[ by Charles Cameron — Gen Mattis gives Pres Trump pause ]
Reporting that Secretary Mattis influenced President Trump regarding the number of troops in Afghanistan, WaPo made a remarkable comment that caught my eye:
In the end, Trump decided to nearly double the size of the force in Afghanistan to 15,000 troops. In announcing his decision, Trump said he was acting against his “original instinct.”
That last remark, with President Trump admitting that he’s acted “against” his celebrated flow of instinctural utterances, struck me as pretty much unique in my reading — and as akin to a pattern I’ve long had an interest in: that of knots in wood and eddies in flowing water.
The point about eddies that interests me is that they represent a reversal of flow within a larger flow-stream. And the point about Trump is that if he goes against a previously unbroken (or seldom broken) flow of some particular behavior, that’s something we should take special note of.
From here on in this post, I’m exploring matters of pattern, with no necessary relationship to Trump or natsec.
I’ve long thought of eddies as equivalent to knots in wood: now I’m not so sure — I’m learning, or at least I hope so. Eddies are commonly caused by some upstream perturbation — a rock in mid-stream, for instance, or the arrival of a flowing source in an otherwise calm body of water. It may be that the heart of a knot is some such “rock in mid-stream” in wood, in which case this “drag force” diagram may give us a better picture of the knot and eddy:
Knots in wood commonly have a vertical (oblique) dimension, as when they represent the formation of a branch or twig that’s oblique to the main trunk or branch..
In all this, we are getting close to the Karman Vortex Street which may be familiar from the cover of Gary Snyder‘s (wonderful) poetry book, Regarding Wave (a study of Snyder’s book covers would be a study in a variety of natural patterns):
or from my own favorite DoubleQuote, between the Karman Vortex Street (here represented diagrammatically) and Van Gogh’s night sky:
Ah, from wood and flowing water to the sky.
Okay, as I said, this is my learning curve this am, and I am humbled to add one more DQ to this small collection, this one featuring a Vortex like Kelvin-Helmholtz cloud formation (upper image, below):
and a lenticular cloud formation (lower image, above).
And (liquid) water.
Hey, in his far subtler and more complex way, Leonardo was a keen observer of these phenomena of flow and eddy too:
Evolutionary biologists Richard Alexander and Robert Trivers have recently emphasized that it is deception rather than information that often plays the decisive role in systems of selective pressures. Yet most of our thinking continues to treat deception as something of a perturbation on the exchange of pure information, leaving us unprepared to contemplate a world in which fakery may reliably crowd out the genuine. In particular, humanity’s future selective pressures appear likely to remain tied to economic theory which currently uses as its central construct a market model based on assumptions of perfect information.
If we are to take selection more seriously within humans, we may fairly ask what rigorous system would be capable of tying together an altered reality of layered falsehoods in which absolutely nothing can be assumed to be as it appears. Such a system, in continuous development for more than a century, is known to exist and now supports an intricate multi-billion dollar business empire of pure hokum. It is known to wrestling’s insiders as “Kayfabe”.
Evolutionary biology, okay — I have other preferences for go-to model theory, but this one seems popular among non-magical realists on the cutting edge.. and the analog proposed in this article is kayfabe.
What can be seen as “tying together an altered reality of layered falsehoods in which absolutely nothing can be assumed to be as it appears”? What, in other words, can model all these altered realities? And kayfabe cannot be the answer, since it is one of those altered realities itself. No — for sure, it may provide a superb analog for professional wrestling and those others — “war, finance, love, politics and science” — mentioned later in the piece:
Kayfabrication (the process of transition from reality towards Kayfabe) arises out of attempts to deliver a dependably engaging product for a mass audience while removing the unpredictable upheavals that imperil participants. As such Kayfabrication is a dependable feature of many of our most important systems which share the above two characteristics such as war, finance, love, politics and science.
— but it cannot model them.
Let’s take a closer look at the analogy, though:
What makes Kayfabe remarkable is that it gives us potentially the most complete example of the general process by which a wide class of important endeavors transition from failed reality to successful fakery.
That’s skirting the “model” concept again, but:
While most modern sports enthusiasts are aware of wrestling’s status as a pseudo sport, what few alive today remember is that it evolved out of a failed real sport (known as “catch” wrestling) which held its last honest title match early in the 20th century. Typical matches could last hours with no satisfying action, or end suddenly with crippling injuries to a promising athlete in whom much had been invested.
