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Of steel, low-background steel, and my father’s bones

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — low-background steel is no longer so necessary, but the remains of naval lives lost at sea are still of passionate concern ]
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With all this talk of tariffs on steel, I was reminded of the rare steel salvaged from sunken warships at Scapa Flow, in Indonesia and elsewhere. I read about “low background steel” in this Guardian title: Lost bones, a mass grave and war wrecks plundered off Indonesia. As you’ll note, bones — the long-inaccessible remains of sailors — are also part of the story.

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Let’s tackle the steel first. Here’s how the Guardian explained it:

As well as brass, copper, and bronze, one reason the salvaging has gone wholesale is the ships are a source of “low background steel” – produced before the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945.

Virtually radiation-free, low-background steel is used in sensitive medical and scientific instruments. These old sunken warships are among the few remaining sources.

Cecil, however, knowledgeable as ever, tells us that supposedly rare and invaluable subset of steel isn’t anything we need to concern ourselves with:

Sorry, the market for old steel is now pretty much sunk. Reduced radioactive dust plus sophisticated instrumentation that corrects for background radiation means new steel can now be used in most cases. There’s some lingering demand for really old maritime metal, though. When researchers at one national lab wanted shielding that emitted no radiation whatsoever, they used lead ballast retrieved from the Spanish galleon San Ignacio, which had been lying on the bottom of the Caribbean for 450 years.

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That more or less leaves the bones..

The Guardian has been following different aspects of the story, and the bones come in focus in their article, The world’s biggest grave robbery: Asia’s disappearing WWII shipwrecks:

Dozens of warships believed to contain the remains of thousands of British, American, Australian, Dutch and Japanese servicemen from the second world war have been illegally ripped apart by salvage divers, the Guardian can reveal.

An analysis of ships discovered by wreck divers and naval historians has found that up to 40 second world war-era vessels have already been partially or completely destroyed. Their hulls might have contained the corpses of 4,500 crew.

Governments fear other unmarked graves are at risk of being desecrated. Hundreds more ships – mostly Japanese vessels that could contain the war graves of tens of thousands of crew killed during the war – remain on the seabed.

And from the first article:

“You can imagine the massive outrage if someone drove a bulldozer through the big first world war Commonwealth war grave at Saint Symphorien,” [British naval historian Phil Weir] says, referring to a military cemetery in Belgium. “But taking apart a shipwreck doesn’t seem to have the same effect. It is kind of out of sight, out of mind, I fear.”

Let’s put it this way. I don’t care.

But if HMS Sheffield had been sunk with my father aboard by the Hipper’s superior guns [8″ vs Sheffield’s 6″] at the Battle of the Barents Sea — a not implausible alternate history — you can bet I’d be up in arms if divers harvested Sheffield for its steel, with my father’s remains trashed as worthless in the process..

Oh, except that if my father had gone down with the Sheffield, I’d never have been conceived. Thank God, things didn’t work out that way.

Game on!

Saturday, January 27th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — war games seeping into non-game so-called real life again ]
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Russia Jammed Phones and GPS in Northern Europe During Massive Military Drills

A loss of GPS coverage in Norway and an outage in cellular and emergency cellular services in Latvia, both are part of a growing and worrying trend of reported electronic warfare, as well as cyber attacks, in and around NATO member states in Europe. The incidents both occurred during the largest Russian military exercises in years, suggesting that the Kremlin may have used these drills to more actively demonstrate its expanding hybrid warfighting techniques, all of which offer ways to harass the alliance and other countries with relatively little risk of setting off an actual conflict.

You got that?

both are part of a growing and worrying trend..

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How about this?

USAF Is Jamming GPS In The Western U.S. For Largest Ever Red Flag Air War Exercise

The year’s first iteration of the USAF’s premier set of aerial war games, known commonly as Red Flag, is kicking off today at Nellis Air Force Base just outside of Las Vegas, but this exercise will be different than any in the past. Not only is it the largest of its kind in the exercise’s 42 year history, but the USAF is going to blackout GPS over the sprawling Nevada Test and Training Range to challenge aircrews and their weaponry under realistic fighting conditions. The tactic will spill over throughout the region, with warnings being posted stating inconsistent GPS service could be experienced by aircrews flying throughout the western United States.

