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Posts Tagged ‘President

“The entire empire has sunk into a quagmire of extravagance from which they cannot extricate themselves”*…

If you ever visit Rome, and wander through the Colosseum or Circus Maximus, it’s hard not to be struck by a sense of fragility and impermanence. Here are the remnants of the most powerful and complex of ancient European societies, now reduced to ruin and rubble. How did this once proud and mighty empire crumble?

Joseph Tainter’s 1988 book The Collapse of Complex Societies has an answer to that question, and to similar questions you might ask about the collapse of other ancient societies (Mayan, Incan, Babylonian etc). His book is widely cited and discussed among those who are interested in the topic of civilisational collapse. Having now read it, I can see why. Tainter presents his views with a logical simplicity that is often lacking in these debates, only setting out his own theory after having exhaustively categorised and dismissed alternative theories. What’s more, his own theory is remarkably easy to state and understand: societies collapse when they hit a point of rapidly declining marginal returns on their investments in problem-solving capacity.

Despite this, I have yet to see a really good summary of his theory online. I want to provide one… I’ll try to focus on the essential elements of Tainter’s theory, and not on his dismissal of rival theories or his detailed case studies. I’ll also aim to be critical of the theory where needed, and to provide some reflections on whether it can be applied to contemporary societies at the end. These reflections will be somewhat idiosyncratic, tied to my own interests in democratic legitimacy and technology…

Academic and blogger John Danaher (@JohnDanaher): “The Collapse of Complex Societies: A Primer on Tainter’s Theory.” To observe the obvious, Tainter’s theory is usefully– provocatively– applied to (large) organizations and their “problem-solving capacity” (e.g., innovation and competitive responsiveness) as well…

(Via Matt Webb, whose contextualization is fascinating…)

* Liu Cixin, The Three-Body Problem

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As we deliberate on decline, we might recall that it was on this date in 1789 that George Washington was elected President of the United States by a unanimous vote in the Electoral College.

Washington’s inauguration

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“There is no virtue whatsoever in creating clothing or accessories that are not practical”*…

 

Officially known as the “President’s emergency satchel,” the so-called nuclear “Football”—portable and hand-carried—is built around a sturdy aluminum frame, encased in black leather. A retired Football, emptied of its top-secret inner contents, is currently on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. “We were looking for something that would demonstrate the incredible military power and responsibilities of the president, and we struck upon this iconic object,” says curator Harry Rubenstein.

Contrary to popular belief, the Football does not actually contain a big red button for launching a nuclear war. Its primary purpose is to confirm the president’s identity, and it allows him to communicate with the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon, which monitors worldwide nuclear threats and can order an instant response. The Football also provides the commander in chief with a simplified menu of nuclear strike options—allowing him to decide, for example, whether to destroy all of America’s enemies in one fell swoop or to limit himself to obliterating only Moscow or Pyongyang or Beijing.

Although its origins remain highly classified, the Football can be traced back to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis…

Read more about “the ultimate power accessory” in “The Real Story of the ‘Football’ That Follows the President Everywhere.”

* Giorgio Armani

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As we play “button, button, who’s got the button,” we might spare a thought for Showa Tenno Hirohito, the 124th Japanese monarch in an imperial line dating back to 660 B.C.; he died on this date in 1989– after serving six decades as the emperor of Japan.  He was the longest serving monarch in Japanese history.

Made Regent in 1921, Hirohito was enthroned as emperor in 1928, two years after the death of his father, Emperor Taisho.  During his first two decades as emperor, Hirohito presided over one of the most turbulent eras in his nation’s history.  From rapid military expansion beginning in 1931 to the crushing defeat of Japan in 1945, Hirohito stood above the Japanese people as an absolute monarch whose powers were sharply limited in practice.  After U.S. atomic bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was he who argued for his country’s surrender, explaining to the Japanese people in his first-ever radio address that the “unendurable must be endured.”  Under U.S. occupation and postwar reconstruction, Hirohito was formally stripped of his powers and forced to renounce his alleged divinity, but he remained his country’s official figurehead until his death.  He was succeeded as emperor by his only son, Akihito.

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Written by LW

January 7, 2015 at 1:01 am

Snapped shots…

A collection of… well, strange old photos, from the remarkable Black and WTF.  Consider, for example:

or…

or…

More– much more– at Black and WTF.

As we revisit our family albums, we might recall that it was on this date in 1860 that Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th president of the United States over a deeply divided Democratic Party, becoming the first Republican to win the office.  Lincoln received only 40 percent of the popular vote but handily defeated the three other candidates: Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge, Constitutional Union candidate John Bell, and, famously, Northern Democrat and Illinois senator Stephen Douglas.

Matthew Brady’s 1864 photo of Lincoln reading to his son Tad

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