Archive for the ‘Talks’ category

We Are (Mostly) Star Dust

January 17, 2015

Have some brain-food-fun this a.m., courtesy of a friend of mine, Ben Lillie, recovering physicist and the man behind the lovely Story Collider effort.  Here he gives a TEDx talk on element number 3, lithium, an audio essay ranging from Evanescence (the band, not the property) to the universe and back to human nature.  Enjoy:

Don’t know about you, but every now and then I need a complete break from the not-funny comedy that is current US politics.  This worked a treat for me.
Any great science popular media among your favorites?  That’s what comments are for.

For A Good Time In London

May 7, 2013

Come Thursday week, I’ll be trying to keep my head about me when many before have lost theirs (though I doubt they blamed i on me).


Which is to say, I’ll be talking Newton, the Mint, counterfeiters and all kinds of good stuff at the Tower of London at 6:30, May 16.  It’s not a free event, alas, but tickets for any geographically enabled Balloon Juicers can be booked here.  I believe the talk will go up at iTunes U at some point, and I’ll add details when I post a reminder next week.

I  know that I’m often kind of late with this sort of announcement.  This marks a conscious attempt at improvement.  I’m channeling my inner Charles Dreyfus:  “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better.”*

*It was a Pink Panther flick that introduced me to the phrase whose origins lie here.

Hans Holbein the Younger, Portrait of a Woman, inscribed in gold over red “Anna Bollein Queen,”  c. 1532-6. (Note:  there’s a fair amount of controversy over whether this or another drawing attributed to Holbein do in fact depict Henry VIII’s unfortunate second wife.

For Good Times In Cambridge, Redux

April 16, 2013

A reminder, for Boston-area folks in need of something other than our public miseries to ponder.

Tomorrow, Wednesday April 17, at 7 p.m., we got this:

Seth Mnookin and Ta-Nehisi Coates talking with David Carr, the New York Times’ media critic, on Wed., April 17, 7 p.m. in MIT’s building 6, room 120 (6-120, as folks in the Shire reckon addresses — click on the link for an interactive map).  The event is running under the title “The Future of Print in the Digital Age” and is sponsored as part of the Writer’s Series within MIT’s Program in Comparative Media Studies/Writing, its Graduate Program in Science Writing, and the MIT Program in Science Technology and Society.  To repeat myself  from last week’s notice:  This should be a very smart evening; Carr’s one of the really good ones.

Note:  6-120 is a reasonably large room — about 120 seats, I think — but this is one that should get a lot of interest, so if you want to be there, allow a little extra time.


Next, the day after, Thursday, April 18, my former student Emily Anthes is coming back to MIT to speak about her new book Frankenstein’s Cat. You might recall that Emily and I had a conversation about the book last month (podcast here).  Emily has taken a serious and very well researched look at the intersection of biotechnology and the animals closest to their human partners/owners/users.  The result of that work is a gracefully written book that wears the author’s knowledge lightly, and argues its point — the technological manipulation of animals is both inevitable and at least potentially a benefit to both parties to the deal — with grace and rigor.  She’s got a lot to say, and she says it well.  If this is the sort of thing you like to engage, this will be a fine evening too.  Her talk is the day is also at 7 p.m. in yet another of MIT’s utterly impenetrably named venues, 56-114 — building 56, room 114.

Fun for the whole family, with decent pizza nearby for afters.  What could be bad?

(Note:  I’ll be at the event tomorrow, but will have to miss Emily’s reading, as I must be off to visit a very ill relative in the mud-season be-mucked north.  If you make it tomorrow, say hi.)

Image: Unknown artist, The Final Hour!” c. 1920

Live Blog: Telling the Stories of Science Panel Two — Fifty Years Ahead

March 24, 2012

5:37 — and that’s a wrap, folks.

5:33:  Lloyd — don’t wanta quantum laptop just yet (takes a lot of gear just to talk to 12 atoms.)

Sweet spot for qu computing–factoring large numbers, which could break all public key codes. (Talk about disruption.)

5:15: Q & A time:  Belcher and Sharp talk about the sense of science as both a search for basic knowledge and very much an applied endeavor…Lloyd notes that most of the big problems are more political than scientific, but that in the end you still have to do the science to produce any remotely plausible solutions.