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And / or this?

This is Likely Why the Navy Is Causing a Massive and Mysterious GPS Outage in the Western US

iPcture a giant, invisible, upside-down cone rising up from the desert floor near Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. It ranges over 500 miles in every direction, covers more than 500,000 square miles in total, and reaches up higher than any civilian aircraft can fly. Inside the cone, GPS-related systems fail to function.

That invisible cone will be a reality this month, at least intermittently, and the FAA is warning pilots that GPS-related systems may fail to work in the area over the next three and a half weeks

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Are both “part of a growing and worrying trend”?

Jacquelyn Schneider at War on the Rocks Plus One

Saturday, January 13th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — jazzing on WotR plus Hesse’s GBG ]
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Towards the end of her fine War on the Rocks piece, Blue Hair in the Gray Zone, Dr. Jacquelyn Schneider, Assistant Professor at the U.S. Naval War College (and lucky they are to have her) wrote:

The U.S. military has devoted immense resources to technology, but the future forces will fail without humans designing, adapting, operating, and maintaining the technology.

That’s pretty much the thrust of her whole piece — towards the beginning she’s already said it:

With the pace of current technological change, future force architects should care just as much about the people that man the forces as they do the machines.

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I applaud Dr. Schneider’s article, obviously — but to my mind’s eye it sums to a tiny, concentrated, powerful relationship:

technology : humans

We have the technology, the relation says, we need the humans.

I’m with that, but as always when I see writings that sum to that relation, I think of my own, repeated, obsessive equivalent:

humans : ideas

That’s my obstinate Plus One.

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It began, I suppose, with Hermann Hesse, who described his Glass Bead Game in a poem as a game played in a garden:

In the title poem of his book, Hours in the Garden .. is the Game as he played it himself, while raking leaves in his garden and burning them. In this simpler form, the great Game consists in imagining the great minds and hearts of the past — “wise men and poets and scholars and artists” — meeting across the centuries and talking…

That’s the game as an interaction between humans. In his great, Nobel-winning novel The Glass Bead Game, however, he has abstracted the game, and it is now played with ideas, rather than people:

The Glass Bead Game is thus a mode of playing with the total contents and values of our culture; it plays with them as, say, in the great age of the arts a painter might have played with the colors on his palette. All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number. Theoretically this instrument is capable of reproducing in the Game the entire intellectual content of the universe.

Hence for myself, once and always:

humans : ideas

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But that’s my background motif, the ostinato of my passacaglia, always running in the background of my mind, even when I’m reading War on the Rocks.

And then I’m reading Dr. Schneider, and in the overlap of concepts —

technology : humans meets humans : ideas

or more simply:

technology : humans : ideas

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That’s what I’m impelled to say: just as we need the people to give algorithms to meaning and extract meaning from them, so we need the algorithms, and their contexts on a range of scales from tactical issues to the great questions of war and peace, conflict and resolution, pacifist’s and warrior’s codes…

What say your heart and mind?

The trouble with Providence

Friday, June 16th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — the Virginia shooting — providence, like grace, is whole cloth, or it is nothing ]
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The basic paradox: I thank God Steve Scalise is still among the living, may he fully and speedily recover

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The trouble with Providence is that it makes more sense to the survivors than, on the whole, the deceased or those who grieve them. My father, gunnery officer on the British light cruiser Sheffield, survived the superior firepower of the German heavy cruiser Hipper in the Battle of the Barents Sea, and no doubt that was providential from my own perspective — I was born around elevn months later. Providential, too, it must have been on a larger scale — the Hipper was crippled:

When told of the news, Hitler flew into a rage. He referred to his ships as useless and decided on the spot that the High Seas Fleet should be scrapped. Admiral Raeder, commander of the Kriegsmarine, tended his resignation and was replaced by Admiral Dönitz.

My father’s guns, along with those of the Sheffield’s companion cruiser Jamaica, together disabled the Hipper.

