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A soccer tactic and its parliamentary analog

Friday, July 13th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — a Croatian filibuster on the football field ]
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In extra time, Croatia’s Mario Mandžuki? had a nine-minute, operatic breakdown, a syncopated series of stops, starts, and seizures, which defined the match and took it away from England.

I jeep looking for sports metaphors in political reportage, and now, in a New Yorker article titled World Cup 2018: The Tragicomic Opera of Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic I find out all about players feigning cramps as a delaying tactic when games go into overtime —

— and it’s a clear analog of the Senate’s filibuster tactic. Either one could be a metaphor for the other, soccer for politics or vide versa.

**

Sources:

  • New Yorker, The Tragicomic Opera of Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic
  • US Senate, Filibuster and Cloture
  • **

    Oh, and, The England vs. Croatia World Cup Match Made for Some Awkward Television:

    One segment of the pre-game show was given over to a National Geographic Channel report on Russian Buddhism. If this was intended as outreach to soccer fans so ardent that they always burn in suffering, then perhaps it did some spiritual good. But, as an effort at a culture-enriching sideshow, it was unsuccessful, so out of sync with the analysis and hype surrounding it as to be charming. The correspondent said to the monk, “O.K., so, if everything is an illusion, what’s truth, then?”

    I couldn’t exactly miss that, given my interests, could I?

    GeoPol, the White House & Game Theory in the New Yorker

    Wednesday, July 4th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — popularizing game theory as a means of understanding significant currents in world affairs ]
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    You may pick up a few details about the origins of game theory and Prisoners Dilemma, but apart from that, the basic outlines offered by two Bew Yorker articles won’t contain too many surprises. What’s interesting is the role the New Yorker plays as a disseminator of knowledge: game theory, if I may put it this way, is joining the wider conversation.

    **

    In May this year, the New Yorker carried John Cassidy‘s piece, How Game Theory Explains the Leaks in the Trump White House.

    Here’s the game theoretical background:

    In 1950, Albert Tucker, a mathematician at Princeton, gave a talk to a group of Stanford psychologists about the rapidly developing science known as game theory. To illustrate one of his arguments, he invented a story about two criminals who had been arrested for a crime they had committed jointly.

    In the story, the police interrogate the two prisoners separately. The prisoners have no means of communicating with each other, but they both understand that, if they each deny the crime, they will be charged with a much less serious offense, which carries a short prison sentence (one year, say). If they both confess, they will get a heavier punishment (five years). If one confesses to the crime and the other insists that he is innocent, the one who confesses will be let off, and his accomplice will get an even heavier punishment (ten years). Tucker posed the question: Should the men confess or deny?

    When first confronted with this story, many people think that both criminals should insist on their innocence and escape with a minor conviction. The problem is that mutual denial isn’t consistent with individual self-interest. Take the first prisoner. If he believes that his accomplice is going to deny the crime, he can confess and get off scot-free. If he believes that his accomplice is going to confess, he should certainly confess, too, or he will end up receiving the heaviest punishment of all. In the language of game theory, confessing is a “dominant strategy.” Regardless of which strategy the other players adopt, it is the most rational option to choose. But it ends up producing a bad outcome for both players: five years in prison. If they had both stuck to mutual denial, they would have got just one year.

    Then, the political application:

    What does all this have to do with the Trump White House? Quite a lot, it turns out.

    The issue is White House leaks, and game theory can explain the why of them:

    Ever since Trump became President, the White House has leaked like a sieve. “The leaks come in all shapes and sizes: small leaks, real-time leaks, weaponized leaks, historical leaks,” Jonathan Swan, Axios’s White House correspondent, wrote this week. “Sensitive Oval Office conversations have leaked, and so have talks in cabinet meetings and the Situation Room. You name it, they leak it.” Mike Allen, Swan’s colleague at Axios, says, “we learn more about what’s going on inside the Trump White House in a week than we did in a year of the George W. Bush presidency.”

    That may well be true, and game theory provides one explanation. By deliberately creating a factionalized, dog-eat-dog culture inside the White House, one that mimics how he ran his business and the premise of his reality-television show, Trump has turned the people who work for him into White House versions of the prisoners in Tucker’s story. With this in mind, it is to be expected that so many White House staffers would take actions that are damaging to the Administration, such as leaking explosive information.