Q: Question about whether or not nano materials or organic quantum computers are disposable.  Sharp responsds that the nice thing about biological systems is that they are all pretty much made of stuff (proteins etc) that other creatures can eat.  But it is very important to design in recycleabilty (sp?).

Q:  Issue of framing problems — are we aiming too low, as in, investing in cancer drugs that at best prolong life for a few months.  Seth Lloyd responds:  aiming low is not really a problem at MIT — different calculation at drug companies.  He believes that we should allocate more resources to people trying “crazy” stuff.  Primary leaps for society come from technology that arise out of fundamental research — see e.g. the transistor — and not from incrementalism.  Hence, need to prioritize basic research over the attempt to divine the right applied line to follow.

Sharp: it matters at the highest level who’s setting policy because, yes, framing a problem is crucial; if you have the right statement of the problem you can solve that problem… much harder otherwise.  His example: lung cancer may be best approached by cutting smokng — that might be the right way tof rame the issue.

Belcher: emphasizes the value of interdisciplinarity. Putting her next to engineers at the Koch Center changes her insights, and vice versa.  She remembers her own experience of getting funding despite her “crazy” idea of giving genetic info to a nonliving system.

Sharp adds: origins of molecular biology lie in physics.  People like Delbruck came into physics and disciplined people to look at the simplest organism and work out those problems.  Cross fertilization of ideas and techniques…

Q: are the lawyers going to muck up the future of these sciences?  Sharp’s answer: there is an enormous amount of litigation around the health sciences, and an enormous amount of regulation.  The motivation of the regulation is clear — but you do have to work through/around this reality.

Lloyd asks Belcher, “you’ve patented a gazillion things — what do you think about the IP system.” Belcher — doesn’t have any sense of having been slowed down by litigation.  Maybe material science is easier than say, software.

Lloyd patents everything reflexively — ever since he didn’t patent an idea in quantum computing because, he thought, it’ll never work…which it didn’t until a company in Vancouver dropped $100 million to make it work.  Ah well….

5:02: Lloyd now moves to the specific question of quantum computing.  A quantum computer is wher eyou store and process information at level of individual quanta.

Now we get a delightful introduction to wave particle duality. Lloyd’s aside: it’s a toss up between quantum mechanics and natural selection as to which has more confirmation — and thus isn’t it curious that both are routinely under attack.

This leads to an anecdote about pitching a quantum search device to Brin and Page in a meeting held in a hot tub.  Interesting times…

Lloyd not interested in quantum computing to beat Moore’s law, particularly; rather, Lloyd want’s to understand how information processing happpens, in say, Belcher’s photosynthesizing plants/and/or/nanosystems.

Photosynthesis: take a photon, have it absorbed by a chromophor; it creates and electron-hole pair (exciton — a particle of excitement) which has to hop through the photosynthetic complext until it gets to a reaction center..reaction center is abou 5% efficient, whilst transport is hugely efficient….99 %.  Turns out the transport system involves a quantum biological step as these electron-hole pairs “ooze” (Lloyd’s word) through the complex.

So need insight into quantum information processing to understand what’s actually going on as we speak.

4:46: And yes — my fingers and wrists hurt.  Belcher talks fast.  Now it’s Seth Lloyd’s turn.  His specialty, says my colleague Marcia Bartusiak “All things Quantum.” (She challengers her inner Terry Pratchett, I think.)

Seth Lloyd begins with a shout out to science writing. (Yay!)

Grant writing is advertising — Mad Men without the sex.

Science is a uniquely public form of knowledge, not to mention that the public in this country actually pays for most of it.

A rather small fraction of scientists are good at communicating to that public what they do…and so Lloyd is here because he thinks that what our grads do is great — with which sentiment I thoroughly agree.

Now the talk:  Predicting 50 years is a mugs game.  Agrees w. Sharp that one tends to overestimate what comes in 5 years, and can’t have a clue what will happen in 50 years.

