asked invented questions and a result came out on green, white-lined paper…and when you got around to the real people six months later with the real question they would act the way the computer had said they would.
Sunday, September 21, 2014
WORTHWHILE READING & VIEWING
Wishful science: ”if there’s little incentive to publish negative results, whatever reigning paradigm is operating in a given field will be very resistant to change”
Years ago, Arthur Koestler asserted that human beings are basically crazy and that maybe it would be possible to develop a sanity-improving drug and put it in everyone’s drinking water. I was reminded of Koestler’s suggestion by this: Should we all take a bit of lithium?
Thursday, September 18, 2014
THE GREAT UNRAVELLING...AND THE RE-WEAVING?
Your assignment for today, should you choose to accept it:
Read Roger Cohen’s much -discussed article The Great Unraveling, in which he looks back at our era from a hypothetical after-the-collapse/in-the-ruins future: ”It was a time of beheadings..it was a time of aggression…it was a time of breakup…it was a time of weakness…it was a time of hatred, fever, disorientation.”
Then read NeoNeocon’s take on this article, in which she notes that the people in Cohen’s circle seem to have been quite unaware of things which many of us have been following for years. See especially Geoffrey Britain’s comment about the specific and direct causes of each of several “unraveling” phenomena that Cohen cites.
Saturday, September 13, 2014
Ships, and many private yachts, carry the Automatic Identification System (AIS), which continuously transmits position data and static vessel information for the benefit of nearby ships, and in some cases also for shore-based traffic-control authorities.
MarineTraffic.org uses a worldwide network of volunteers to receive AIS transmissions from locations throughout the world and make this data available for display. You can look at a location or search for a specific vessel by name. AIS transmissions are fairly short-range, typically 15-60 miles dependent on antenna height, so there will be coverage gaps in the open ocean and in places where no volunteer receiver is nearby. Still, it looks like a significant % of the world’s coastlines and river mileage is covered.
Thursday, September 11, 2014
9/11 PLUS THIRTEEN YEARS
I guess I thought they were all gone, those types of monsters, stranded on reels of black and white film.
Bookworm: ”My life is divided into two parts: Before September 11, 2001 and after September 11, 2001.”
Simply evil: Christopher Hitchens suggests that sometimes the simple and obvious explanation for an event is more accurate than an explanation which relies on an elaborate structure of “nuance”
Marc Sasseville and Heather Penney were F-16 pilots with an Air National Guard squadron. Their order was to bring down Flight 93 before the terrorists in control of it could create another disaster on the scale of the World Trade Center…but their aircraft were configured for training, with no live ammunition and no missiles. A video interview with Major Penney here
Joseph Fouché writes about how the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in March 2001, and the murder of Ahmed Shah Masood on September 9 of that year, prefigured the 9/11 attacks.
The Diplomad posts a speech he gave on 9/14/01, when he was charge d’affaires at a U.S. embassy. You will not hear speeches like that being given by diplomats under the administration of Barack Obama.
On September 11, 2005, Rare Kate didn’t go to church. Follow the link to find out why. In my original post linking this, I said “What if American and British religious leaders had responded the depradations of Naziism in the spirit of this liturgy? Actually, some of them did. The impact on preparedness was certainly malign, and the people who took such positions certainly bear a share of moral resposibility for the deaths and devastation that took place. Ditto for those who are behaving in a similar way today.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an important leader of the anti-Nazi resistance in Germany (executed in 1945), wrote the following:
Today there are once more saints and villains. Instead of the uniform grayness of the rainy day, we have the black storm cloud and the brilliant lightning flash. Outlines stand out with exaggerated sharpness. Shakespeare’s characters walk among us. The villain and the saint emerge from primeval depths and by their appearannce they tear open the infernal or the divine abyss from which they come and enable us to see for a moment into mysteries of which we had never dreamed.
The refusal on the part of many individuals to face the seriousness of the radical Islamist threat to out civilization stems in significant part, I feel certain, from a desire to avoid the uncomfortable and even dangerous kind of clarity that Bonhoeffer was talking about.
Tuesday, September 09, 2014
GE HAS SOLD ITS APPLIANCE BUSINESS
…to Electrolux, for $3.3 billion.
Today’s WSJ story on the sale began with the words “General Electric, which commercialized the electric toaster and self-cleaning oven”…sounds sort of trivial Actually, household appliances have been an important factor in the liberation of human energies and in social change.
Owen Young, who was GE’s chairman from 1922-1939, grew up as a farm boy. To his biographer Ida Tarbell, he described what life had been like on each Monday–wash day:
He drew from his memory a vivid picture of its miseries: the milk coming into the house from the barn; the skimming to be done; the pans and buckets to be washed; the churn waiting attention; the wash boiler on the stove while the wash tub and its back-breaking device, the washboard, stood by; the kitchen full of steam; hungry men at the door anxious to get at the day’s work and one pale, tired, and discouraged woman in the midst of this confusion.