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Limina, thresholds, more on spaces-between & their importance

Sunday, March 3rd, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — from one thing to another — and it’s the gaps — the in-betweens — the leaps — the links — the bonds between them that truly matter ]
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Blog-friend Bryan Alexander concludes his blog post Casualties of the future: college closures and queen sacrifices with a clip from Babylon 5. What exactly does that have to do with Admiral McRaven?

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A difference between bricks and bricks

That’s from near the top of Bryan‘s post.

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Bryan, lately of Vermont and now at Georgetown, is our keenest observer of the higher educational future. He coined the term peak higher education in 2013 — like peak oil, but for education, right? — and has been tracking it since then. At some point, he added the notion of queen sacrifice — “A queen sacrifice is when a college or university cuts faculty, especially full-time professors, usually as part of shrinking or ending certain academic programs” — and has made at least sixty posts in which queens are sacrificed, and one on a knight or rook sacrifice? (sports). Bryan‘s latest post is Casualties of the future. In it, he writes:

That academic phase hasn’t been clearly replaced yet. The new phase’s nature isn’t fully evident. Perhaps its outlines will become apparent after several years of change. I’ve speculated on what that next higher education phase might look like here and elsewhere. But for now, let’s consider the present as a moment in between those two phases. That’s our time, right in the midst of a switching period, a liminal space, marked by uncertainty and instability. We’re in a boundary zone.

Okay: a gentleman scholar as wise as he is bearded — and that’s a considerable double-barreled compliment — sees fit to emphasize the liminal in his latest broadside on higher education and its current obsession with cutting arts and humanities programs and various faculty members — ahem, bringing new and far broader meaning, in fact, to the concept of cutting classes. And why?

Why provide a graphic of brick wall(s) unless, somehow, the idea of breaks, gaps, thresholds, borders, leaps, in short the liminal, is of intrinsic importance?

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Picking up on What does it mean to be a Canadian citizen? where we left off in Walls. Christianity & poetry. And nations, identities & borders, with the questions:

Is citizenship a kind of subscription service, to be suspended and resumed as our needs change? Are countries competing service providers, their terms and conditions subject to the ebbs and flows of consumer preference? Edmund Burke long ago articulated an ambitious vision of society as a “partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” Does any of that still resonate? Or is it a bygone idea of a vanished age, dissolved in a globalized world?

We can consider the cases of women from the US, UK and elsewhere who volunteered for ISIS and now wish to return home.

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Here’s a paragraph to transition us smoothly:

How easy should it be to give up your citizenship? In the era of Oswald, it could be difficult—like joining an especially selective monastic order that turns away aspirants until they kneel in the snow for a few days outside the monastery or consulate’s doors. Now a U.S. citizen can stop being American with a single visit to a consulate. (Most renounce not for ideological reasons but to avoid the complications of living as an American expatriate, subject to dual taxation and bureaucratic requirements far more onerous than for expatriates of almost any other country.)

That’s from Graeme Wood, Don’t Strip ISIS Fighters of Citizenship

See also:

  • Amarnath Amarasingam, Revoking Citizenship of ISIS Members is Not the Answer
  • Dan Byman, The wrong decision on Hoda Muthana
  • That’s a liminal issue, questions of citizenship and borders are liminal. And Bryan is talking liminality when he talks education.

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    Here’s a quick liminal zing from Abigail Tracy, in the title and subtitle of here Atlantic piece:

    I’d have been happy to include this in my chyrons and headers collection, but between the lines is too nicely liminal to miss.

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    A limen is a <threshold: it ‘s neither one thing nor the other, it’s in-between. And in-between is a time or state of transition, often tricky — think of the interregnum between the election of a President and his or her Inauguration — and often deeply human — we’re stuck with human nature, every one of us, which as Solzhenitsyn noted has a fault line in it more significant perhaps than even the fissure that separates our left and right cerebral hemispheres. Stunning us, he wrote:

    If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

    There’s liminality for you.

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    Here’s how Bryan ends his post:

    Babylon-5:

    Listen:

    There is a greater darkness than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way. The war we fight is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender. The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.

    The war we fight is not against powers and principalities — see my earlier post today on spiritual warfare. And The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation — the horror, the blessing of liminality.

    And Admiral McRaven:

    He too deals with the fight against chaos:

    SEAL training is the great equalizer: If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart — and that deep sense of being equalized by sand. tide, and fatigue, brings with it fine-grained humility and profound bonding with ones’ fellows.