The idea was to avoid two “paradoxical risks”:
Occasional but Extreme Peril for the participants
General: Monotony for both audience and participants
Think about that in the context of war — extensive boredom punctuated by episodes of extreme risk? Try these descriptions from WWI:
Since then we have been doing infantry work in the trenches. We have been out of work on our trenches; only shrapnel and snipers. Some one described this war as “Months of boredom punctuated by moments of terror.” It is sad that it is such a bad country for cavalry.
“Months of boredom punctuated by moments of terror” : such is a description of life in the Navy which a naval lieutenant quotes as exactly fitting the facts.
In Barry Lopez’s essay “Flight” (published in About This Life and originally in Harper’s October 1995) he quotes pilots describing flying as “hours of boredom punctuated by minutes of terror.
And what of love — after, as they say, the honeymoon is over?
For that matter, and at an entirely different scale, what about the heartbeat?
That’s “boredome punctuated by excitement” in a nutshell, iterated, and becoming a (mostly) relable rhythm..
I’m unconvinced that the heartbeat is an example of “the general process by which a wide class of important endeavors transition from failed reality to successful fakery”.. And that’s a crucial element of the general process, eh? It has to do with the way in which “important endeavors transition from failed reality to successful fakery.”
I’d read that as potentially covering the transition from failed Mueller to successful Fox, if things go that way. YMMV:
I’m not convinced Mueller / Fox is a “boredom then excitement” example, much less that Mueller and Fox are allied in producing their result, whatever this may turn out to be — but Democrat and Republican, perhaps..
And my search for the abstraction, the underlying model of the general process proposed continues..
KAYFABE in Professional Wrestling tells us more:
To lift the veil on the world of professional wrestling, we need to take a look at the term ‘kayfabe‘. Kayfabe is a wrestling word coming from the early carnival days of wrestling for the word “keep”, originally used as “keep quiet”, or “keep secret”. Kayfabe is often seen as the suspension of disbelief that is used to create the non-wrestling aspects of the business, such as feuds, angles and wrestling gimmicks (or in layman terms, a wrestler’s on-screen persona from their personality down to their attire). In relative terms, a wrestler breaking kayfabe during a show would be likened to an actor breaking character on camera.
In the past, it was common for wrestlers to adhere to maintaining kayfabe in public, even when outside the ring and off-camera, in order to preserve the illusion that the competition in pro wrestling was not staged.
Kayfabe breaking as analogous to “an actor breaking character on camera”? And kayfabe transitioning from “virtual” to “real” — another of our favorite themes? Here we are again, from our first source:
Importantly, Kayfabe also seems to have discovered the limits of how much disbelief the human mind is capable of successfully suspending before fantasy and reality become fully conflated. Wrestling’s system of lies has recently become so intricate that wrestlers have occasionally found themselves engaging in real life adultery following exactly behind the introduction of a fictitious adulterous plot twist in a Kayfabe back-story.
So “wrestlers have occasionally found themselves” — wrestlers, plural, found themselves engaging, plural — in adultery? Our model needs to accomodatee this plurality along with all the rest.
There are mirrors all over the place, and smoke, too. Harvey Weinstein, Democrat and friend of Hillary; Steve Wynn, Republican finance chair and Vegas mogul: both were major fundraisers for their respective parties, both have been accused of sexual malfeasance.
If you’re a Republican and castigated Weinstein, demandung his cntributions be returned, are you now castigating Wynn, and demanding your own party returm the funds he raised? And if you’re a Democrat, and contrarywise in any way played doen the Weinstein affair, are you likewise playing down the Wynn matter?
Or is party politics making a difference?
The principle here should be, surely, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander..
Back to the deep state and its mirrors.
Hannity’s coverage was just part of a wider trend, observers say. For the past week, Fox News opinion hosts have seized on claims by some Republican lawmakers about a “secret society” at the FBI and “deep state actors” to fashion unproven narratives designed to protect Trump and delegitimize Mueller.
On Wednesday night, Hannity told viewers, “The constitutional violations are severe and historically unprecedented in this country. You have deep state actors using and abusing the powerful tools of intelligence we give them to protect this country.”
