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Two new sports metaphor articles, or make that three

Sunday, July 8th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — with my salutations to John Wilson, Garry Kasparov, Mike Sellers ]
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I asked the innocent-seeming question, Can one play chess on a checkers board? on FaceBook today, and the conversation veered to the topic of hierarchies of games — is chess inherently superior to checkers, for example, so that playing chess on a checkers board seems ok, but the idea of playing checkers on a chess board is mildly offensive?

And that led to the question of a hierarchy of games, which in turn sent me scurrying for ideas of the form x is playing tic tac toe while y is playing chess and similar. In the course of my research:

I’ve seen tweets that say “Mueller is playing chess; Trump is playing tic tac toe.” and “Putin is playing Chess. Trump is playing Hungry Hungry Hippo.” I’ve seen “Cruz is playing chess and Trump is playing tic tac toe”. I’ve seen “Trump is playing tic tac toe Kim playing chess.” I’ve seen “Trump is playing tic-tac-toe while his opponents are playing four-dimensional chess, and tic-tac-toe is what wins elections.” — I’ll have to come back to that. I’ve seen “What if Kim Jong-Un is the one playing chess while Trump is playing Chinese checkers?” I’ve even seen Ann Coulter saying “Just hang on to your hats, because while you’re all playing checkers, Trump is playing 3-D chess.”

Ouch!!

And the cake-topper — Garry Kasparov, world chess chamption and Russian opposition leader:

**

I’ve also come across a popularity-based hierarchy of games, in a National Review article titled The Dominant-Sport Theory of American Politics:

I’ve seen a few cultural shifts in my day, and the first one came via early-1970s headlines proclaiming “Baseball No Longer the National Pastime,” after polls showed that football had become America’s most popular sport.

Then:

After brushing off the 1980s soccer scare, football remained unchallenged for decades.

Then:

But now football is losing fans for a number of reasons, and David French has written a splendid summary of why basketball, specifically the NBA, continues to rise in popularity.

Here’s where sports as a metaphor for politics clicks in:

A while back, Nelson George glorified basketball’s taunt-and-flaunt style as the “black athletic aesthetic,” and while Donald Trump is one of the whitest men on earth, he has clearly absorbed the essentials of this climate of thought. The chief factors of the black athletic aesthetic have been summarized as intimidation, humiliation, and improvisation, which together give a pretty good description of Trump’s style of governance.

The kicker

:I’ve said before that Trump is playing tic-tac-toe while his opponents are playing four-dimensional chess, and tic-tac-toe is what wins elections.

**

There’s plenty more of you to enjoy, but I want to bring in another article with a strong sports correlation. It’s Ann Coulter‘s piece from 28 March this year, titled 3-D Chess — It Only *Looks* Like Trump Is Throwing Away His Presidency!. It starts off with her picture, here reduced yet still large —

— and under it a subhead:

I can’t wait to see Trump’s next move in his game of “3-D chess”!

Then, expanding:

He has now signed a spending bill that, if it actually did what it claims to do, prohibits him from building the wall, hiring any new ICE agents capable of making arrests, and building any new detention facilities for illegal aliens.

The strange thing is, as commander in chief, he doesn’t need congressional authority to do any of these things. But he obviously doesn’t know that.

Why? BECAUSE HE’S PLAYING 3-D CHESS!

There’s some irony involved — or isn’t there? I am unfaamiliar with Ms Coulter’s style. Then:

It’s all part of the act, you fools! Trump is making the Democrats think that, even though they don’t have the House, the Senate or the White House, he needs Chuck Schumer’s permission before moving a muscle.

Carefully observe the master. He gives up everything and — in exchange — gets NOTHING. See?

Yup, Irony:

This shows what a master strategist Trump is. He throws out the rulebook! You know what else, suckers? Now he can put out a paperback edition with a new chapter, How to Give Up Everything in Return for Nothing.

The wins are already rolling in. Guess who’s suddenly dying to negotiate with Trump? That’s right: Kim Jong Un. One look at how Trump negotiates and Kim couldn’t wait to sit down with him.

I can’t give you all the details, but:

Thanks to Trump’s 3-D chess, he may well be in line for an endorsement not only from Boeing, but also from the powerhouse Bush family. [ ..] 3-D chess, baby! Trump has lured Republicans right into his trap.

And finally:

I can’t wait to see what comes next!

Just hang on to your hats, because while you’re all playing checkers, Trump is playing 3-D chess.