So if the scale of the earth is 10^8 meters (equator to pole via the Paris meridian. to the size of a liter of water…and then down to the atom level — you get the rough equivalence — the number of atoms that fill a liter water bottle is the same as the number of liter bottles that could fill the earth…all this to give a sense of the scale involved in thinking in quantum and or nano terms.

If you think of size not as an absolute measure, but as in relation to the smallest component to which we have access — then a liter bottle has grown very large indeed in the last decade or so.

Key take away — none of this discovery could have been anticipated a decade ago; we had no way to tell what would transpire when we got down to that level.

So Lloyd channels James Brown for his prediction of what will happen in 50 years.  “I don’t know what will happen, but whatever it is will be funky!”

Thinking about Moore’s law…an extrapolation would say computers with single atom components could come around 2050 — except that’s what his group is doing now in quantum computing.

Talking Moore’s law — uncertain as to the details of its future course…but just thinking about the nanoscale discussions by Belcher and Sharp — we know that very funky things will happen as we travel down the slope of scale and speed.

4:39:  Belcher adds that the A123 products went from invention in 2000 to broad commercial use now.

Our whirlwind tour heads now to healthcare.  Cost is formidable 17% of GDP in US will soon go to health care.  Need now for minimally invasive diagnostics and treatment; new and better imaging; and more…nanoscience impinges on the whole sequence: nano probes can take measurements within single cells; nanoparticles are being used to perform rapid diagnostics for particular proteins.

Moving now to ideas about nanotreatment — if you can get nanoparticles with particular properties, can target cells very specifically for treatment.  Neat idea — a nanoparticle that can detect a tumor cell can signal other nanoparticles to deliver a drug or what have you to the cell.

Belcher’s own work is trying to take CO2 from emissions and turn it into building supplies, through an engineered yeast system.  Discusses promise of nanotech for water purification.

Last thought: can give DNA to manufactures; have engineered viruses to make batteries, e.g.

4:27 Say hello to Angela Belcher, MacArthur Fellow and nanotechnologist extraordinaire.

Future of science turns on interfaces: in 50 years won’t say “I’m molecular biologist or engineer ” or what have you — as the fields merge.

Her quesetion:  What does that non-living/living interface look like.  Can we impart to nonliving materials some of the exquisite properties or capabilities that life has.  Can you evolve properties of materials into the DNA coding that indivduals could pass on to their kids?

E.g. — what if you could grow batteries from a dna-located code in petrie dish.  Belcher cites the Feynman idea “plenty of room at the bottom.

Key idea is that nano isn’t just small, but that you can control atoms precisely, make the system do exactly what you want.

Belcher’s motivation:  want to do nano to make the world better/livable for her kids.  Because you can control systems at the atom by atom level, nano has such broad potential — tons of fields.

What’s happening at the nano scale — just in cells, see proteins, Ribozomes, Linear alpha helix collagen, DNA…lots of models for sophisticated functionality at nano level.

See e.g. Bawendi’s quantum dots that use nano properties for a range of properties.  Others are workign on self cleaning solar cells deriving insight from self cleaning lotus leaves that work at nano scale.

Bob Langer is watching how geckos walk up walls and is looking at ways to build better bandages.

Unifiying idea: look at what evolution has produced over millions of years and see what ideas one can steal.

Now Belcher turns to the energy issue; we see a chart look at energy production.  The chart makes it clear that production of renewables is not now close to keeping pace with future need…nanotechnolgy can impinge on the solution to problem, in applications that range from solar — with improvements in efficiency, processing, cost, self-maintenance.  Similarly nano can improve energy conservation (efficiency) — see, e.g. Bawendi et al. quantum dot applications to LED innovations.  Next up:  improvement in battery tech; in which the nano scale can play a significant role — see what’s happened w. MIT spin off A123 Systems.

4:14:  Sharp continues…He co-chaired a National Academy report committee on “A New Biology for the 21st Century.”

Major challenges identified there:  (1) Nearly a billion undernourished in the world i ’07 w. population growth going on:  how do we sustain that population.

(2) Human activities are stressing the environment from which that sustenance must derive…getting worse.

(3) Transportation fuels depend almost entirely on limited non-renewable resources.

(4) Healthcare, which is costly now, and will get more so: so how to make it more effective and cost-effective.

