Saturday, October 26, 2013
APPEASEMENT, THEN AND NOW
The Prime Ministership of Neville Chamberlain is closely associated with the word “appeasement.” The policy of appeasement followed by Britain in the late 1930s is generally viewed as a matter of foreign policy–the willingness to allow Germany’s absorption of other countries, first Austria and then Czechoslovakia, in the desperate but misguided hope of avoiding another war.
But appeasement also had domestic as well as foreign policy aspects. In a post several years ago, I quoted Winston Churchill, who spoke of the “unendurable..sense of our country falling into the power, into the orbit and influence of Nazi Germany, and of our existence becoming dependent upon their good will or pleasure…In a very few years, perhaps in a very few months, we shall be confronted with demands” which “may affect the surrender of territory or the surrender of liberty.” A “policy of submission” would entail “restrictions” upon freedom of speech and the press. Indeed, I hear it said sometimes now that we cannot allow the Nazi system of dictatorship to be criticized by ordinary, common English politicians.”
Churchill’s concern was not just a theoretical one. Following the German takeover of Czechoslovakia, photographs were available showing the plight of Czech Jews, dispossessed by the Nazis and wandering the roads of eastern Europe. Geoffrey Dawson, editor of The Times, refused to run any of them: it wouldn’t help the victims, he told his staff, and if they were published, Hitler would be offended.
I’ve just finished reading Niall Ferguson’s War of the World, and this book contains much more information about appeasement in British domestic society and politics. Some excerpts:
(Times Berlin correspondent Normal Ebbut) wrote regularly on…the (Nazi) regime’s persecution of Protestant churches. As early as November 1934, he was moved to protest about editorial interference with his copy, giving twelve examples of how his stories had been cut to remove critical references to the Nazi regime.
The Times was far from unique in its soft-soap coverage of Germany. Following his visit in 1937, Halifax lobbied near all the leading newspaper proprietors to tone down their coverage of Germany…The government succeeded in pressuring the BBC into avoiding ‘controversy’ in its coverage of European affairs…Lord Reith, the Director-General of the BBC, told Ribbentrop ‘to tell Hitler that the BBC was not anti-Nazi’…Pressure to toe the line was even stronger in the House of Commons. Conservative MPs who ventured to criticize Chamberlain were swiftly chastised by the whips or their local party associations.
At around the time of the Abyssinian crisis, the historian A L Rowse–who was just thirty-four at the time of Munich-recalled a walk with (Times publisher Dawson) along the towpath to Iffley, in the course of which he warned the older man: ‘It is the Germans who are so powerful as to threaten the rest of us together.’ Dawson’s reply was revealing: ‘To take your argument on its own valuation–mind you, I’m not saying I agree with it–but if the Germans are as powerful as you say, oughtn’t we to go in with them?
Saturday, October 19, 2013
THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS, AS VIEWED FROM A SOVIET LAUNCH FACILITY
(This is a rerun, with minor edits, of a post from 2012)
This month marks the 51st anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world dangerously close to thermonuclear war.
Last year I read Rockets and People, the totally fascinating memoir of Soviet rocket developer Boris Chertok, which I’m still hoping to get around to reviewing one of these days.
Chertok’s career encompassed both military and space-exploration projects, and in late October 1962 he was focused on preparations for launching a Mars probe. On the morning of Oct 27, he was awakened by “a strange uneasiness.” After a quick breakfast, he headed for the missile assembly building, known as the MIK.
At the gatehouse, there was usually a lone soldier on duty who would give my pass a cursory glance. Now suddenly I saw a group of soldiers wielding sub-machine guns, and they thoroughly scrutinized my pass. Finally they admitted me to the facility grounds and there, to my surprise, I again saw sub-machine-gun-wielding soldiers who had climbed up the fire escape to the roof of the MIK. Other groups of soldiers in full combat gear, even wearing gas masks, were running about the periphery of the secure area. When I stopped in at the MIK, I immediately saw that the “duty” R-7A combat missile, which had always been covered and standing up against the wall, which we had always ignored, was uncovered.
Chertok was greeted by his friend Colonel Kirillov, who was in charge of this launch facility. Kirollov did not greet Chertok with his usual genial smile, but with a “somber, melancholy expression.”
Without releasing my hand that I’d extended for our handshake, he quietly said: “Boris Yevseyevich, I have something of urgent importance I must tell you”…We went into his office on the second floor. Here, visibly upset, Kirillov told me: “Last night I was summoned to headquarters to see the chief of the [Tyura-Tam] firing range. The chiefs of the directorates and commanders of the troop units were gathered there. We were told that the firing range must be brought into a state of battle readiness immediately. Due to the events in Cuba, air attacks, bombardment, and even U.S. airborne assaults are possible. All Air Defense Troops assets have already been put into combat readiness. Flights of our transport airplanes are forbidden. All facilities and launch sites have been put under heightened security. Highway transport is drastically restricted. But most important—I received the order to open an envelope that has been stored in a special safe and to act in accordance with its contents. According to the order, I must immediately prepare the duty combat missile at the engineering facility and mate the warhead located in a special depot, roll the missile out to the launch site, position it, test it, fuel it, aim it, and wait for a special launch command. All of this has already been executed at Site No. 31. I have also given all the necessary commands here at Site No. 2. Therefore, the crews have been removed from the Mars shot and shifted over to preparation of the combat missile. The nosecone and warhead will be delivered here in 2 hours.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Here’s a new study from GE: The Age of Gas & the Power of Networks. I haven’t read it yet, but looks like it contains some useful data and some interesting thinking.
