Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Strange Case of Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov

From a book I reviewed this week, I learned of Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov. He was a commander on a Soviet submarine during the Cuban missile crisis. This sub was surrounded and depth-charged by American destroyers in an attempt to force it to the surface. Unknown to the Americans, the sub carried nuclear-tipped torpedoes. Three keys help by commanders needed to be turned to launch these. Two commanders were ready to launch, only Arkhipov refused. As a nuclear explosion would have almost certainly provoked a US retaliation in kind, Arkhipov saved the world. Some of this story is disputed, but not, it seems, the two essentials - the depth-charging and the nuclear torpedoes. I have always known I lived on borrowed time, I just didn't realise my creditor had a name - Vasili.

22 comments:

  1. What does 'nuclear-tipped' mean in this context? A nuclear-tipped munition doesn't necessarily cause a 'nuke-lar' explosion. A munition can be tipped with, say, depleted uranium, because the strength and density of that substance increases the penetrative capability of the munition prior to detonation.

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  2. Thank God for these islands of sanity like this man. As an aside, imagine how proud you could be when booking a table or hotel room or whatever, upon being asked your name, majestically yet with Olympian calmness, responding Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov.

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  3. Just read your James Martin piece, Bryan and have felt compelled to make some kind of response. What precipitated this bolt for the computer. Why of course it could only be Martin's line, "Professional philosophers applying rigorous logic to ethics are coming to conclusions that contradict religious doctrine in certain important areas." Christ, I had no idea. This is also an area I'm thinking of pursuing so I'm wondering if you have any tips as to where I might go do some professional philosophising of my own? I've been doing a bit of it on the amateur circuit and some friends are telling me I could possibly make the grade at the higher level. I do think however I need to work on the rigorousness of my logic and if you yourself were willing to do a bit of coaching, it would be greatly appreciated. Also any idea where professional philosophers tend to hang out, and what they like to do to wind down?

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  4. Ultimately I'd like to go to America for some big money philosophising but I don't want to get ahead of myself. Just work on my technique and take each day as it comes. This of course because the future lies ahead and I can't do anyting about it until I come to it. Though it could be argued that one's actions in the present will determine said future... Just an example of what I'm capable of.

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  5. A Professional PhilosopherOctober 22, 2006 7:15 pm

    Professional philosophising is a tough old game, Andrew. Alot of amateurs are susprised at the step-up in instensity when they decide to turn pro. Having said that I like your stuff about the future and present. Makes one think and making one think is what professional philosophising is all about at the end of the day.
    Anyway the best advice I could give you is to realise that words are your friend.

    PS I like to wind down with a glass of red wine and a Bill Oddie documentary.

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  6. A Failed PhilosopherOctober 22, 2006 11:44 pm

    Don't be fooled by the highly-selective and thoroughly self-serving delusions of the (so-called) 'Professional Philosopher', Andrew.

    Everybody knows the absolute truth: the Pro Phil circuit has been rotten to the core for years. Centuries. It's the same old story: it's not what you postulate, it's who you postulate...if you know what I mean. Corruption, boosterism, backhanders, pay-for-say....not to mention the sexual blackmail and exploitation that goes on...I mean these people are pigs, Andrew. Frankly, if you are handy with words and have a fire in your belly about ideas and the betterment of Humankind and such like, then you are far better off setting your sights on a career in advertising or tabloid journalism. Philosophers are, bluntly, vicious bastards.

    Me, I went onto the circuit just like you: bright-eyed and silver-tongued, brimming with metaphysical visions as grand as the galaxy. I was great - no, I was Great. I was a Genius. I coulda been a contender. Until those animals...destroyed me. Which is why I say 'don't do it', Andrew. Don't be tempted by the siren-song of the Professional Philosopher. They only encourage greenhorns like us because they need a constant fresh supply of crowd-fodder. You'll see - oh yes, it's all 'hmmm...I like your stuff about the future and present...'and '...words are your friend...' rhetorical charm, alright. Of course it is.

    Until you step foolishly into the bloodpit. Then God - or Not - help you, lad. One careless post hoc ergo propter hoc, one nervous ignoratio ellenchi...and the f**kers will have ad baculumed you from asshole to breakfast and back.

    There's no sympathy out there, Andrew. Especially not for talented newboys. Mark my words: the Pro circuit is no place for idealists like you and me.

    PS: Have you tried Sudoku?

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  7. The Professional PhilosopherOctober 23, 2006 6:49 pm

    Don't listen to the failed philosopher, Andrew. We are tough but fair. Not only are words your friend, but we, the noble brotherhood of the professional philosopher, are also your friend. By a form of intellectual alchemy, those who immerse themselves in the base matter of incessant verbiage become purified and incapable of actions lacking in virtue. This has been proven by some of us engaged in the rigorous application of ethical situations which Martin hinted at. Come with us into the light of intellectual illumination; this garden of higher delights that is our habitat, closed to the profane of brain.(I couldn't resist the play on words. Our sense of humour is often underestimated.) There admittedly may be a hint of truth in what my unlearned friend writes regarding our treatment of newcomers but such procedures are essential to keep the barbarian hordes from the door, and such people are in a sense a sacrifice at teh altar of Reason.