These are the issues that molecualr biology may and will need to address over the next 50 years.

So, what about  the food challenge.  Next revolution — molecular engineering of plants to grow in places and with a control of inputs not now achievable. Turns on genetically informed decisions, which include understanding biodiversity, systematics and evolutioanry genomics.  Think “analsyis fo crops as ecosystems.”

Bad news says Sharp:  we in the US invest trivially in this; center of gravity is in Europe; we just lost the best researcher in this field to UK.

Environment Challenge:

Need a comprehensive and quantitative (my emphasis) meausre of ecosystem services…molecular biology can contribut

Energy Challenge:

To meet hte renewable fuel standard 2022 goal — need 4x increase in ceonomical biofuel production…

To get there must approach biomass to biofuel production process as a systems/engineering problem.

Health Challenge:

We can sequence a genome now for $1,000:  have an incredible ability coming soon to approach your health from a genomic point of view.

Issue — you ahve to participate in this: have your genome on your iPad…If the goal is individualized health surveillance and care.

Some future goals: develop conceptual and technical capacity to monitor metabolome (new term to me — I like it) integrated phenotypic readout.

Many major diseases are already getting tackled death-rates down from cancer etc.  Big challenge: aging.  Sharp expects that in 50 years his grandson will expect to live into the hundreds, being active into his eighties and nineties….

That aging breakthrough, if it comes, carries with it all kinds of social, ethical and practical challenges.

Thus, says Sharp:  hold on to your seats.  Big change at the macro level is coming from revolution at the molecular one.

4:09:  What has happened here over 50 years: first, shifted MIT’s biology dept. from “food processing” to molecular biology — a shift aided by recruitiing Luria to come here.  In 1972, decided to add a Center for Cancer Research — which shifted emphasis from single cell approaches, and to take on the problem of fundamental processes of cancer in humans.

IN 1983, along comes the Whitehead, w. the challenge of understanding how single cells transform into 3 D structures of a complex organism; central problem to how biology works.

in 1993, MIT decided in which biology became a core requirement — a huge shift for the whole institute, as physical scientists and engineers now had to respond to biologically informed questions from their own students…so they had to learn biology to.

in 2000, came the neuroscience complex; followed by the Broad Institute in 2003, which brings big science approaches to biology…and last, the Koch Institute combines the cancer center w. engineers…to mark the latest stage of the evolution of life sciences as a practice at MIT.

MIT is now central to the cluster of life sciences research and industry in and around Kendall Sq. — by far the largest such complex in the world.

4:07: Sharp:  I knew Crick for many years, and had lunch with Watson just the other day — and I can assure you they had no idea what would come from that double helix at the point of discovery.

People overestimate advances in short range; underestimate it over 50 years.  So to get a sense of the scale issue — look at what’s happened at MIT over the last 50 years in molecular biology as a prelude for speculation on what’s to come.

The idea…there is a third revolution coming in a convergence of life sciences, physical sciences and engineering.

4:02:  Professor Marcia Bartusiak begins by highlighting both successful predictions — Arthur C. Clarke and satellite tech, e.g. — and less excellent ones, like the original IBM Watson’s declaration that the world market for computers might touch five.  First up, Nobel laureate Phil Sharp on molecular biology

3:58:  Just about to start the second panel in the celebration of ten years of the Graduate Program in Science Writing at MIT.  The panel title:  Fifty Years Ahead: Imagining Nanotechnology, Quantum Computing, and Molecular Biology in 2062

Coming up:  talks from Philip Sharp, Seth Lloyd and Angela Belcher on molecular biology, quantum computing and nanotechnology, respectively.  (No promises as to the order.)

For A Good Time In Cambridge: TNC on Tuesday edition

November 28, 2011

Just to add to Ta-Nehisi Coates day at the blog, one last reminder:  any Balloon Juicers in the greater Boston area are more than welcome at Ta-Nehisi’s reading/talk at MIT tomorrow night — Tuesday, 29 November.  The festivities start at 7 in MIT’s building/room 6-120.  (Interactive map here.)