cross-posted at Chicago Boyz, where comments are open
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
STORIES OF SOLAR STRESS
In my post A Perfect Enemy, I mentioned Poul Anderson’s 1972 story A Chapter of Revelation. God–intending to demonstrate His existence to the world and thereby encourage people to prevent the global nuclear war which is about to occur–stops the movement of the sun across the sky. (Technically, He does this by slowing earth’s rotation period to a value identical with Earth’s year.) The reaction to this event is confirmation bias on an immense scale: just about everyone draws the conclusion that the miracle provesthat whatever beliefs they already held were the corrects ones…for example, a Russian scientist (remember, this was written in 1972) suggests that “The requirement of minimum hypothesis practically forces us to assume that what happened resulted from the application of a technology centuries beyond ours. I find it easy to believe that an advanced civilization, capable of interstellar travel, sent a team to save mankind from the carnage threatened by an imperialism which that society outgrew long ago.” Moralists, militarists, extreme right-wing evangelists, Black Power advocates…all find in the miracle only proof of their own rightness, and the world slides into further chaos, with riots, coups d’etat, and cross-border military attacks.
Several weeks ago, I picked up Karen Thompson Walker’s novel The Age of Miracles, in which strange solar behavior also plays a leading part. Eleven-year-old Julia, focused in the usual challenges of growing up, is not too concerned when scientists announce that–for some unknown reason–the earth’s rotation has slowed very slightly and the days and nights are both getting a little longer. But the process, whatever it is, continues…the days and the nights get longer..and longer..and longer.
A very well-written book, IMO; especially impressive since it is the author’s first novel. Not everyone agrees: the Amazon reviews indicate that a lot of people liked it very much, and quite a few found it disappointing. But I thought it was very worthwhile; hard to put down, in fact.
Another coming-of-age story involving solar phenomena is Connie Willis’s Daisy, in the Sun. Like the protagonist of the previous book, Daisy is dealing with the problems of adolescence–oh, and by the way, the sun (which Daisy has always loved) is going to go nova and kill everyone on earth. It’s a strange story, difficult to summarize…I’ll just quote from the author’s introduction:
During the London Blitz, Edward R. Murrow was startled to see a fire engine racing past. It was the middle of the day, the sirens had not gone, and he hadn’t heard any bombers. He could not imagine where a fire engine would be going.
It came to him, after much thought, that it was going to an ordinary house fire, and that that seemed somehow impossible, as if all ordinary disasters should be suspended for the duration of this great Disaster that was facing London and commanding everybody’s attention. But of course houses caught fire and burned down for reasons that had nothing to do with the Blitz, and even in the face of Armageddon, there are still private armageddons to be faced.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
ANTI-ISRAEL BIGOTRY ON AMERICAN UNIVERSITY CAMPUSES
An Israeli soldier reports on what he has learned while speaking about Israel at universities in the Pacific Northwest:
When I served as a soldier in the West Bank, I got used to having ugly things said to me, but nothing prepared me for the misinformation, demonization of Israel, and the gut-wrenching, anti-Israel, anti-Semitic hostility expressed by many students, professors, church members, and even some high school students right here in the Pacific Northwest.
To give you a taste of the viciousness of the BDS attacks, let me cite just a few of the many shocking experiences I have had. At a BDS event in Portland, a professor from a Seattle university told the assembled crowd that the Jews of Israel have no national rights and should be forced out of the country. When I asked, “Where do you want them to go?” she calmly answered, “I don’t care. I don’t care if they don’t have any place else to go. They should not be there.” When I responded that she was calling for ethnic cleansing, both she and her supporters denied it. And during a presentation in Seattle, I spoke about my longing for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. When I was done, a woman in her 60’s stood up and yelled at me, “You are worse than the Nazis. You are just like the Nazi youth!” A number of times I was repeatedly accused of being a killer, though I have never hurt anyone in my life. On other occasions, anti-Israel activists called me a rapist. The claims go beyond being absurd – in one case, a professor asked me if I knew how many Palestinians have been raped by IDF forces. I answered that as far as I knew, none. She triumphantly responded that I was right, because, she said, “You IDF soldiers don’t rape Palestinians because Israelis are so racist and disgusted by them that you won’t touch them.”
Wednesday, October 02, 2013
WHEN HUMANS AND ROBOTS COMMUNICATE
…they do not always achieve mutual understanding. And when misunderstandings do occur, the consequences can range from irritating to expensive to tragic.
