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Recommended Reading

Monday, November 14th, 2016

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Time for a really must-read pair of posts about the election and the reaction to the election.

T. Greer of Scholar’s Stage examines the reasons, causes, culprits and cure for what I would characterize as the post-election epistemic collapse of the American establishment in DC and the media and among activist liberals nation-wide.

They can also be read very much with the ideas of John Boyd’s OODA Loop foremost in mind. Another thing to recall would be the shocking NYT piece based on interviews with Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser and off-the-record narrative weaver. In retrospect, it now looks much less shocking.

The Time Has Come to Give Up the Lie 

….The lies went like this. Hillary Rodham Clinton is a wonderful and visionary person. She is a representative for women across the world, an extraordinarily talented politician, and a true example of what makes America great. Clinton’s words are inspiring. Her political judgement is beyond reproach—in fact, given current national conditions, her political instincts are ideal. She is a good listener. She is in touch with the concerns of the nation and its ordinary people. She is a woman of the future. History is on her side.

This lie both enabled and was enabled by others: America’s economy is only getting better; because of her predecessor’s efforts, the country’s future is bright. Americans look forward to that future. Only those deceived by Fox News and the “Alt-right” could believe otherwise. In fact, if you didn’t realize it yet, the few thousand twitterers known as the ‘Alt-right’ are a critical part of the enemy coalition; when normal Americans hear about this new political force, they will care about it, remember it, and feel threatened by it. Demographics is destiny. Hispanic voters will be an electoral force to be reckoned with. Gender will be a deciding factor in this election. The concerns of working class whites do not deserve to be addressed; really, it’s an open question whether that demographic even needs to be respected. Jim Webb and Bernie Sanders were out of touch. The media isn’t actually filled with the lap dogs of the DNC. The DNC isn’t actually filled with the lap-dogs of the Clinton campaign. Clinton’s victory is so sure that she should be spending her time in Arizona and Georgia, not in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The Democratic Party is in the best shape it has ever been in. Sharing John Oliver videos makes a difference.

It was all a lie.


Time for some truths:

And Greer’s follow up Winning the Popular Vote While Losing Grip on Reality

There has been a bit of push back to my last post. A lot of it revolves around this fact: Donald Trump did not win the popular vote. Others point out that if the vote had shifted 1-2% in favor of Clinton, Trump’s stunning electoral sweep would never have happened.

That’s all true. It is also irrelevant.


When I say that large parts of the press and the Democratic establishment have lost grip on reality, I am not saying they are less in touch with ‘the popular will’ than team Trump was. Were you to line up the entire country and rank them by their preference for Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton, the median individual (though repulsed by both candidates) would probably lean towards the latter. That is undoubtedly true for the median voter.


It is also utterly irrelevant.


The American presidency is not decided by a popular vote. It has never been decided by a popular vote. The win must come in the electoral college. Hillary Clinton knew this. Her goal was always to win the electoral college. She organized a gargantuan super-PAC network, spent a billion dollars, hired thousands of staffers, mobilized tens of thousands of volunteers, launched one of the biggest get-out-the vote campaigns in this country’s history, and cajoled or inspired thousands of newspapers and media-hands to endorse her in order to win the electoral college. The battle she chose to fight was always about winning a certain alignment of electoral votes.


The problem is not that Clinton lost this battle. The problem is that no one had any idea that the loss was coming. Or that the loss was possible. Or even where the battle would be fought. Clinton, her team, the vast media apparatus that had grown up around it—all were soaking in the same cesspool of self-deceit. The election has shown them all for what they are: an insular network of operators and opinion-makers charmed by their own cleverness and enthralled with their own moral certitude, more comfortable exchanging clever quips and flattering platitudes than confronting the world outside of their carefully constructed echo-chamber.


To put it another way: in this election, narrative building trumped strategy making. Narrative building trumped reporting. It trumped honest assessments of the facts. It trumped everything except Trump himself.


It needs to stop.

Read the rest here.

An associative algorithm from teh Amazon

Saturday, October 15th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — ISIS advertizes! — and riding on Berger & Stern’s coattails at that — sad ]
.

