Posted tagged ‘National Security’

John Locke, A Thermometer, A Bullet, And What Gets Lost When Feral Children Break Things

May 7, 2017

I’ve got a piece in today’s Boston Globe that takes a kind of odd look at why Trump’s dalliance with destroying NATO was so pernicious.

Basically, I look at what goes into making an alliance or any complex collaboration function.  Spoiler alert: it’s not the armchair strategist focus on troop numbers or budget levels.  It is, rather, the infrastructure, in its material and especially social forms that determine whether joint action can succeed.

To get there I leap from the story of something as basic as agreeing on one common cartridge to be used across the alliance to an anecdote from the early days of the scientific revolution, when John Locke (yup, that Locke) left his borrowed rooms in a house in Essex to check the readings from the little weather station he’d set up at the suggestion of Robert Hooke.

A sample:

While this first step toward the standardization of the tools of science was a milestone, it took the development of a common process — shared habits, ways of working — to truly transform the eager curiosity of the 17th and 18th centuries into a revolutionary new approach to knowledge, the one we now call science. In 1705, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society published an article by the philosopher John Locke. It was a modest work, just a weather diary: a series of daily observations of temperature, barometric pressure, precipitation, cloud cover. He was a careful observer, working with the best available instruments, a set built by Tompion himself. On Sunday, Dec. 13, 1691, for example, Locke left his rooms just before 9 a.m. The temperature was 3.4 on Tompion’s scale — a little chilly, but not a hard frost. Atmospheric pressure had dropped slightly compared to the day before, 30 inches of mercury compared to 30.04. There was a mild east wind, 1 on Locke’s improvised scale, enough to “just move the leaves.” The cloud cover was thick and unbroken — which is to say it was an entirely unsurprising December day in the east of England: dull, damp, and raw.

The reasoning does, I think, more or less come together — and you might enjoy reading such a convoluted bit of historical argument.

In any event, posting this here lets me thank Adam Silverman, who talked through some of the ideas with me and gave me other valuable help. Any errors you might find within the piece are all mine.

Image: Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, Nagamaya Yaichi Ducking Bullets1878.

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No Comment Needed: Sarah Palin/National Security Dept.

October 17, 2008

So, the Bush Administration actually does the conventional, correct thing this week and calls up the major candidates for national office to brief them on the ongoing Status-of Forces negotiations with Iraq.

Good thinking.  As White House spokesman Dana Perino said, “One of them is going to win the election, and they will be taking over and having to deal with these issues,”

So Senator McCain got a call.  Senator Obama got a call.  Senator Biden get a call.

That should cover it….

Wait!

Who’s missing here?

Link on over to Think Progress for the ensuing hilarity.

Image:  Postcard, 1910.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

Not to Defend Sarah Palin, But…

October 1, 2008

There has been a flurry of glee in the blogosphere — see, e.g., Andrew Sullivan — over this report from Anderson Cooper’s shop on CNN “confirming” that Sarah Palin has never actually been to that part of Alaska from whence you can see Russia.

One problem:  the CNN report only confirms that Gov. Palin has never been to Little Diomede, the Alaskan island in the Bering Strait that is a couple of miles or so — and in line-of-sight — to Russian-owned Big Diomede.

But there is another Alaskan Island from which it is possible to catch a glimpse of the Russian mainland (whenever the fog lifts).  As discussed at too great length in my post here, that would be St. Lawrence Island.

Now, I could find no reference on the web to any Palin visit to that island, but it is not quite as remote as Little Diomede. I’m betting she has never been there either.  But you cannot say on the strength of Little Diomede that Palin has never confronted the Siberian menace face to face.  More research please!

And just to be going on with:  one of my students actually visited it last year (in January, of all poorly timed vacations) to do some research on her masters thesis.  Just last weekend she told me that she had in fact stared out at some wind and cold wracked shoreline that counted as seeing Russia.  (Wonderful as that student was, I can’t say I see her as Vice President yet either…._