Ta-Nehisi will be starting from his work-in-progress, a historical novel set before during and after the Civil War, told through multiple voices — of slaves and former slaves, slave-holders and more.  Readers of this blog will remember Ta-Nehisi’s exceptional work on recovering some of the willed forgetting that marks so much Civil War history during “Confederate History Month” a year or so ago – DennisG highlighted that work as he added his own contributions to the effort.  This latest work is the next iteration of that inquiry — and Ta-Nehisi will talk about some of the specific challenges he’s facing as he tries to write through facts into the sound and texture of the past.

Should be a great time. Come if you’ve the necessary proximity and the interest.  (BTW:  in response to a question on my earlier announcement of this event: it’s free and open to the public, no tickets required.)


Live Blogging Andrew Bacevich at MIT’s Starr Forum, 9/14/2010

September 14, 2010

To begin in a couple of minutes, a live blog of BU Professor (and former career US Army office) Andrew Bacevich, speaking at MIT on his new book, Washington Rules.

Actual blogging to come as the events unfold….

4:30 MIT Poly Sci Professor Barry Posen kicks off the proceedings, usual props for the speaker, acknowledging Bacevich’s formidable productivity, and a quick sideswipe at Princeton. (“Neither of us were too badly damaged by the experience [of teaching/studying there]

4:35 Bacevich [B henceforward] begins.

2 questions:  Why are we in Afghanistan? Why were we in Vietnam.

B says:  Both questions have common answer.  Washington stubbornly adheres to a security consensus

first — we adhere to what he calls the American credo, and second, we accept the strategic trinity.

The credo holds that the US and the US alone should lead, save, liberate, transform the world.  Not, he says, arbitrary choices of words — this is what our leaders say, the same vocabulary.

Trinity — about power, and power projection to support global interventionism.

Together credo and trinity drive American attempts to police the “American century.” Trinity gives credo teeth; credo gives trinity legitimacy

Problem is that hte rules of this interaction don’t work — in fact these “Washington Rules” are counterproductive.

By promising safety, permanent war reduces it; by promising to defend the American way of life, adherance to the credo/trinity pair bankrupts it.

What should replace it, asks AB?

Turns to the preface of the Constitution — pointing to the need to secure “the blessings of liberty” for ouselves, much less our posterity.

IE — he says America should be America; if that makes us an exemplar, great, but should not make such side benefits the primary goal.

He argues for new trinity:  what is the primary duty station for American soldier:  America.

He concedes (his word) that we may need to send US soldiers abroad and keep them there at times.  But the assumptino should not be that primary duty station should nto be chain of bases around the world.

Second:  We should reserve the use of American power for the defense of American vital interests.  Admits that the term “vital interests” is a tricky one — but insists that whatever the final list should be limited one. Shouldn’t do what we are doing now, to define every damn thing (my word) as such an interest.

Third thing:  need to emphasis the just war tradition to justify the use of American force…In that tradition, we should employ force as a last resort, in self defense.  Crucial thought:  keep in mind the “limited utiltity of the us of force” and must keep in mind the “unintended conseqquences” and keep in mind that the costs will be much greater than initially anticipated in each entry to war.

Next question:  how likely is it that we will switch from current “Wash Rules” to BAcevich’s formulation?

Not likely:  status quo benefits Washington establishment, MSM, the whole usual suspects, even if it does not do so for the country.

But second, perhaps more troubling reason:  that has to do with us, the American people.  We have been too long conditioned to the idea that departure from these rules will lead to disaster, isolationism.  We don’t, thus, have the capacity to ask crucial first order questions about whther or not the status quo works.

4:45 — question time.  (Boy, does AB know how to deliver a brief.  Once you learn how to get on that bicycle, I guess you never forget how to ride.)

First question:  Have matters changed, e.g. in such historcal examples as the Spanish American War — there was not a great deal of debate about intervening to liberate Cuba, but there was plenty of debate about the annexation of the Philippines that followed.  This not just about strategic implications, but was informed by a deep seated sense that this form of expansion was somehow different.  Questioner follows up by saying that debate did not stop the decision to annex from going forward.

AB replies that yes, policy is made in Washington, but the only way that DC can truly be challenged, given the benefits that accrue w./in the village, then that opposition will have to come from outside.  See, for example, the debatees about interventions in both WW I and WW II. The issue is not whether when hte people speak they are right or wrong, but that there were times when the hinterland’s deference to Washingoton did not hold as strongly as now.