The artificial intelligence behind Amazon‘s selection of books he might be interested in surprised JM Berger — co-author with Jessica Stern of the excellent ISIS: The State of Terror — today, by recommending Be Happy Like ISIS: The secret to success that will change your world view (The Code Breakers Book 1) as something that might interest readers of his book.

Unbelievable. I checked my own Amazon account, and found this:

isis-book-dq

That’s from the “Sponsored Products Related To This Item” section of the Amazon page on JM’s book. Right at the bottom of that screenshot, I found this:

sponsored

**

See also:

  • Of Anwar al-Awlaki and Bold Christian Clothing
  • The intelligence of algorithms
  • On the foolishness of some current algorithms
  • As I said recently in Japanese joinery: DoubleQuoting with wooden blocks:

    One of my own aims has been to generate — or begin the generation of — a similar anthology of “DoubleQuotes” (conceptual twinnings) illustrating the methods of associative connection available in the realms of language and the aural and visual arts.

    So here’s another example, belonging in another category — a commercially-sponsored algorithm linking two books it “believes” might of of interest to a common audience. One is a rigorous examination of ISIS history, use of online propaganda, and apocalyptic rhetoric. The other is an example of that propaganda, skilfully contrived with keywords like “happy”, “secret to success” — and even “code-breakers” — in its title, to propagate itself on Amazon despite its pro-terror slant. Puerile.

    Feh!

    Recommended Reading—Summer 2016

    Monday, July 11th, 2016

    [by J. Scott Shipman]

    Storm of Creativity2017

    wright-brothers-biographyserendipities

    Paradisejssundertow

    white horsewashington

     

    The Storm of Creativity, by Kyna Leski

    2017 War With Russia, by General Sir Richard Shirreff

    The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough

    Serendipities, Language and Lunacy, by Umberto Eco

    Paradise, Dante Alighieri, translated by Mark Musa

    Undertow, by Stanton S. Coerr

    The White Horse Cometh, by Rich Parks

    Washington The Indispensable Man, by John Thomas Flexner

    This list starts the first week of May, so perhaps the title should be Spring/Summer. Most of these books are quick reads and all are recommended.

    I picked up Ms. Leski’s book at an MIT bookshop on a business trip in early May and read on the train ride home. Books on creativity are ubiquitous, but Ms. Leski takes an interesting approach by describing the creative process using the metaphor of a storm. Several ZP readers will find of interest.

    2017 was recommended by a friend. The author was the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the book focuses on a Europe/NATO response to a Russian invasion of the Baltics. Written in a Tom Clancy-like style, the plot is fast-paced even though the good general provides sometimes provides detailed insights into the inner workings of NATA and the North Atlantic Council (this is one of the values of the book—bureaucracy writ-large).

    David McCullough’s Wright Brothers delivers an approachable and human accounting of the first men of powered flight. Some reviews on Amazon complain McCullough lifts and uses too many quotes to tell the story. At times the quotes were distracting, but not enough to prevent the enjoyment of the story of two brothers who changed the world. This book was a gift otherwise I probably would not have read.

    Serendipities is a short book, but was a long read for me. Eco explains how language and the pursuit of the perfect language has confounded thinkers since time immemorial. He refers to Marco Polo’s unicorn (also used in his Kant and the Platypus which is excellent) explaining how language is often twisted to meet a preconceived notion or idea. The first couple of chapters were quite good, chapters three and four did not hold my interest or were over my head. The closing chapter was good enough to convince me I’ll need to read this little book again. (My Eco anti-library has been growing of late.)

    Eco’s book led me to reread Musa’s excellent translation of Paradise. My son gave me the deluxe edition with parallel Italian and English, plus commentary. Eco referenced Canto 26 and 27, and I enjoyed the break so much I read the whole thing!

    Undertow is my good friend Stan Coerr’s second book of poetry.  His first book Rubicon was a moving collection of poetry of men at war. Undertow deals more with the heart and is quite good, too. You won’t be disappointed.

    White Horse is also a book by an old friend, Rich Parks (we’ve known each other since the mid-80’s). White Horse is self-published and in places it shows, but the overall story is quite good for a first book (I’ve already told him his book would make an excellent screenplay.). The plot is quick and entertaining even if a bit unbelievable, but the story is fiction. Rich is following up with a sequel in August in 2016 and I’ll be reading it, too.