**

At which point I need something of a palate cleanser, so I’ll introduce you to a third article I stumbled on while getting this far.. in the National Review again — Donald Hall and the Nature of Time in Baseball Country. This in turn references a George Plimpton piece from the NYT titled The Smaller the Ball, the Better the Book: A Game Theory of Literature. Aha, a hierarchy afoot! Here’s Plimpton’s opening salvo:

SOME years ago I evolved what I called the Small Ball Theory to assess the quality of literature about sports. This stated that there seems to be a correlation between the standard of writing about a particular sport and the ball it utilizes — that the smaller the ball, the more formidable the literature. There are superb books about golf, very good books about baseball, not many good books about football or soccer, very few good books about basketball and no good books at all about beach balls. I capped off the Small Ball Theory by citing Mark Twain’s “Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” perhaps the most universally known of sports stories, in which bird shot (very small balls indeed!) is an important element in the plot.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t respresent my friends John Wilson and the late Bill Tunilla by suggesting that Roger Angell on baseball is as fine as anything written about golf.

ANyway, it’s the Plimpton piece I wanted to get you to, and that splendid opening paragraph. Birdshot, indeed!

Until next time..

Wittgenstein’s language games and the public sphere

Monday, May 7th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — suggesting a lessening of TV Trumpery and its critiques ]
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In a tweet earliee today, I suggested that the close reading of a text can be highly rewarding, a point I made most forcefully in Close reading, Synoptic- and Sembl-style, for parallels, patterns.

Key to a close reading is the “language” in which a given writer or speaker clothes their words.. “language” here being used both in the sense of their metaphors and forms (which is why I’ve been collecting sports and other metaphors, ouroboroi and other forms) and in the sense formulated by Witty Wittgenstein in his Philosophical Investigations (PI).

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers us a list of regular language games as Wittgenstein uses the term in PI:

reporting an event, speculating about an event, forming and testing a hypothesis, making up a story, reading it, play-acting, singing catches, guessing riddles, making a joke, translating, asking, thanking

I want to suggest that we could usefully think of language games in terms of the philosophical, ideological, partisan, religious or psychological drivers that propel them.

Further, in the case of Trump, we might observe that the language game he is playing is not the one his critics on, say, MSNBC, are basing their own critiques on.

And here’s the great advantage: once we’ve analyzed the differences between Trump’s language game and aims and those of his critics, we could close shop. We wouldn’t need this constant barrage of Fox and MSNBC news on the topic — any new utterance of his or Giulianis of note could simply be indexed to the sub-para describing that particular disjunction in language game, and basta! — the rest of the news “oxygen” would be available for the discussion of other topics.

As a subset of that para — I don’t suppose Mueller xxwill want to take every piece of “off the cuff” Trumpery as intended as real “truth” — “all that is the case” –he’ll surely see it as entertainment and distraction — chuff and chaff — and zero in on the key statements of the President’s worldview, viewing them as exemplars not of “truth” but of a language game to be analyzed and evaluated as such. Having zeroed in on these relatively few key phrases, many of the many critiques offered by Trump’s accusers.

**

Wittgenstein asks what all that we consider to be games have in common, and decides they share a family resemblance but — in my words, here — the cousins on one side of the family have little (a polite word for “nothing”) in common with the cousins at the other end of thr spectrum.

If the Olympic Games included language games in their list of sports, Giuliani‘s reference to FBI agents as stormtroopers wight win long jump gold.

Here’s Jonathan Chait in Giuliani’s FBI ‘Stormtroopers’ Smear Is the Key to Trump’s Authoritarian Mind-set”>:

In 1995, National Rifle Association president Wayne LaPierre signed his name to a fundraising letter referring to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents as “tjack-booted government thugs.” The implicit association of American federal law enforcement with fascists provoked a furor. Former president George H. W. Bush publicly resigned his NRA membership in protest; LaPierre had to apologize.

Last night, in the midst of a long, deeply incriminating interview, Rudy Giuliani called FBI agents “stormtroopers.” Here was the president’s lawyer, not an outside lobbyist, comparing federal law enforcement to Nazis directly, rather than indirectly.

Stormtrooper vs jack-booted government thugs is an interesting comparison (& makes a fine DoubleQuote), and Chait’s “implicit association of American federal law enforcement with fascist” in hth cases exemplify just the kind of language extremism we should be avoiding in our policy debates.

Chait’s continuing half-paragraph illminates the arcane workings of the media machine in processing such things:

The Washington Post’s account of Giuliani’s interview noted the remark in a single sentence, in the 30th paragraph of its story. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Politico accounts of Giuliani’s interview did not even mention the stormtrooper remark at all.

There are times I wish for sanity.