    One description of the internal conflicts in the WHite House:

    “You have to realize that working here is kind of like being in a never-ending ‘Mexican Standoff,’ ” a White House official explained to Swan. “Everyone has guns (leaks) pointed at each other and it’s only a matter of time before someone shoots. There’s rarely a peaceful conclusion so you might as well shoot first.”

    The questionably named Mexican standoff, in which several bandits with guns confront each other at close quarters, is just another version of the prisoners’ dilemma. Imagine yourself in the unfortunate position of being a White House official. If you believe your rivals are about to leak some damaging information, getting it out first is a rational form of self-defense. But, even if you don’t think a rival leak is coming, there is an incentive to spread damaging information about your opponents. Just like confessing, leaking is a dominant strategy.

    So, Mexican Standoff, Prisoners Dilemma. The impossible solution?

    In terms of game theory, you need to alter the rewards and punishments that individual staffers perceive to be attached to their actions, so that coöperation, rather than backstabbing, emerges as an equilibrium strategy.

    And Cassidy’s conclusiom:

    The prisoners’ dilemma illustrates how the process works. But, in this case, it could be renamed the Trump dilemma. He created it.

    **

    Okay, the second New Yorker piece, by Adam Davidson, Is Michael Cohen Turning on Donald Trump? — dated July 2nd, which triggered this post:

    Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen appears to be playing out the Prisoner’s Dilemma with the President in the most public and consequential way possible.

    The most famous game-theory formula was developed in 1950, by two mathematicians, Melvin Dresher and Merrill Flood. But it was only later that another mathematician gave it the catchy name that made it famous: the Prisoner’s Dilemma. The idea is simple: two accused criminals have been arrested and are being interrogated separately. If they both stay silent, they’ll both get a year in jail. But, if one rats out the other, he could get away scot-free while his accomplice would spend three years in jail. The optimal outcome, in terms of total time served, is for both to remain silent. But, as Drescher and Flood posited, there is enormous likelihood that each will rat out the other. There are endless variations of the formula, tweaking the costs and benefits of silence and confession, but the core insight remains: if two people whose interests are mutually dependent on the actions of the other don’t fully trust each other, and don’t have the opportunity to secretly coördinate, they will end up behaving in ways that hurt both of them.

    President Donald Trump and his former attorney Michael Cohen are currently playing out the Prisoner’s Dilemma in the most public and consequential way possible

    That’s enough to get you started.

    **

    And my motive for writing this post? As I said in On two, one, seven plus or minus, and ten – towards infinity:

    When I worked as senior analyst in a tiny think-shop, my boss would often ask me for an early indicator of some trend. My brain couldn’t handle that — I always needed two data points to see a pattern, and so I coined the mantra for myself, two is the first number.

    These twin New Yorker articles mark a tidal level in the dissemination of knowledge: political scientists andd strategists already know this stuff, but the New Yorker now feels that bright orchestral musicians, humanities teachers, and media mavens, charity workers and foreign affairs correspondents — a few quick guesses at their readership, which must be large and various — are ready and thirsty to add it to their cconceptual vocabulary. That’s a quietly interesting marker in itself.

    **

    Oh ah, the New Yorker on July 2 also had a piece titled Will North Korea Play Nuclear Hide-and-Seek with Trump?. I suppose I’d best be on the loookout for other hide-and-seek references. Irony, n’dst ce pas?.

    Whether, weather or not you believe in climate change

    Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — in thunder, lightning; in darkness, light; in the eye of the hurricane.. ]
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    Weather or weather:

    **

    Sources:

  • CNBC, Powerful nor’easter ‘bomb cyclone’
  • WaPo, D.C. lawmaker says recent snowfall caused
  • **

    We don’t need the details of the two articles, or of other coverage such as the New Yorker’s Bomb Cyclones, Nor’easters, and the Messy Relationship Between Weather and Climate — the top panel headline deals with the weather-weather, the regular day to day no need to look further weather, but the lower panel headline lets in alternate, nay Biblical, spiritual explanations — and with that freedom I’ll fly to a consideration of atmosphere and atmosphere — the one measured by the barometer, the other an intangible presence in a room —

    For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

    **

    That’s Bibical, too — but it may apply, probably does indeed, to those of other and various flocks.. the joyful givers of any denomination, belief or disbelief.