Q: What do your critics say against what seems to this questioner is a strong case. AB :  they say that the world needs policing, and only the US can play that role.

Posner steps in and says, that yes, this is one of the stock answers. People do say that when we aren’t involved, the world does go to hell, and we ahve to intervene anyway, and its more efficient to pre-emptively get involved.

AB picks up:  people try to cite history to support such arguments. They say that the successes posl 1945 should be creditied to US willingness to use military power.  There is evidence that there is some truth, that US projection of power did work post ’45 in many instances. But the argument is that post early Cold War, these Washington Rules are not subjected to scrutiny, and if they don’t hold (my extension of the argument) we wouldn’t/couldn’t know it.

Goes on to say that 2 party system is failing, because instead of getting a real in-Washington debate, because Dems and Repubs both have, for different reasons committed themselves to internationalist intervention.  Plenty of empirical support for that view in your humble bloggers view.

Q: Why don’t the Democrats do bette r– and could you critique the Obama adminstration on this regard.  Also, what about the CIA memo released via Wikileaks that said biggest help to US policy in Afghanistan was US and European apathy:

AB:  Why do Democrats subscribe to the national security consensus. Cynically, because Democrats have come to believe that they cannot afford to look like national security wimps.  We have the lesson of McGovern, and Carter, sort of (though aB thinks the charges against Carter are specious) …and then on the ohter side Bill Clinton, the draft dodger (said archly) who said again and again in speeches said he could use military as needed, maintaining the strongest military.  Democrats are unprincipled and cowardly. Repubs, unprincipled and lunatics. Not a happy situation.

What about Afghanistan — apathy as al Quaeda’s friend?  The problem is that there is this bizarre notion that staying or “winning ” in AFghanistan is the key to preventing the next 9/11.  Think for three seconds and you realize that this is bogus.  Not true that radical jihadism is concentrated in AFghanistan.  If magician David Petraeus could wave a wand and make Afghanistan a liberal democracy tomorrow — would that end threat of radical jihad?  There is a threat , AB says, but don’t think it’s existential, nor does he think that occupying this or that country is the solution to that limited threat.

But ever since George Bush declared GWOT, we’ve somehow lost hte ability to think coherently here.

How to reduce apathy?  Got to have skin in the game. Could shut war down in heartbeat if people in DC told rest of us how much the war would cost each of us to keep running the war.

The disgraceful, irresponsible, immoral policy we follow is to put the cost of this war on to future basis. If we actually paid for wars as we go, we’d get very different outcome.

Christopher Lydon stands up to ask about the Philippines example again, pointing out how anti-Imperialism then included folks like Mark Twain, William James (who anticipated Jeremiah Wright by saying “God Damn America for what it is doing in the Philippines”)? What would it take to get that kind of anti interventionist movement now.

AB:  Don’t know what it would take.  Look in the last election 2 candidates, Paul on the right and Kucincich on left and the MSM dismissed them.  MSM is at least largely at fault — e.g. when NY Times asks Wolfowitz what he thinks about the end of combat mission in Iraq. Why? What can Wolfowitz say — why not some thoughtful reflection at that time.

Reinforces AB’s concern/disdain for media that does not or cannot accept or recognize the degree to which tehy are captive to conventional thinking.

Q:  Should US get out of Afghanistan entirely? What is US responsibility given US prior record of training of mujahaddin against the Soviet Union, those who have now mutated, (some of them) into Taliban.

AB:  Don’t think leaders of a great power sit around a coffee table and ask “what is the right thing to do here” — self admitted cynic.  Shouldn’t kid ourselves that our leaders see moral issues as more than peripheral.  But what are those obligations in the case of Afghanistan? Given all the places we’ve been involved and have done harm, and presumambly have obligations to make harm good — why should Afghanistan come first. In my view, Mexico should come at the top of the list.  We’ve been involved there for longer, more intimately there than in Afghanistan.  Took TExas ec. from Mexico, and they are now under seige because of our drug appetite and our lax gun laws arms the Mexican drug bosses.  Why not Mexico?

