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

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  shared 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 think thank our own 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.



Late Night Mockery Open Thread: Faux-Fyre Festival

Seems like nobody can resist the chance to mock a bunch of mostly-young Rich Snowflakes suffering — for once — some penalties for being over-privileged and under-smart…

Fyre Festival was supposed to be an elite and luxurious musical festival. Hosted on a private island in the Bahamas — which was once owned by Pablo Escobar — tickets ranged into the thousands, and the promo videos for the event, which was co-organized by Ja Rule, featured Bella Hadid and other professionally hot people frolicking on sandy beaches and diving into pristine waters. Except, when the people who actually ponied up those dollars showed up to the event this week, Fyre did not deliver. The site was unfinished, headliner Blink-182 had canceled, and the luxurious villas festivalgoers were promised turned out to be nothing more than disaster-relief shelters…

NYMag also had the single best summary of why things went so wrong…

In early March, a friend of mine texted me to ask if I wanted to be a talent producer for the Fyre Festival. I’d never heard of it, but the gig involved going to the Bahamas and being paid extremely well. So I said yes and packed my bags. The festival was supposed to be a luxury music retreat where elite millennials could mingle with “influencers” and models. Tickets cost between $1K and $125K, gourmet food and accommodations were promised. I was planning to spend the next two months working on the festival, but a mere four days after I arrived I was back on a plane to New York…

On March 14, I flew from Miami to the island of Great Exuma to get the planning started. I was excited, at least at first. Flying in, the water looked beautiful — but I was almost immediately warned not to go near it because of a rampant shark problem. That was an omen I regrettably missed…

My job as a talent producer was to coordinate travel and on-site logistics with the artists who would be performing: Blink 182, Major Lazer, Disclosure, among others, had already signed on. I would be working with an 11-person team and a few of the festival executives. The production team was all new hires and, before we arrived, we were led to believe things had been in motion for a while. But nothing had been done. Festival vendors weren’t in place, no stage had been rented, transportation had not been arranged. Frankly, we were standing on an empty gravel pit and no one had any idea how we were going to build a festival village from scratch.

Pending disaster aside, I started working from an island rental house. I contacted the booked artists’ tour managers to start to coordinate. Almost all of them had the same question for me, which was along the lines of, “Hey … Where’s our money??” I tried to email the business manager to get an answer, who said something like “stand by” for three days in a row. By the end of the week it became clear they would not pay the people they owed…

Didn’t take the media long to track down the bro responsible. Per the Washington Post:

Long before he was forced to apologize for his now notorious Fyre Festival, entrepreneur Billy McFarland founded another company in 2013 called Magnises that made some familiar-sounding promises targeting status-seeking millennials.

For an annual membership fee of about $250, Magnises members could “unlock their cities and take their lives to the next level.” They were assured exclusive tickets to “private members-only concerts, tastings with notable chefs, and exclusive art previews at top galleries,” as well as access to hard-to-book Broadway shows (including “Hamilton”) and events such as New York Fashion Week.

But some of those benefits never materialized or were far from what was advertised, according to a report earlier this year by Business Insider

… McFarland… despite describing Friday as “definitely the toughest day of my life,” was already vowing to forge ahead and hold the event in the future. Perhaps it was his history of moving on from failure. (In 2011, McFarland co-founded a social networking site called Spling, which attracted $400,000 in funding but now appears defunct.) Or his habit of overpromising.

What was clear was that, at least in McFarland’s mind, the Fyre Festival was not dead…

So the Trump Administration has not yet cornered the market in ‘Eminently Punchable Faces’…



Defining the True Progressive (Pt. II): Not An Intentional Joke, Apparently…

‘Our Revolution’, it appears, will be carefully curated:

The People’s Summit is a conference with a goal. To express a set of ideas, values and priorities that reflect our political vision. So instead of a ‘first come, first serve’ registration process, we’re deliberate about who we want to attend. With that in mind, we’ve crafted an application process that allows us to get to know you better before we seal the deal.

We’re looking for organizers and activists, thinkers and doers, grassroots and grasstops. And we know that simply opening the doors to whoever can buy a ticket will result in a space that is too white, too old, too local (also too Chicago and nearby areas), too many paid staffers, and too many consultants.