    YMMV, of course. But read this:

    In his correspondence with Suzuki (the two finally met in New York in 1964), Merton refers to the doctrine of analogy in Aquinas by which it was just as legitimate , in one sense, to say of God that he is non-being as to affirm God is being, since God so transcends being as we know it that any attribution of being as we know it would mislead. Merton was quite taken by the mystical tradition of a kind of un-knowing in our contemplation of God. He said to Suzuki: “I have my own way to walk and for some reason Zen is right in the middle of wherever I go. If I could not breathe Zen, I would probably die of asphyxiation.” He also told Suzuki: “Speaking as a monk and not a writer, I am much happier with ’emptiness’ when I do not have to talk about it.” Merton and Suzuki exchanged manuscripts and books and eventually engaged in a written dialogue which appears in Merton’s posthumously published book, Zen and the Birds of Appetite.

    I cannot believe that between Merton the Trappist monk and Suzuki the man most responsible for introducing zen to the west, the I am was not resonant in the air between them.

    Catchall post for comments with form

    Saturday, December 30th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — ouroboric and boustrophedonic news aggregated for yr edification ]
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    this is certainly tne essential Ouroboros, no?

    **

    Okay, first, several examples of serpent-bites-own-tail comments:

    How a Liberal Scholar of Conspiracy Theories Became the Subject of a Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory

    That’s pretty straightforward — and this:

    A sample headline in the Netherlands: “The new Trump Ambassador to the Netherlands, Pete Hoekstra, lies about his own lies.”

    **

    Then there are Mueller-specific ouroboroi:

    One of Trump’s lawyers said the president’s legal team wants a second special counsel — one to investigate the investigators..

    And:

    Trump’s lawyers want a special counsel to investigate special counsel Robert Mueller:

    Donald Trump’s legal team has suggested appointing another special counsel to investigate the existing special counsel, Robert Mueller, who is probing the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia.

    One commenter went a level farther, opining:

    there should be a Special Counsel to investigate the Special Counsel which is investigating the Special Counsel. When concluded, the Special Counsel investigating the Special Counsel, which is investigating the Special Counsel should deliver their report to a newly formed unbiased Special Counsel, which in turn should be investigated to ensure that all the investigative legalities have been adhered to.

    ??!!

    **

    Okay, enough ouroboroi — let’s approach zen from the side, with this:

    President Trump is quoted in a clip in Ari Melber‘s The Beat (MSNBC) at 2.34, “I don’t want to talk about pardon for Michael Flynn yet, we’ll see what happens.” This is followed by a Rachel Maddow clip, in which RM says, “I have a Tree Falls in the Forest question for you: “If the President issues a pardon, do we have to know about it?”

    That’s about as close to an overt koan as we are liable to find on mainstream political TV.

    Go, Rachel! But what exactly do you mean?

    **

    And ah! — we are so fotunate that Rachel is not alone in thinking thoughts of this kind.. Kaveh Akbar has a New Yorker poem, What Use Is Knowing Anything If No One Is Around:

    What use is knowing anything if no one is around
    to watch you know it? Plants reinvent sugar daily
    and hardly anyone applauds. Once as a boy I sat
    in a corner covering my ears, singing Quranic verse

    after Quranic verse. Each syllable was perfect, but only
    the lonely rumble in my head gave praise. This is why
    we put mirrors in birdcages, why we turn on lamps

    to double our shadows.

    and so forth. Thank you, Kaveh Akbar, I hear you, I hear your silent, recited Quranic verses.

    **

    I’ll add further instances of posts and comments with the formal properties I’m so fond of in the comments section as they catch my eye..

    Boustrophedon reference, plus Orpheus

    Friday, September 1st, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — party time! — i have a strange sense of party, oxen invited ]
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    I’m delighted to note a Boustrophedon reference. first by a poet, naturally, Ange Mlinko, in her poem:

    A levitating anvil. Omen of seagull
    Blown inland. Ranch gate said riverstyx,
    but it was the woodland that looked lethal:

    no place to put down your foot. Bucolics
    demand boustrophedon.

    — then in the New Yorker cmmentary by Dan Chiasson:

    Art imitates life imitating art: “boustrophedon” describes the path that a plow takes as it moves back and forth in a field, the same serpentine path followed by rivers and by classical manuscripts that alternate between left-right and right-left lines of text. Soon, our contemporary Eurydice in the wrong footwear makes the momentous decision to “shed her red wedge / with its Mary Jane band.” Orpheus, who knows how the story ends, steps in to mansplain her error.

    Boustrophedon — plus Orpheus!

    **

    You remember how obsessed I am with boustrophedon?

    **

    Yes indeed, something to watch out for.


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