One mirror sees a parallel with sixties left radicals, the Weathermen —
Stuart Stevens, the Republican who served as chief strategist for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, had a similar view.
“In the 1960s, some rich white radicals attacked the justice system, ranted about government conspiracies and called for violent opposition,” he wrote in an email. “They called themselves Weathermen. Now the same is happening, and they call themselves conservative commentators. But it’s equally nutty.”
— nota bene, the Weathermen used violence, while thus far, the Republican conspiracists have confined themselves to virulent rhetoric.
Jennifer Rubin holds another mirror up to Republican conspiracists — Russian propaganda:
Jennifer Rubin, a conservative columnist at The Washington Post, noted to POLITICO that the points being made on shows like “Hannity” and “Fox & Friends” echo those being reportedly pushed by Russian bots on social media.
“When they turn on a dime and begin adopting the same position as Russian bots and start attacking the FBI, we’ve gone to a whole new level of crazy,” she said.
“It’s almost like Fox has become the RT, the Russia Today, for the administration and the Kremlin,” she added.
Stevens finds a parallel in the American past, and a leftist group. Rubin finds a contemporary parallel in the activities of our principal foreign enemy.
Bill Kristol doesn’t offer a mirror, but his comments are worth noting:
In a Thursday interview on CNBC, Bill Kristol, the Weekly Standard editor who was a Fox News analyst from 2002 to 2012, alleged that the channel has become increasingly conspiratorial over the past several years, saying, “Seventy-five percent of it seems to be birther-like coverage of different issues.”
Rubin said, though, that the most recent commentary is beyond anything that’s aired on the network in the past.
“The substance of what they’re saying and the conspiracy theories that are being floated are so much weirder and so much less credible than simply taking a suspicious view of the events leading up to Benghazi or questioning the motives of President Obama. There was once upon a time some factual basis for what they were looking at — some may have been drawing unreasonable conclusions and some may have been exaggerating, but here they appear to be making stuff up from whole cloth, so I do think it’s worse.”
If the Fox-faux folk heard these critiques from their Democratic rivals, they might well dismiss them out of hand. But they come from erstwhile highly respected people on their own “side” — fellow Republicans.
[ by Charles Cameron — how shall we frame this last week in Washington? ]
Sapir-Whoff, George Lakoff, Carl Jung:
I’m a firm believer of some version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis to the effect that it’s hard for us to think thoughts when the necessary vocabulary is not available to us — so that while an expert surfer can distinguish maybe 50 different kinds of waves by name, the rest of us can only manage to discern maybe five or six types. I also think, with George Lakoff, author of Don’t Think of an Elephant!, that the metaphorical framings we use has enormous impact on our conversations — so that liberals framing things in terms of the “nurturing mother” contrasting with conservatives framing in terms of the “stern father” — or DACA people being “kids who, through no fault of their own” are in this country, vs “illegal immigrants” — will tend to win or lose depending on which of those framings has the most powerful resonance among voters. Finally, I’m in agreement with Carl Jung that certain deep patterns in the unconscious, which he termed “archetypes”, have a basis in instinct [CW 6, par. 765], are explored in myth and the arts, and have extraordinary profundity and depth — so that generations are moved by the story of St Eustace out hunting, meeting a stag with the crucified between his antlers, from Albrecht Durer and Pisanello to John Fowles [in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Tree, and The Ebony Tower] and Russell Hoban [in Riddley Walker].
Pisanello, Fowles and Durer
Some words and metaphorical phrasings, then, are of significant importance. It is for that reason, then, that I’ve tried to keep abreast of at least a few of the play and game metaphors that have surfaced in the course of the last few days, while I’ve been stuck in bed without the internet, and with only the TV — and no rewind button — to keep me abreast of events.
Game and play metaphors, early:
These were the metaphors and framings I caught during my first three or four days without internet.
Reince Priebus was the one I caught using the phrase “play politics”, and White House OMB Director Mick Mulvaney said Senator Chuck Schumer “needs to up his game”. But if politics is a game politicians play, it’s a bipartisan game — both parties toss the term “game-changers” about freely, and each plays “the blame game” against the other. Indeed, Chuck Todd of Meet the Press sais “the blame game is what the two parties do best”, and Mitch McConnell said “When all the games stop, the issues are still there.” It might be nice to have no more games, with only the issues “in play”. Meanwhile, the President “has watched all this play out..”