Providential, three — in that same engagement, shrapnel knocked one of the eyes of Captain Robert St. V. Sherbrooke, commanding a contingent of British destroyers from Onslow, out of its socket, such is war, an incident which Sherbrooke ignored in the interest of continuing his command, and for which he later received the Victoria Cross, such is war. Such is war, such is providence, forty of Sherbrooke’s men on the Onslow lost their lives in the same two minutes in which he lost his eye.

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I report all this because Glenn Beck just invoked Providence in the matter of the Congressional baseball practice shooting:

We have an amazing story to tell of what I believe is Divine Providence. I just — I want you to think of one thing. Imagine what America would be like today, if yesterday the leadership of the G.O.P. and the majority of the G.O.P., 10 percent of the G.O.P. and Congress were dead. If we had coffins that we were facing today instead of one coffin of the shooter and one still in critical condition, what would the conversation be like today?

I’ve often said, you’re going to wake up on a Monday, and by Friday, your country will be completely different. I believe that is coming. But I do believe we saw Divine Providence happen yesterday. So that didn’t happen this week.

So providence postpones what it can’t altogether prevent?

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Glenn Beck, apparently — because he’s a Mormon, or a Christian more generally, or a believer, even more ecumenically, or a human, or at least a sentient being — or because he’s a media personality? — can serve as a spokesman for Providence:

Barry, let me — let me take you now to Divine Providence.

Beck is addressing Congressman Barry Loudermilk, who was present at the practice, who was himself a target — unlike Glenn — shot at, and providentially spared. It’s providential that we have Beck’s voice to explain to Loudermilk what happened..

I will tell you — I’ve seen some bad shots in my life. But for as many targets that were out on that field — and to have a rifle, I believe, Divine Providence played a role in keeping, you know, people safe yesterday. It is remarkable the number of rounds that were fired and the — the low number of people that were hit.

Providence approves the critical wounding of one congressman and the avoidance of same in several other cases, eh?

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Look, if I was one of the congresspersons who survived, I’d be more than a little inclined to thank providence — and if I didn’t survive, I wouldn’t be around to blame it. So here’s a special case of “history is written by the victors” — “belief in providence is written by the survivors”.

The problem with providence as an explanation is that it tends to overlook those who didn’t survive its providential ministrations. And that’s a problem of cognitive dissonance, if one tries to extend providence past the individual usrvivor or group of survivors, to the world as a whole — or to the “next week” that Beck feels prrovidence is saving some potential victims for..

Ruthlessly applied, providence comes for us all, as it has first devised us all — and all’s fair in love and hate, war and peace.

Or unfair. Forget Glenn Beck, I’ll let you decide.

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In a companion piece, Beck offers The Entire List of Who to Blame for the Attempted Slaughter of GOP House Members. Providence doesn’t catch any blame — and neither does the NRA, not Obama:

Here’s the truth. The shooter is responsible, by himself — not the gun, not the bullets, not the gun industry … not the NRA, not the left, not the right, not the president, not the former president, not Hillary Clinton, not Antifa — no one. The shooter is responsible, period.

Whee! And while we’re not blaming, or its corrollary, blaming, Glenn also posted The New York Times Runs the Worst Editorial in Human History, Blames SARAH PALIN for Giffords Shooting AGAIN

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The SPLC reports:

Gunman Who Fired on Congressional Baseball Team Consumed by Anti-Trump Anger

There’s a specter here, if it’s not providence and it’s not any of the interested parties who are to blame. The specter is polarization.

But that’s for a follow-up post on The physics of politics, god willing.

Footnoted readings 04 – CVE, jihad & liminality

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — a term from cultural anthropology as a marker for jihadist intensity ]
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Ahmed S. Younis, Deputy Special Envoy and Coordinator, Global Engagement Center, U.S. Department of State, during the George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security event, Toward a Global Partnership to Counter Online Radicalization and Extremism, the Understanding Online Counter-Messaging panel, March 28,2017, a little after the 2 hr 03’50” mark in the video above:

I would posit that terrorism and extremism by their definition are liminal states. They are defined by their inbetweenness. And often when we see someone who is radicalizing towards terrorism, they are shifting in a crevice between a series of pieces of life that bring them to a place where this type of activity appears as a solution or an option for their frustration with lived experience. And we lose, as people who want to fight this effort, when we try to pretend this is all about shariah and fiqh and issues of Islam. .. If radicalizing is sexy, then that sexiness is by definition interdisciplinary, and we have to meet people in the liminality of their moment. .. Reality is complex, and it is interdisciplinary.