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    Victor Turner was the anthropologist who made liminality the corner-stone of his great work, The Ritual Process — see how closely his ideas correspond with McRaven‘s SEAL training. Back in my early post on the topic here on ZP, I wrote:

    Basing his own work on van Gennep‘s account of rites of passage, Turner sees such rites as involving three phases: before, liminal, and after.

  • Before, you’re a civilian, after, you’re a Marine — but during, there’s an extraordinary moment when you’ve lost your civilian privileges, not yet earned your Marine status, and are less than nothing — as the drill sergeant constantly reminds you — and yet feel an intense solidarity with your fellows.
  • Before, you’re a novice, not yet “professed”, after, you’re a monk — but during, you lie prostrate on the paving stones of the abbey nave as you transition into lifelong vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
  • There are two things to note here. One is that liminality is a *humility* device, the other is that is creates a strong sense of bonding which Turner calls *communitas*: in one case, the Marine’s esprit de corps, in the other quite literally a monastic community. Part of what is so fascinating here is the (otherwise not necessarily obvious) insight that humility and community are closely related.

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    earlier Zenpundit posts on liminality and borders, among them:

  • Liminality II: the serious part
  • Of border crossings, and the pilgrimage to Arbaeen in Karbala
  • Violence at three borders, naturally it’s a pattern
  • Borders, limina and unity
  • Borders as metaphors and membranes
  • McCabe and Melber, bright lines and fuzzy borders
  • Walls. Christianity & poetry. And nations, identities & borders
  • But go back to that first post, Liminality II: the serious part, and read the whole thing. The story of the USS Topeka, SSN-754 alone is worth the effort..

    ICYMI, Geopol: South China Sea

    Saturday, December 8th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — this caught my eye, not an area i often think about, but important, important ]
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    Commander Robert Brodie, U.S. Navy, Winning the Joint Fight

    The most likely high-end fight in the near future would be the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) attempting to annex the South China Sea, coerce the nations in and around it into a dependent relationship, and push the boundary with the free world into the Pacific. This is in addition to the perpetual problem of North Korea invading South Korea. These scenarios present many opportunities for the Marine Corps to help the joint fight. It is time for the Corps to reestablish its expeditionary and amphibious assault capabilities. Expeditionary long-range artillery, antisurface and antiair teams could turn the tables on PRC antiaccess/area denial efforts by holding their man-made bases, ships, and aircraft at risk and imposing significant cost in a wartime scenario. The threat of an amphibious assault that would trap North Korean leaders and bring about regime collapse if the North invaded the South is as good a deterrent as any. While these skill sets have been traditional Marine Corps strong points, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the hope that prosperity would cure the PRC of communism, and the Global War on Terror have distracted the Corps from staying ahead of the requirements to fight and win high-end battles against forces that may locally outnumber us.

    All is not lost. As a free people, the United States is better able to innovate, communicate, and fight jointly for the common good. In the case of the Marine Corps, everything it needs to threaten PRC land, sea, and air assets has been fielded and only needs to be organized, transported, supported, and integrated into the joint fight. The Marine Corps needs to take charge of the expeditionary fight, even if that means co-opting capabilities or units from other services and working with other countries. If it fails to take the lead, the Army’s Multi-Domain Task Force experiment[1] that envisions deployable long-range artillery, antiship, antiair, and space and cyber units as the building blocks of its capabilities will compete against the Marine Corps expeditionary role instead of complementing it.

    Liturgically speaking, the Missing Man formation..

    Sunday, September 2nd, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — loss and grief, formalized ]
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    Over North Vietnam, Naval pilot John McCain was shot down out of his intended flight path in his youth, to suffer years of captivity and torture before his release, and after a long life of service in the House and Senate, as his body was interred in the Annapolis Naval Academy Cemetery, one jet from a formation of four peeled away up and rose vertically while the three remaining planes regrouped in formation, the purpose of the gesture, the aviation fuel made available for it, and the honor accorded to the four pilots being, in the words of a Naval Air Force Atlantic release

    the missing man formation is a salute performed as part of flypast of aircraft at a funeral or memorial event in memory of a deceased aviator. One airplane in a four-plane formation will pull up vertical to signify the passing of the aviator’s soul to the heavens.

    You’ll note that the “passing of the aviator’s soul to the heavens” is a theological, rather than a Naval, doctrine, and indeed the gesture is a deeply emotional one, made all the more powerful by the strict discipline required of the pilots involved.

    Jets perform ‘missing man’ formation in tribute to John McCain

    I just wanted to note, as a religious matter, and as an indication of the power of simplicity, constraint, and tradition in liturgy, the power of this last note in McCain’s funeral passage from Sedona to Annapolis.

    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”?


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