And even if you think that Afghanistan should come first — why do you think war is the right way to discharge that obligation.  Should we continue to wreak violence in that country.  Why not a policy that said any Afghan woman (e.g. reference to the woman on Time magazine who had her nose slashed) turn themselves in to a US authority and get flown to SF to be safe.  You know that’s not going to happen…

But if perpetuating the war is the right way to go?  Will you go? Will you pay for it?  Or is the argument about k eeping war going really about “my conscience is bothering me and it will make me feel a bit better to send someone else’s kid over for his of her fourth or fifth tour.”  Let’s have a serious conversation, not one that is about maybe sleeping a little bit better if we just keep war going…

5:15:  Veteran for peace speaks…talks about US as pooerly informed about history; engages in state sponsored terrorism; and folks never get the true cost of war, the deaths and disasters that attend on modern war.  How do we get folks to deal with cost of war.

Answer:  Asking the same question as Chris Lydon did.  Deeply troubling one.  Why don’t we do so? Part of the answer is that life is tough.  We have 9.6 % unemployment; people struggle to put 3 squares on teh table and raise kids; want to find a job, or keep it. I can empathize with the idea that Americans have lots on their minds other than worrying about the latest UAV attack on Afghanistan.  That’s not a satisfying answer….(he says).

In defense of history, though — history as it is being written now is not cheerleading.  Vast amount of literature that is critical and informative about how we have blundered into the conflict w. Islamic world.

But historians do not have much influence.  Even that which does get read does not do much to dislodge mythic history that we imbibe w. mother’s milk and that politicians repeat endlessly.

I (AB) was just reading Hilary Clinton’s speech to Council on Foreign Relations – awful, full of cliches.  You say to yourself that without question H. Clinton is very intelligent, how can she say such things?  And the answer is I don’t know.

Q:  What about the new phenomenon of the rise of the right — Tea Partiers and folks like Glenn Beck — what are the consequences of such a rise?

AB:  I hesitate to answer …but what the hell:   My bet is that the Tea Party is an epiphenomenon. Despite all the hooptedoo (sic) and the expectations that the TP will have an impact on the elections this November — don’t think that they will be around much longer .  The substance is so thin, and is so based on anger that it isn’t enough to sustain a lasting organization.

you may have heard Trent Lott the other day — “We need to co-opt these people.”  And I think that reflects the cynicism of the Repub party –but the GOP is not going to become the Tea Party [TL here  — pretty sure this is too optimistic]

Also can’t divorce subject of race from all of this — and is the most troubling part of our current politics.  Seems to me that too many of our fellow citizens refuse to accept the legitimacy of this presidency because it is unacceptable to have a black man as President.  Republicans woudl deny this, but I think they are lying through their teeth.  Race has not been left in our rear view mirror.

Q: What about grand strategy implications for a reduction of US military power to where AB thinks it ought to be — in reference to Europe etc.  Wouldn’t it be a waste to give away our military power.

AB:  true that we spend less now as a % of gdp on money at height of cold war.  Spending much more in constant dollars.  Also, then we had balanced budgets now trillion dollar defictis.  (Now spending 5% of GDP vs. 10% of 50s GDP)  This statistic is often trotted out — is BS.

To the larger grand strategy question — do so gradually, not in one fell swoop.  Survey the world and see where security threats are at a low ebb and where the existing capactiy of nations to manage their own security is high…and the answer is Europe.  Not nothing, but not much threatens Europe. They have an aversion to paying for their own security; we need to wean them of that.  If we gave them 10 years to figure out how to defend themselves, and then we withdraw form NATO and NATO devolves into a regional security alliance.

Asia —  not so clear.  The Chinese, Japanese, Koreans all want us there. If we were to rapidly withdraw, could trigger an arms race and other bad things — and I wouldn’t so quickly pull out there.

I’m not as concerned about Chinese rise to pwoer.  They are not historically expansionist.  They are not the one establishing 4 star commands in Latin America and Africa. We are.

5:30:  Question about what AB thinks about the surge as an unearned propaganda bonus to the right.