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  8. Funny where these debates end up. Anyway, Andrew, check out The Garden of Forking Paths web site on my blogroll. Excellent stuff. Better still, read Borges.

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  9. HAven't read Borges yet, Bryan. Any specific recommendations?

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  10. No professional philosopher would post his or her comments anonymously!

    To return to the notion of living on borrowed time, consider the following scenario:

    North Korea don't yet have an intercontinental ballistic missile, but they do have the Taipodong, an intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM); if we assume that they'll have the ability to place a nuclear bomb within a warhead in a few years' time, then the IRBM will give them the capability to create a HANE (High Altitude Nuclear Explosion). The direct electromagnetic pulse from the HANE, and the subsequent flux of charged particles, accelerated by the Christofilos effect, will wipe out a large fraction of the satellites in Earth orbit. This will not only damage US surveillance and communication capabilities, but also their GPS-navigation capabilities, upon which precision strike is largely dependent. So how would the US respond? Well, no-one would have died from the HANE, so could the US justify a nuclear response? I think not, and, in fact, any type of military response would trigger the annihilation of Seoul by artillery fire from the North. Inaction would be almost impossible for a US president, but any type of action would trigger a holocaust.

    http://www.fas.org/resource/10072004163734.pdf
    http://www.globalsecurity.org/org/news/2002/nuke_explosion.pdf
    http://www.globalsecurity.org/org/news/2002/nuke_explosion.htm

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  11. I confess though, Bryan, the only Western philosophy I've read is Nietzsche. The quibbling over matters like free will is genuinely comical, I think. Alot of it strikes me as a kind of chess with language without a hell of alot at stake. Though just as philosophy probably largely amounts to finding bad reasons to justify what one instinctually(ively?)feels or wishes to feel, maybe I'm finding reasons to justify my more spaced out relationship with reality, and distaste for self-perpetuating analytical thought. There I go again.

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  12. Alternative definition of philosophy - The creation of mental problems which the intellect then discusses to infinity. Solving of problems is forbidden unless it is shown that the solution gives birth to a new problem.

    My version of the discussion of free will - "What do you think, do we have free will?"
    "I dunno. What do you think?"
    "Ehh....I dunno. What do you think?"
    "I dunno..." etc

    Aplogies

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  13. One crucial reason why the problems of philosophy persist without solution is that the problems, and the arguments which seek to address them, are mostly expressed in natural language, and the meaning of the terms and phrases of natural language is not precisely defined. The meaning of the terms and phrases in natural language is determined by use, which is not entirely consistent at any moment of time amongst the community of language users, and which evolves in a semi-random fashion over time. Hence, disagreement can persist indefinitely because of the intrinsic ambiguity in the crucial terms and phrases being used. In sharp contrast, the meaning of the symbols and terms in mathematics is precisely defined, by stipulation, hence no disagreement can arise as to whether something had been proven.

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  14. Gordon, you poignantly define the discontinuity between the human and the scientific and the even greater poignancy behind the common useage, "We must agree to disagree." This, of course, means we agree. Andrew, these are games, but I don't think that diminishes them. Games are defined by their rules and the rules in this case are the forms of our thought.

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  15. I'd agree pretty much with both of you, Gordon & Bryan. A fair amount of what I was parodying, ie wisdom enslaved to the tool it is using, deserves to be parodied. There's a Nietzsche line I can't quite remember about wisdom desiring to dance, laugh...is it from the Spirit of Gravity, and that playfulness of thought is very much to my liking. So I suppose the chess analogy is apt, and to stretch it a little - chess can be wonderfully pleasurable with its being a playground for the mind. On the other hand, chess can be reduced to a slavish, joyless and exhaustive study, perhaps something like the "Professional philosophers rigorously applying logic" stuff.

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  16. Omigod, Bryan Appleyard: I adore Borges' "The Garden of Forking Paths"! (But I haven't read it since I was 25 -- I'm afraid to. What if I read it now and it seems jejune???) Anyhow, we're on a mindmeld. No wonder I love your blog.

    Andrew, dear boy, what you want to be is a Public Intellectual. Our last one in this country was Edward Said, but now he's dead, so there's a post open.

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  17. I keep seeing images of Philadelphia in my mind. The meld is progressing. Borges surives intact - Tlon Uqbar and Orbis Tertius in particular. Beckett?

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  18. Is the public intellectual as well paid as the professional philosopher, Susan?

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  19. Oh, Andrew, you want to be *paid* for this...Well, that's a different deal. The wages of sin are death. The wages of a public intellectual are the satisfaction of being smarter than everyone else (or believing oneself to be, anyway).

    Bryan, oh no, I fear a hairline crack in the mind meld -- I don't like Beckett! Let me offer you another B: Byatt. Love her stuff. Wonderful short story in her last collection, _The Little Black Book of Stories_, is "The Thing in the Forest." If you've time among your various debates, see what you think. (I am, however, totally with you on _Housekeeping_. Just read it again.)

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  20. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. I believe this is Oprah Winfrey's motto.

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  21. I think you're mixing her up with Dr Phil, Neil.

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