So we’re asking for personal information about people who want to come not to exclude anyone – but to make sure the balance reflects who we want to be. Our movement is leaderful, accessible, safe, and reflects the diversity of our country.
Read more



Ordnance Only A Mother Could Love

To follow up on DougJ’s post below (and to tread on Alan ADAM* Silverman’s turf):  American forces dropped a GBU-43/B bomb on a target identified as an underground ISIS complex.  The weapon, officially named the “Massive Ordnance Air Blast,” or MOAB, has the probably obvious nickname:  the Mother Of All Bombs.

It’s a no-doubt ginormous creation, with an effective yield of eleven tons of TNT.  It’s so large it is delivered by a variant of a cargo plane, the C130, and not the kind of aircraft more commonly used to deliver battlefield weapons.

A MOAB is not the ultimate bunker-buster, those weapons designed to penetrate well-hardened targets (silos, etc.) For our Vietnam vets, the analogous ordnance is BLU 82B “Daisy Cutter.”  In the open defense literature, the MOAB is at least in part a psychological weapon and in part a clear-the-ground device.  How useful it actually is against a cave complex is unclear, as this description suggests:

The weapon is expected to produce a tremendous explosion that would be effective against hard-target entrances, soft-to-medium surface targets, and for anti-personnel purposes. Because of the size of the explosion, it is also effective at LZ clearance and mine and beach obstacle clearance. Injury or death to persons will be primarily caused by blast or fragmentation. It is expected that the weapon will have a substantial psychological effect on those who witness its use. The massive weapon provides a capability to perform psychological operations, attack large area targets, or hold at-risk threats hidden within tunnels or caves.

There’s at least pretty good reason to believe that the use — its the first combat deployment ever  — was intended to send a message:

The strike comes just days after a Special Forces soldier was killed in Nangarhar province. Staff Sgt. Mark De Alencar, of 7th Special Forces Group, was killed Saturday by enemy small arms fire while his unit was conducting counter-ISIS operations, according to the Defense Department.

The fact that the U.S. dropped the MOAB in the same province where De Alencar was killed is probably not a coincidence, said Bill Roggio, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“There might have been a degree of payback here as well,” Roggio told Military Times. “There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, especially if you’re killing your enemy.”

Whatever your response to that aspect of war, here’s the thing.  As Emily Tankin and Paul McLeary write in Foreign Policy, the use of the MOAB is one facet of the broader escalation of US military action across the Middle East and central Asia:
The news came the same day as a report that a coalition airstrike in Syria mistakenly killed 18 fighters backed by the United States.

The U.S. statement also said, “U.S. Forces took every precaution to avoid civilian casualties with this strike.” The U.S. military is reportedly currently assessing the damage from the bomb.

The strike in Afghanistan is part of a huge increase in the American air war in Afghanistan that started under the Obama administration, but has increased even more sharply under President Donald Trump. In the first three months of 2017, American planes have dropped over 450 bombs on targets in Afghanistan, compared to about 1,300 for all of 2016, according to U.S. Air Force statistics. The number of strikes in the first two months of the Trump administration more than doubled the number taken in the same time period under the Obama administration.

The FP journalists note that US military leaders “long bristled at the control the Obama administration exercised over small troop movements and sometimes individual targets.”  Donald Trump — and this is one promise he’s kept — seems to have unleashed  those commanders.  The result?

Well, it seems to me that the question isn’t whether der Trumpenführer will lead us into war.  It is, rather, how quickly the war that’s already bubbling will become recognized as such by the media, and the American people.

As for war aims? That’s the kicker, isn’t it.  Multi-ton bombs are headline-grabbers.  How effective they are, really, at counter-terrorism is, to my deeply un-expert mind…”unclear” is how I’ll put it.  The current spate of bombing and micro-deployments looks like a purely ad hoc approach to whatever our tactical or strategic goals might be in Syria, Iraq and, still, Afghanistan.  If there’s a logic — and I genuinely hope there is — it sure isn’t apparent to this citizen, in whose name (along w. 312 million of my closest friends) these small wars are being fought.

Over to y’all.

Image: Mary Cassatt, Maternité, 1890.

*type in haste, repent at leisure.



