Re: (OPE-L) nautical digression

From: Michael Williams (michaelj.williams@TISCALI.CO.UK)
Date: Mon Apr 19 2004 - 09:05:37 EDT

> -----Original Message-----
> From: OPE-L [mailto:OPE-L@SUS.CSUCHICO.EDU] On Behalf Of Gerald A. Levy
> Sent: 29 March 2004 23:29
> Subject: (OPE-L) nautical digression
> Ahoy Michael W!
> [Michael Williams] ... In a CJE article I once
> >  used a metaphor that might appeal to Cap'n Jerry: History is like
> > dead-reckoning in ocean navigation: jolly useful in telling you how you
> > got to where you THINK you are. But to grasp where you are going it
> > is necessary to get a fix on where you are by reference to geographical
> > or heavenly features: the 'fixed point of the system just so it still is
> > THE system. Then we dead-reckon again as we are buffeted by the
> > storms of contingency.  ("Events  dear boy, events", as conservative
> > PM Harold Macmillan - I think - was alleged to have said in response
> > to aquestion about why the conservative government's policy wasn't
> > where they thought it was.)
> ...
> To begin with, a good sailor never trusts completely in their dead
> reckoning.  As you say, dead reckoning tells you where you think you
> are but a miscalculation of  tide, current, leeway, speed made good, etc.
> can all mislead a trusting sailor.
[Michael Williams] Of course
  [Michael Williams] ...
> a sailor is only reassured by a positive "fix."  Even then, buoys may
> have moved, light and/or sound characteristics of lighthouses may have
> changed,  shoreside distinguishing features may have changed  or
> might be confused with other similar-looking points on land, etc. In
> any event, whether dead reckoning or celestial navigation is used, the
> sailor relies on a chart. Alas, we have no accurate charts nor compass
> to help guide us away from the reefs of political economy and into the
> snug harbor of an egalitarian society.
[Michael Williams] Well, VFS tries at least to indicate where be dragons and
hostile inhabitants, and where water is potable, in order to improve the
chances of a safe journey
> As for ocean navigation, note that there is more margin for
> error than while coasting.  Contrary to the belief of lubbers, good
> sailors know that there are far more dangers near the land: the
> motto should be 'respect the sea but *fear* the land!', laddie.
[Michael Williams] Of course
  As for
> celestial navigation:  while a knowledgeable sailor using an accurate
> sextant and chronometer and nautical almanac (including 'reduction
> tables' -- aye -- thar's a 'reduction problem' that we haven't yarned
> about) and chart can determine her or his position (conditions
> permitting) with reasonable accuracy any place on the ocean, the
> entire system is built on a fallacy: i.e. celestial navigation assumes
> that
> the sun, the other planets, and the stars revolve around the Earth!
> It thus begins with a false premise yet nonetheless can be used to arrive
> at accurate results.  I wonder if that's like beginning with
> transcendental
> idealism ....
[Michael Williams] That's just rude! Surely we are all working towards
reliable, cheap and portable GPS's so that everyone can find out where they
are as a prelude to realising they want to be somewhere else?
Salty greetings,
[Michael Williams] 

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