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Debunking myths of the Cuban Missile Crisis

The ‘Eyeball to Eyeball’ Myth and the Cuban Missile Crisis’s Legacy - NYTimes.com
IN the latest volume of his acclaimed biography of Lyndon B. Johnson, Robert A. Caro repeats a long-standing but erroneous myth about the Cuban missile crisis. Drawing on early accounts of the crisis, he describes a confrontation on Oct. 24, 1962, between American destroyers and Soviet ships carrying nuclear missiles to Cuba. According to Mr. Caro, the Soviet vessels were “within a few miles” of the blockade line, but turned away at the last moment. This was the moment when Secretary of State Dean Rusk, by his own account, uttered the most memorable line of the missile crisis: “We’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.” The “eyeball to eyeball” imagery made for great drama (it features in the 2000 movie “13 Days”), but it has contributed to some of our most disastrous foreign policy decisions, from the escalation of the Vietnam War under Johnson to the invasion of Iraq under George W. Bush. . . . While researching a 2008 book on the missile crisis, I plotted the positions of Soviet and American ships during this period, on the basis of United States intelligence records. I was stunned to discover that the lead Soviet ship, the Kimovsk, was actually 750 miles away from the blockade line, heading back toward the Soviet Union, at the time of the supposed “eyeball to eyeball” incident. Acting to avert a naval showdown, the Soviet premier, Nikita S. Khrushchev, had turned his missile-carrying freighters around some 30 hours earlier. Kennedy was certainly bracing for an “eyeball to eyeball” moment, but it never happened. There is now plenty of evidence that Kennedy — like Khrushchev — was a lot less steely-eyed than depicted in the initial accounts of the crisis, which were virtually dictated by the White House. Tape-recorded transcripts of White House debates and notes from participants show that Kennedy was prepared to make significant concessions, including a public trade of Soviet missiles in Cuba for American missiles in Turkey and possibly the surrender of the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay. . . .

October 14, 2012

The self-destruction of the 1% in 14th century Venice

Very interesting lessons here. The Self-Destruction of the 1 Percent - NYTimes.com
IN the early 14th century, Venice was one of the richest cities in Europe. At the heart of its economy was the colleganza, a basic form of joint-stock company created to finance a single trade expedition. The brilliance of the colleganza was that it opened the economy to new entrants, allowing risk-taking entrepreneurs to share in the financial upside with the established businessmen who financed their merchant voyages. Venice’s elites were the chief beneficiaries. Like all open economies, theirs was turbulent. Today, we think of social mobility as a good thing. But if you are on top, mobility also means competition. In 1315, when the Venetian city-state was at the height of its economic powers, the upper class acted to lock in its privileges, putting a formal stop to social mobility with the publication of the Libro d’Oro, or Book of Gold, an official register of the nobility. If you weren’t on it, you couldn’t join the ruling oligarchy. The political shift, which had begun nearly two decades earlier, was so striking a change that the Venetians gave it a name: La Serrata, or the closure. It wasn’t long before the political Serrata became an economic one, too. Under the control of the oligarchs, Venice gradually cut off commercial opportunities for new entrants. Eventually, the colleganza was banned. The reigning elites were acting in their immediate self-interest, but in the longer term, La Serrata was the beginning of the end for them, and for Venetian prosperity more generally. By 1500, Venice’s population was smaller than it had been in 1330. In the 17th and 18th centuries, as the rest of Europe grew, the city continued to shrink. . . .

October 01, 2012

THIS WEEK'S RESEARCH HOLE: Whale Meat (Which Should Probably Be Considered Kosher)

I'm not gonna explain how this happened, but I fell...

Continue reading "THIS WEEK'S RESEARCH HOLE: Whale Meat (Which Should Probably Be Considered Kosher)" »

September 28, 2012

We're mostly miserable because we make bunky comparisons

I don't know how I feel about TED talks in...