AB:  Advocates of Iraq war want to talk about surge rather than missing WMDs  — “let’s not adjudicate the war”.  Surge itself was successful in some limited sense — some violence reduction occured in its context, but not clear if more troops or more bribes to Iraqi leaders did the job.

But purpose of surge not simply to reduce violence, but ot bring about political reconciliation — and that’s where the jury is still out.  Everyone knows that the insurgency is still there; may be growing in strength. But question is whether the Iraqi security forces can handle it,a nd can political classes govern themselves.  Not yet a victory…could be but can’t know now.

What about Cuba policy?  AB:  Cuba policy has long been stupid becuase it has been a domestic political football.  Long been known that Castro revolution is a failure.  Our job is to do whatever we can, which may not be much, to make sure that the chaos of the passing of that revolution is minimized.  (Returns to quesiton of moral obligations….what do we owe the Cuban people.  Tough question.)

Q:  Are we playing Bin Laden’s game? A: yes.

I don’t know that I would credit everything that has happened since 9/11 to Bin Laden’s strategic genius.  Our bad judgment has something to do with it.  But yes :  we are spending ourselves into the poor house. We are losing a lot of American lives and ruining more — and it is difficult to understand the sense of it all.

Q:  Do you think it possible that the consensus lasts because the American people approve of this belief.

AB:  yes, beacuse there is a tendency to defer to Washington and a tendency that national security experts have real expertise, adn that they have access to info we don’t, and therefore we should trust Washington’s consensus…and that there is no alternative to playing this forward role, for fear of isolationism and an increasingly chaotic world.

AB argues that this belief is not supported by evidence, but we can’t see that evidence in front of faces.

Q: What are Washington Rules (AB — “did you come in late?”) and if you say we should keep troops in Asia when we shouldn’t in Europe, why not stay in AFghanistan, which is so obviously volatile?

Wash rules:  1 US exclusively called upon to lead shape liberate transform orld.  @2 trinity must maintinat global mil presnece, configured for power projection and should do so.

Re AFghanistan:  yes, it’s volatile, but US interests are fairly small there. Doesn’t make sense to spend lives and money when we have more important interests elsewhere.  Have a limited number of chips, and have to choose where to spend them.  Some do say that Afghanistan is a vital interest — but AB does not have much regard for that view.

Q: given that Tea Partiers are elements of Christian nationalism, what is the role of Christianity in this debate.

AB says that he is a practiciing Catholic, (a church, he says, that is so thoroughly discredited by pedophilia scandal that it has nothing to say to thworld, which depresses him greatly).  But Christians should just be Christians, he says — Do justice and love neighbor. (Props to Unitarians and Quakers).

Q:  Why did we invade Iraq:

AB — Wolfowitz told truth in VF  that bureaucratic consensus  was made up of many parts, of which WMDs were just the one they all agreed to foreground.

That said, there was an overarching strategic ambition:  the GWB admin was committed to preventing another 9/11, without withdrawing from ambitions to exert hegemony over greater middle east.  In order to both, given their high level of confidence of US military power, they calculated they could employ that power to transform middle east.  Afghanistan is not the place to begin such a transformation, but Iraq was perfect:  Saddam was a bad guy, with a weak military, and that there was (remarkably erroneously believed) that Iraq was largely secularized with a nascent middle class that could serve as the basis for a new Iraq.  That all this was grossly misunderstood doesn’t change, AB says, the fact that the GWB administration pursued the war in the context of these beliefs.

And with that, we end.

The Way David Macaulay Works

August 27, 2010

Something of a Friday brain dump seems to be going on chez Inverse Square. I’m trying to help out a little on what would for me be another David Macaulay-hosted project.

(Info on first one in which I participated — the Peabody award winning Building Big — is here.)

That led me back to the video of the talk David gave at MIT a couple of years ago, when I had the fun of hosting him for a few day-long visit. (I’m the guy introducing David whilst forgetting to introduce myself or my program — an academic rookie’s mistake.)

But David makes no such errors. The talk, titled “The Way David Macaulay Works” is a wonderful fully illustrated tour through his career and the process through which he investigates the built and the natural world. Have fun.

The Way David Macaulay Works: Finding Ideas, Ma…, posted with vodpod


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