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My eyes prick up — I know, “pricking up” is really a phrase that’s apt for the ears, but I think it should apply to the eyes as well — my eyes do a double-take when I see the word “liminal”. It signals importance.

I’ve talked about liminality before, lightheartedly [Liminality I: the kitsch part] and more seriously [Liminality II: the serious part] — but by way of a reminder, I’ll just quote two stories from the latter, along with this definition:

liminality is between-ness — it’s what happens on thresholds

Here are the two stories:

Something pretty remarkable happened as 1999 turned into 2000 — something liminal. And it happened aboard the USS Topeka, SSN-754 (below):

USS Topeka, credit: United States Navy, released ID 090623-N-1126G-005

The Associated Press reported:

Its bow in one year, its stern in another, the USS Topeka marked the new millennium 400 feet beneath the International Dateline in the Pacific ocean. The Pearl Harbor-based navy submarine straddled the line, meaning that at midnight, one end was in 2000 while the other was still in 1999… The 360-foot-long sub, which was 2,100 miles from Honolulu, Hawaii, straddled the Equator at the same time, meaning it was in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Some of the 130 crewmembers were in Winter in the North, while others were in Summer in the South…

Sitting pretty on the threshold between two millennia, two centuries, two decades, years, seasons, months, days and hemispheres was an extraordinarily liminal idea — as the two-faced January is a liminal month — and I think illustrates effectively the terrific power of the liminal to sway human thinking

Navy commanders in charge of billion dollar ships seldom get up to such “fanciful” behaviors!

And if we might turn from the contemporary US Navy and its submarine to ancient Indian mythology and Hindu religion for a moment:

Narsingh avatar depicted in Nepali dance, credit: Navesh Chitrakar, Reuters / Landov

The story of Narsingh (above), the fourth avatar of Vishnu in Vaisnavism, also captures the idea of what’s meant by thresholds very nicely:

A tyrannous and oppressive king obtained a boon from the gods that he should die “neither by day nor night, neither within the palace nor outside it, neither at the hand of man nor beast” and thought his boon conveyed immortality — but when he persecuted his son, a devotee of God, a half-man half-lion figure — the Narsingh avatar of Vishnu — met him on his own doorstep at dusk and slew him, so that he died neither by day nor by night, neither within the palace nor outside it, and neither at the hand of beast nor of man.

Dusk, doorsteps and metamorphs are all liminal — with respect to day and night, home and abroad, man and beast respectively.

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Two other references at the intersection of terrorism and liminality:

Arthur Saniotis writes in Re-Enchanting Terrorism: Jihadists as “Liminal Beings”:

Religious terrorists have been the subject of much scholarly scrutiny. While such analyses have endeavored to elucidate the ideological logic and implications of religious terrorism, the transnational character of jihadists necessitates new ways of understanding this phenomenon. My article attempts to explain how jihadists can be defined as liminal beings who seek to re-enchant the world via their symbolic and performative features. Jihadists’ strategically position themselves as ambiguous not only as a distinguishing device, but also to enhance their belief of a cosmic war on earth. Jihadists’ use of symbolic imagery on the internet works within the ambit of a magical kind of panoptic power which seeks to both impress and terrify viewers.

And Marisa Urgo Shaalan, in the course of a post on Liminality at her Making Sense of Jihad blog powerfully comments:

perhaps the most important factor drawing many young men into jihad is the sense that it is authentic and sacramental life. [And I mean sacramental. Jihad is a sacred act that they are told guarantees them paradise.]

Recommended.

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I’d be very interested to learn more about Dr Younis’ insights into liminality in jihadist recruitment, and it’s implications for CVE.


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