On July 6 of 2013, Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crashed on final approach to San Francisco International Airport, resulting in over 180 injuries, 3 fatalities, and the loss of the aircraft. While the NTSB report on this accident is not yet out, there are several things that seem to be pretty clear:
–The flight crew believed that airspeed was being controlled by the autothrottle system, a device somewhat analogous to the cruise control of an automobile
–In actuality, the airspeed was not being controlled by the autothrottles
–The airspeed fell below the appropriate value, and the airplane dipped below the proper glidepath and mushed into the seawall
It is not yet totally clear why the autothrottle system was not controlling the airspeed when the captain and first officer believed that it was doing so. It is possible that the autothrottle mechanism failed, even that it failed in such a way that its failure was not annunciated. It is possible that an autothrottle disconnect button (one on each power level) was inadvertently pressed and the disconnection not noticed. But what seems likely in the opinion of several knowledgeable observers is that the captain and FO selected a combination of control settings that they believed would cause the autothrottle to take control–but that this setting was in fact not one that would cause autothrottle activation…in other words, that the model of aircraft systems in the minds of the flight crew was different from the actual design model of the autothrottle and its related systems.
Whatever happened in the case of Asiana Flight 214…and all opinions about what happened with the autothrottles must be regarded as only speculative at this point…there have been numerous cases–in aviation, in medical equipment, and in the maritime industry–in which an automated control system and its human users interacted in a way that either did or could have led to very malign results. In his book Taming HAL, Asaf Degani describes several such cases, and searches for general patterns and for approaches to minimize such occurrences in the future.
Degani discusses human interface problems that he has observed in common consumer devices such as clocks, TV remote controls, and VCRs, and goes into depth on several incidents involving safety-critical interface failures. Some of these were:
The airplane that broke the speed limit. This was another autothrottle-related incident, albeit one in which the consequences were much less severe than Asiana 214. The airplane was climbing to its initial assigned altitude of 11,000 feet, under an autopilot mode (Vertical Navigation) in which speed was calculated by the flight management system for optimum efficiency–in this case, 300 knots. Air traffic control then directed that the flight slow to 240 knots for separation from traffic ahead. The copilot dialed this number into the flight control panel,overriding the FMS-calculated number. At 11000 feet, the autopilot leveled the plane, switched itself into ALTITUDE HOLD mode, and maintained the 240 knot speed setting. Everything was fine.
The controller then directed a further climb to 14000 feet. The copilot re-engaged VERTICAL NAVIGATION MODE and put in the new altitude setting. The engines increased power, the nose pitched up, and the airplane began to climb. But just a little bit later, the captain observed that the airplane wasn’t only climbing–it was also speeding up, and had reached almost 300 knots, thereby violating an ATC speed restriction.
What happened here? Degani refers to events of this sort as “automation surprises.” The copilot was apparently thinking that the speed he had dialed in to override the flight management system would continue to be in force when he re-enabled the vertical navigation climb mode. But that wasn’t the way the system was actually designed. Selecting Vertical Navigation mode re-initialized the source of the airspeed command to be the FMS, which was still calling for a 300-knot Best Efficiency speed.
Degani says that the pilots were well trained and understood how the speed reference value actually worked…but that the unintuitive nature of the interface caused this knowledge to be effectively forgotten at the moment when the additional climb was requested. He draws an analogy with the user of a cordless phone, who picks up the ringing phone and pushes the TALK button..a seemingly-logical action that actually turns off the phone and disconnects whoever is calling.
The blood-pressure monitor that didn’t monitor. A surgery patient was under anesthesia; as is standard practice, his blood pressure was being monitored by an electronic device. The patent’s blood pressure showed a high reading, and the surgeon noted profuse bleeding. The anesthesiologists set the blood-pressure monitor to measure more frequently. Periodically, they glanced back at the monitor’s display, noting that it still showed an elevated blood pressure, actively treating the hypertension–as they believed it was–with drugs that dilated blood vessels.
But actually, the patient’s blood pressure was very low. The alarmingly-high blood pressure values shown in the display were actually constant…the machine was displaying the exact same value every time they looked at it, because after the measurement-interval reset, it had never made another measurement.
What happened here? The blood-pressure monitor has three modes: MANUAL (in which the pressure is measured immediately when the “start” button is pressed), AUTOMATIC (in which pressure is measured repeatedly at the selected interval), and IDLE. When the interval is changed by the anesthesiologist, the mode is set at IDLE, even if the monitor were already running in AUTOMATIC. To actually cause the automatic monitoring to occur, it is necessary to push START. In this case, the pushing of the START button was omitted, and the machine’s display did not provide adequate cues for the anesthesiologists to notice their mistake.
Critiquing the machine’s design, Degani notes that “The kind of change they sought is not very different from changing the temperature setting in your toaster over…On almost every oven, you simply grab the temperature knob and rotate it from 300 Farenheit to 450, and that’s it. You are not expected to tell the system that you want it to stay in OVEN mode–you know that it will.”