Sugested changes to the nuclear war launch protocol…

— Law professor Roger Fisher in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists journal

There is a young man, probably a Navy officer, who accompanies the President. This young man has a black attaché case which contains the codes that are needed to fire nuclear weapons. I could see the President at a staff meeting considering nuclear war as an abstract question. He might conclude: “On SIOP Plan One, the decision is affirmative, Communicate the Alpha line XYZ.” Such jargon holds what is involved at a distance.

My suggestion was quite simple: Put that needed code number in a little capsule, and then implant that capsule right next to the heart of a volunteer. The volunteer would carry with him a big, heavy butcher knife as he accompanied the President. If ever the President wanted to fire nuclear weapons, the only way he could do so would be for him first, with his own hands, to kill one human being. The President says, “George, I’m sorry but tens of millions must die.” He has to look at someone and realize what death is – what an innocent death is. Blood on the White House carpet. It’s reality brought home.”

Russia is mainly a huge hydrocarbon field with a few nickel mines, 100 million acres of wheat, and an aging workforce that has a great fondness for vodka and other distractions

— David Stockman

on the Russian threat to the U.S.

You know that’s a joke. If the Russians were going to land on the shores of New Jersey, they would need vast power-projection capability – aircraft carriers and the capacity to land troops. None of that is even remotely possible. The Russians have got one 50-year-old, smoke-belching aircraft carrier on duty in the Eastern Mediterranean. It probably couldn’t get out of the Strait of Gibraltar if it had to. So, how could Russia threaten the security or the safety of anybody in the U.S.? It couldn’t, unless you believe that Vladimir Putin – the ultimate chess player, the Cool Hand Luke of the global scene today – is foolish enough to risk nuclear retaliation by attacking us and have Russia turned into a parking lot. We have enough nuclear deterrent on our Trident submarines alone. And we’ve had it ever since 1980. Not to mention that the entire Russian economy is not even as big as that of New York City – $1.6 for the New York metro area and just $1.3 trillion for Russia. Russia is mainly a huge hydrocarbon field with a few nickel mines, 100 million acres of wheat, and an aging workforce that has a great fondness for vodka and other distractions.”

Rapoport’s Rules: The best antidote for the tendency to caricature one’s opponent …

— Daniel Dennett From “Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking” P. 32

Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent? If there are obvious contradictions in the opponent’s case, then of course you should point them out, forcefully. If there are somewhat hidden contradictions, you should carefully expose them to view — and then dump on them. But the search for hidden contradictions often crosses the line into nitpicking … and outright parody. The thrill of the chase and the conviction that your opponent has to be harboring a confusion somewhere encourages uncharitable interpretation, which gives you an easy target to attack. But such easy targets are typically irrelevant to the real issues at stake and simply waste everybody’s time and patience, even if they give amusement to your supporters.  The best antidote I know for this tendency to caricature one’s opponent is a list of rules promulgated many years ago by the social psychologist and game theorist Anatol Rapoport.

How to compose a successful critical commentary:

  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”
  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement.)
  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

One immediate effect of following these rules is that your targets will be a receptive audience for your criticism: you have already shown that you understand their positions as well as they do, and have demonstrated good judgment (you agree with them on some important matters and have even been persuaded by something they said).

Following Rapoport’s Rules is always, for me at least, something of a struggle. Some targets, quite frankly, don’t deserve such respectful attention, and — I admit — it can be sheer joy to skewer and roast them. But when it is called for, and it works, the results are gratifying.”

Democracy is the most difficult of all forms of government, since it requires the widest spread of intelligence, and we forgot to make ourselves intelligent when we made ourselves sovereign …

— The Lessons of History P. 78

Democracy is the most difficult of all forms of government, since it requires the widest spread of intelligence, and we forgot to make ourselves intelligent when we made ourselves sovereign. Education has spread, but intelligence is perpetually retarded by the fertility of the simple. A cynic remarked that ‘you mustn’t enthrone ignorance just because there is so much of it.’ However, ignorance is not long enthroned, for it lends itself to manipulation by the forces that mold public opinion. It may be true, as Lincoln supposed, that ‘you can’t fool all the people all the time,’ but you can fool enough of them to rule a large country.”