There are, however, many more specific game and play references to be found in recent news reports, and they’re more inventive, more interesting than the generalized game references I’ve noted above. I’ll do my best to identify whatever I managed to note down, though it’s hard for me to keep track of all the details while stuck in bed watching TV. Here goes:
Chris Matthews said “I think [Sen Schumer] has all the cards.
Jennifer Rubin (WaPo) said someone, likely President Trump, “bounces around like a ping-pong ball in a wind tunnel”.
Steve Schmidt compared a politician to “Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football.”
Someone on Meet the Press said the shutdown was “the Fight Club vs the Waffle House” I’m not sure which is which, nor who’s the winner here.
Brian Williams to Nicole Wallace: “As you delicately put it, the President plays whack-a-mole rather than chess”.
later part of the week:
Senator Graham’s suggestion to Democrats then currently in negotiation, after discussing ways in which the Republican position has been evolving: “don’t overplay your hand.”
Another term I’ve heard tonight drawn from Bridge (think “Double No Trumps” and from other card games: “The president has been the wild card here”.
Regarding the Mueller investigation, Michael Steele used Shakespearean phrasing, telling Hallie Jackson: “Of all the players and actors in this drama, Sessions is the weakest link.”
Ari Melber, comparing the loyalty Trump appears to look for in his AG and senior FBI officers with Christopher Wray‘s reasons for threatening to resign if Andrew McCabe is removed: “He was threatening over the same ballpark”.
Tony Perkins, explaining thatt the Evangellical Right will no longer support Trump if he reverts to his earlier behaviors (eg his affair with a porn star), “Tony Perkins: Trump Gets ‘a Mulligan’ on Life, Stormy Daniels“: “We kind of gave him—‘All right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here,” Perkins told me.. “You know, you only have two cheeks,” Perkins says.
Lawrence O’Donnell discussing the government shutdown and his own times working in the Senate past midnight, saying there are often few options, none of them entirely satisfactory: “It’s usually a toss up”.
Carol Leonnig: “Trump’s lawyers have been squaring off” with Mueller.
Chuck Schumer before the final Senate vote to re-open the government: “The great deal-making President sat on the sidelines.”
After the vote: “The White House chose to take an aggressive victory lap.”
2020? “A far left and far right race?”
A touch of game theory, late Sunday night: “But the Democrats’ strategy in Washington’s latest game of “shutdown chicken” has some important data behind it — at least as the numbers currently sit.”
Chris Matthews won my prize for best paradox when he came up with “High Noon at midnight” — that’s not a game reference of course, but then Matthews is the guy whose program is called “Hardball”. And Ari Melber gets kudos for “eleven is the new ten” — brilliant, if you know the Spinal Tap “eleven” reference, and don’t think it’s about George Clooney and “Ocean’s Eleven”.
MTP: “the durability of institutions doesn’t matter to people in the ballgame.” DId I get that right?
Ari Melber: “we are going towards the red zone.” Yup.
Ari Melber, again: “You’ve been in these things — we call them scrums.” I’m not sure whether tjat’s a direct Rugby reference, it may come via the business methodology of that name…
Chris Matthews: “You’re losing a game of checkers, you’re losing a game, you break the board”. I may be able to get this one in context when the transcript becomes availale tomorrow — watch this space.
Carol Leonnig: “The President speaks in the language of a pugilist.” I googled “Carol Leonnig pugilist” to see if there was a transcript yet, and google supplied quotes from Leonnig about Barbara Boxer. Close, close.
Meanwhile, Trump: “Now they’re saying, “Oh, well, ‘Did he fight back? Did he fight back?’ You fight back, ‘Oh, it’s obstruction.’ So, here’s the thing: I hope so.” That’s pugilist talk, I think.
Someone, about the negotiations between Mueller and Trump’s attorneys, after the President said he’s looking forward to speaking with Mueller: “This doesn’t help if they wanted to start with a low bid.”
Brian Williams to Philip Bump of WaPo: “This isn’t your first rodeo eitther.” That one took me by surprise! Ride’em, cowboy!
Today, Trump is in Davos, and I’m still in bed, in recovery. I’ll bet there are some weak imstances here, but the overall use of sports metaphors is overwhelming — no other framing comes close. There are likely some typos here too — blame my meds, okay?
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.