**

Okay, that was third and last in this series.. Previously:

  • On negative space in the painting..
  • On negative space, private morality in the public square
  • This:

  • Wittgenstein’s language games and the public sphere
  • Not a target, squared — plus one

    Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — Putin, Mueller, Trump, and Nada Bakos ]
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    IMO it is a pure coincidence that these two barely related headlines popped up on the same day:

    That’s “not a target” squared. Not that I generally believe in coincidence — I favor synchronicity, but admittedly switch between magical and naturalistic worldviews as suits the moment.
    **

    Sources:

  • The Week, Report: Mueller named Trump a subject, not criminal target
  • NY Times, For Russia, Trump Was a Vehicle, Not a Target
  • **

    while we’re on the subject of targets, here’s the Targeter par excellence, Nada Bakos, whose can’t wait book is currently targeted for redaction by the relevant CIA publications review office::

    Hers is the definitive al-Zarqawi-ISIS story.

    Shorts 01: Holi festivities, omertà, and so forth

    Friday, March 2nd, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — an olla podrida or highly spiced Spanish-style stew ]
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    Holi Festival:

    Today is Holi Festival for those who celebrate it, the day on which we color each other in dyes in honor of Prahlad, a child devotee of the Supreme Beloved:

    Accordingly, I wish that all may be drenched in the colors of devotion this Holi, most joyful of festivals!

    **

    Omertà:

    For a taste of something very different — there has been considerable discussion recently of Paul Manafort‘s seemingly obstinate refusal to plead to Mueller’s charges and save (salvage) at least some of his skin by becoming a cooperating witness rather than an overwhelmingly indicted criminal in the Russian influence affair.

    What I haven’t seen suggested is that the man may be following a code: specifically omerta:

    a code of silence about criminal activity and a refusal to give evidence to authorities.

    Particularly if his Mafia bosses happen to be rough and Russian.

    **

    Hope Hicks:

    There’s an intense Vox piece on the sexism to be found in a plethora of press reports on Hope Hicks. The provocative title: When does Hope Hicks get to be a “wunderkind” instead of a “former model”? And the provocative fact:

    None of this coverage mentioned the salient fact that Hicks’s modeling career spanned ages 10 to 16. She landed the Ralph Lauren deal at age 11. By 16 she had quit her part-time modeling job to focus on her true passion, lacrosse.

    I nwon’t get into the sexism issue, but that “salient fact” does seem to put much of the “former model” language in its place.

    Hick is, however, still model-style gorgeous at 29 — as seen in this photo in which she’s on her way to testify to the House Intelligence Committee:

    Given Donald Trump‘s known eye for beautiful women, isn’t Hope Hicks‘ beauty too a “salient fact”?

    **

    Language lesson

    Under the title McMaster Gives a Belated Russian Lesson, Foreign Policy introduces us to the words maskirovka — military arts by deception — and vranyo. The latter is best explained by the verbal spiral I commented on yesterday:

    A Russian friend explained vranyo this way: ‘You know I’m lying, and I know that you know, and you know that I know that you know, but I go ahead with a straight face, and you nod seriously and take notes.’

    **

    Bluff or threat?

    That’s the question Putin’s recent claims sets before us, and an item in Australian BC’s Is Vladimir Putin bluffing or should we be worried about his new ‘miracle weapons’? caught my eye — a quote from our own Nuclear Posture Review:

    its [Russia’s] “escalate to de-escalate” doctrine implies it might respond with nuclear weapons in any conventional war.

    You know my preoccupation with pattern? Okay, “escalate to de-escalate” has ann exact opposite in French:

    Now almost as familiar in English as in French, “reculer pour mieux sauter” — which I imagine is originally an equestrian show-jumping expression — means to step backwards, the better to leap (forwards).

    A Pattern Language for Strategy, check!

    **

    Trump, Guns, and Golf

    The entire text of Kevin Drum‘s Mother Jones article under that title reads:

    Hey, did Donald Trump ever sign that executive order allowing guns at all his golf resorts, like he promised to do? Just wondering.

    Well, did he?

    Kayfabe is an analog for war and love maybe, not a model

    Sunday, February 11th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — hat-tip to Ferdinando Buscema, magician and therefore cognitive science specialist extraordinaire ]
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    **

    Occasionally one reads a truly stunning article — stunning, I mean stunnng.

    Eric R. Weinstein‘s 2011 Edge answer, WHAT SCIENTIFIC CONCEPT WOULD IMPROVE EVERYBODY’S COGNITIVE TOOLKIT? is one such article, and as such I have retained the full caps in its title.

    The theoretical background is :

    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.

    **

    Which is?

    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.

      and:

      “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.

      That covers army and navy, both from Where does the phrase of “boredom punctuated by moments of terror” come from? — but what about the air? It’s not from WWI, but anyway:

      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..

      Iterated. 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:

      But “general process” — again, what’s the mnodel? And more preciseluy, what would the model look like in “stocks and flows” system dynamic form, say in STELLA? See Donella Meadows, Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System?

      **

      Or HipBone?

      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.

      Adultery?


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