Venice is a space station

campo san barnaba space station 2015-10-20 10.21.20

Venice is a space station.

Hear me out. I’m not saying this just to accept the Mary McCarthy Challenge (“Nothing can be said here (including this statement) that has not been said before.”).

The picture above is of the Campo San Barnaba. You can just see a boat in green, with some carts in front of it.

Those carts are for trash. Venetians put out their trash every day in bags, and carts like those are pushed by hand to come along and pick them up. The mechanical arm that’s also just visible on the boat picks up the cart, the bottom falls out, and the trash goes into the hold of the boat.

Why?

Because everything in Venice comes in by boat, and everything has to go out by boat.

Yes, there’s the Piazzale Roma, where the buses come in, and its garage. But even then, to get to anyplace in the city itself, it has to be transferred to a boat.

The fire department (Vigili del Fuoco). Police. Ambulances. Groceries. Packages. Produce. Mass transit. All of these we saw as boats, at one point or another on our visit.

The boats orbit the city, like a hazy swarm of fireflies.

And if the boats are the shuttle pods of the city, the railway coming into Ferrovia Santa Lucia is the space elevator. Tying the city to the mainland by means of the causeway.

Others have commented on how Venice is without cars. That carlessness also plays into the space station nature of the town — one is forever going up and down stairs, down narrow passageways, seeing the boats just in the corner of one’s eye, or one rides on the vaporetti through the tunnels of the Grand Canal, the Giudecca Canal, or the northern edge by the Fondamenta Nove.

Another aspect that’s like a space station is how Venice is fully urbanized, edge to edge of the archipelago. Others have commented on this, but it makes the calli and canali seem all of a piece, all going to the skin where Venice meets the laguna.

Venice is of the Earth, but not on the Earth. Tethered, but floating. That it floats on water instead of in space is immaterial.

Venexia is a space station.

Putin’s bathtub force

Russian_Federation_Navy

The image above is a summary provided by the US Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence in their new report, the first made publicly available since 1991.

Here’s their account of the Black Sea Fleet:

4 submarines
1 cruiser
1 destroyer
2 frigates

That’s it. That’s what Putin seized Crimea for. 8 warships.

Here’s how the US Navy defines a single Carrier Strike Group:

* a carrier — The carrier provides a wide range of options to the U.S. government from simply showing the flag to attacks on airborne, afloat and ashore targets. Because carriers operate in international waters, its aircraft do not need to secure landing rights on foreign soil. These ships also engage in sustained operations in support of other forces.
* a guided missile cruiser — multi-mission surface combatant. Equipped with Tomahawks for long-range strike capability.
* two guided missile destroyers — multi-mission surface combatants, used primarily for anti-air warfare (AAW)
* an attack submarine — in a direct support role seeking out and destroying hostile surface ships and submarines
* a combined ammunition, oiler, and supply ship — provides logistic support enabling the Navy’s forward presence; on station, ready to respond

So, the Black Sea Fleet is roughly equivalent to one US Carrier Strike Group. Minus the carrier, of course.

And, um, oh yes, the US has… ten of them.

Now think about what that says of Putin’s thinking regarding the readiness and utility of his other forces.

The Worm Turns

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has a fascinating post up, “Why Russia calls a limited nuclear strike “de-escalation””.

See, the US (and NATO more broadly) developed the category of “tactical” nuclear weapons in the 1980s to counter perceived USSR conventional superiority. (Notably the Pershing II missile, from 1981-89.) The Soviets were having none of that — their stated policy was that any use of nuclear weapons would be considered a full-on strategic strike, and would be retaliated against accordingly.

In our time, though, the Russians are saying they might resort to tactical nuclear strikes, because of US conventional superiority, as demonstrated in Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.

“De-escalation,” indeed.

(h/t, Elisabeth Eaves, on Twitter.)

The Emperor Sans Chemise

From my comments to this post at The American Interest:

“President Obama views Putin as a leader who “was operating from a position of weakness.” This is right, but only if you take the long view: This type of regime is destined to fall eventually, but for the time being Putin has an 82 percent approval rating; he hardly looks or feels weak.”

No, Russia, and Poutine (I use the French spelling, because it more closely matches the Russian pronunciation) are incredibly, tactically weak.

Why did Poutine take Crimea? Because he wanted to protect the Black Sea “Fleet,” and thought it was a valuable enough asset to cause a fuss over. Have you looked at the Black Sea “Fleet”? It’s about the size of a single US Navy carrier group – minus the carrier, of course. Mark Galeotti has said he thinks it could lose a fight against the Italians. The fact that Poutine invaded another country to be certain to hold on to such an asset that is both so valuable to him he doesn’t feel he can afford to lose it, yet so weak it has no real tactical value, says volumes. It says his other assets are even worse.

The Russians fought Chechnya — and it took years to get to a standoff. The Russians fought a virtually disarmed Georgia — and it still took a week. And that’s before we talk about Afghanistan, which provides a fine illustration in the difference between withdrawing (what the US is doing), and retreating (which the USSR was forced to do, leaving tons of matériel behind).

Poutine is an Emperor without any clothes. And the photographs to match.

The Russians Are Coming!

Daniel Drezner has a post at Foreign Policy about the (supposedly) recently discovered Russian spy ring.

He’s less than impressed.

Here’s what I just posted in a comment to him (quotes from his post are in italics):

*^*^*^*

“(I)s there anything that the Russians gathered from this enterprise that a well-trained analyst couldn’t have picked up by trolling the interwebs?”

Probably not, but that may well be the point.

That is, it’s one thing to find information on the interwebs. It’s another thing entirely to verify it.

In fact, given that 80-90% of all intel gathered is “open source intelligence” (ie, gathered from non-secret sources), I think one purpose of this group may have been to establish a control set against the images in the press and in entertainment media. The Russians may have been asking, “How real are those images?” and trying to set up “everyday” people to compare them against.

Come to think of it, that might not be so bad a project for us.

“Why were the arrests made now?”

That’s a real puzzler, as is any prosecution against spies. Standard practice is, once you ID a spy, you feed them disinformation to then pass along to their controllers. One of the few rationales I can think of (pay attention, this might be tricky):

* We have a source in Russia
* Who told us they have a source in the US
* Who’s told them we’ve discovered this ring
* So we had to blow the ring to protect our source in Russia, as prosecution is what we’d be “expected” to do.

“(T)his sounds like a low-rent, more boring version of that movie.”

* Movies are intended to look expensive — life isn’t
* Movies are intended to not be boring — life isn’t

You’re basically saying that since reality doesn’t match a movie plot scenario (see Schneier), it’s reality that must be wrong. Er, ah, no. All this points out is how crappy movie plots are vis-à-vis reality. It also points out how dangerous movie plots are when we let them set expectations as to what intel “really” is. (Which is why 24 has probably done more damage to our intel enterprise than any other single thing in the most recent ten years.)

If you wanted to make as realistic a TV series about intel as possible, it’d probably resemble Dilbert or The Thick of It more than anything else. Or it would be The Sandbaggers, which was made 30 years ago.