CSR, hostage taking and the blame game

President Trump is threatening to shoot hostages in order to start negotiations with parties that don’t have significant power:

The Cost Sharing Reduction subsidies are at dispute. They are the Sword of Damocles of administrative action to destroy the exchanges.

Carriers have to offer Silver plans to participate on Exchange. If they yank all of their Silvers, they have to yank everything on Exchange.

And carriers will flee if CSR disappears as they will not eat a 30% revenue loss for a high cost population in a market that they don’t know if it will be around long enough to actually make money on.

President Trump’s musings, I am not going to credit them with the title of thoughts, is that by threatening to shoot the hostages, he will be able to blame the Democrats for the chaos he will unleash and that will give him leverage that he does not have to shaft everyone.

There is are massive moral problems with that logic chain. But there are also pragmatic barriers. The American public firmly believes that the President controls everything, that is the hack that Sen. McConnell exploited ruthlessly in obstructing everything that President Obama tried to do. More importantly, Democrats objectively have almost no power and no responsibility to govern. Everyone knows that President Trump is a Republican and Republicans control the House, the Senate and the Supreme Court. They will also know very quickly that Republicans are responsible for collecting hostages and then pulling the trigger as there is plenty of tape in their own words saying this is what they will do.

Healthcare is currently a high salience issue. People are paying attention. Senator Manchin made a good point that not everyone knows where their health insurance comes from but they WILL know who is taking it away from them. We’ll see 27% of the population blame Democrats and everyone else blame Republicans. And given what marginal members of the Republican majority are feeling today after the new information that KS-04 provided them last night, that is the last thing they can afford to encourage.



Trump Administration Reverses Course; Supports Massive Funding Increase For Performance Art

A sidelight on yesterday’s Tomahawk raid on a Syrian airbase.

1:  Fifty-nine Tomahawks fired.

2: Targetting:  “The targets included air defenses, aircraft, hangars and fuel.”  For good reason (IMHO) the strike avoided stored chemical weapons.  Personnel at the base were warned of the impending attack and as of now, no casualties have been reported.

3: Results: some shit got blown up. All of it can be repaired or replaced with out, it seems, significant difficulty.

All of which is to say that this was what most kindly can be called a warning shot, and rather less so, performance art.

Which gets me to my point.  The price tag for fifty nine Tomahawk missiles runs a little bit shy of $90 million.

For scale: that’s roughly 60% of the $148 million the to-be defunded National Endowment of the Arts received in 2016.

I believe Donald Trump’s grant was titled, “Very Expensive Holes In Concrete.”

Image: Adrian Hill, A British Mine Exploding, sometime during World War I.



Open Thread: White Supremacist Welfare Moocher Has A Rich Fantasy Life

Big props to Jason Kander, and his uncles! Per IMBD:

“Tomorrow Belongs to Me” was written by John Kander and Fred Ebb in the style of a traditional German song, sung by the Nazi youth in the movie, to stir up patriotism for the “fatherland”. It has often been mistaken for a genuine “Nazi anthem” and has led to the songwriters being accused of anti-Semitism. This would be most surprising, as they are, in fact, Jewish (This fact has not stopped openly racist and anti-Semitic rock groups, like Skrewdriver, from recording the song and performing it at White Power rallies)…

Speaking of scrabbling around, grifting off other people because that’s his only talent…

Spencer, along with his mother and sister, are absentee landlords of 5,200 acres of cotton and corn fields in an impoverished, largely African American region of Louisiana, according to records examined by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. The farms, controlled by multiple family-owned businesses, are worth millions: A 1,600-acre parcel sold for $4.3 million in 2012.

The Spencer family’s farms are also subsidized by the federal government. From 2008 through 2015, the Spencers received $2 million in US farm subsidy payments, according to federal data.

Although Spencer has attracted extensive media attention as a leader of the so-called alt-right movement—particularly after he drew Nazi salutes at an event celebrating Donald Trump’s election—he has never explained publicly how he supports himself while actively promoting his agenda via conferences and media appearances. The finances of his nonprofit think tank, the National Policy Institute, are a mystery; the organization hasn’t filed a public report since 2013. On Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported that the IRS revoked the institute’s tax-exempt status….

My first thought upon reading this: Does he charge his followers a premium for white hoods made from his own artisanally-sourced cotton?