    Mr. Flexner’s Washington was a gift, too. In this quick biography Washington is made approachable and human. And when I say “quick,” I mean quick…Trenton and Princeton took one chapter compared to David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing which took up a standalone book. If someone were looking for a first Washington biography, this would be a good place to start.

    This isn’t the conclusion of my summer reading, but a pretty good start.What are  you reading this summer?

    About those angels hiding in the wings & winds

    Saturday, July 9th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — John Donne, Kepler, and the transition from natural philosophy to science — & beyond ]
    .

    Here’s a DoubleQuote for you:

    Donne Keppler DQ

    This isn’t futuristic strategy, but it is futures thinking.

    There was an extraordinary transition that took place when natural philosophy morphed into science, and while I’ve quoted John Donne’s four amazing words “round earth’s imagin’d corners” [upper panel, above] often enough as illustrating both worldviews as though seen through a conceptual equivalent of binocular vision, it was only recently via 3QD that I came across Kepler’s illustration of the elliptical orbit of Mars with its remarkable combination of angels and geometrical precision.

    I would argue that we are at the beginning of another such trasformation, in which the “horizontal” imaginative (imaginal, image-making, magical), intuitive (irrational), creative (leaping, analogical, cross-disciplinary) mode of perception will again be integrated in some new and transformative manner with the “vertical” linear, numeric-verbal, logical (rational) mode that at present so fascinates our culture — the conscious mode of thinking through with the unconscious mode of revelatory insight.

    If it is indeed the case — as suggested by the failure of Aristotelian either-or logic to support the niceties of the world seen from a quantum mechanical perspective — that we are entering a transition to a stereoscopic worldview that finally harmonizes the sciences with the arts and humanities, then a clear understanding of the earlier transition represented above in the two panels, one from Donne’s poems, one from Kepler’s treatise, will be an invaluable guide to what lies ahead.

    **

    Sources:

  • John Donne, At the round earth’s imagin’d corners
  • James Blachowicz, There Is No Scientific Method
  • **

    Edited to add:

    For an in-depth account of salient aspects of that first transformation, see Ioan Couliano‘s great book Eros and Magic in the Renaissance.

    Orlando & Charleston: Lawfare raising questions

    Friday, June 17th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — “Orlando Thoughts Towards a Better Taxonomy of Mass Violence” and “White Hate but Islamic Terror?” ]
    .

    Recommended readings:

    Two pieces from the Lawfare blog offer us plenty to chew on regarding our categorization of violent acts, triggered by Orlando and Charleston, Thomas Mair and Dylann Roof.

    Benjamin Wittes
    , Orlando Thoughts Towards a Better Taxonomy of Mass Violence:

    I have been struck, however, by the range of people who have seen confirmation of their particular worldviews in this horrific event, some plausibly in my view, some not:

  • To the LGBT community, understandably enough, it’s about violence against gays.
  • For many Latinos, a salient fact is that the victims were overwhelmingly Latino, many of them Puerto Rican.
  • To those who believe our society is too heavily armed, this latest mass shooting proves they were right about gun availability.
  • For those who believe our society is insufficiently armed, this latest mass shooting proves they were right about more good guys needing guns.
  • For those who are anxious about foreign terrorism, the shooter’s claimed allegiance to ISIS places this on the long list of attacks and attempted attacks by ISIS and Al Qaeda and those they inspire.
  • To the Trumpists and others who don’t like Muslims, it’s all about Islam more generally.
  • To those who have a problem with immigration, well, the shooter is the child of immigrants from Afghanistan.
  • Apparently it’s also about the surveillance debate.
  • I even saw one tweet—the logic of which I admit I could not follow—blaming the incident on white supremacy.
  • I’m pretty sure that the shooter’s aim was not to validate anyone’s preexisting political stance.

    and:

    To be sure, sometimes legal path dependencies do arise out of our categories. Most importantly, the criminal laws on material support for terrorist groups don’t apply to domestic terrorist organizations, only designated foreign terrorist organizations. And the law presumptively treats as terrorism those crimes committed with bombs, but does not do the same with crimes committed by domestic individuals or groups with guns. (For an excellent explication of these points, see this piece by Jane Chong.)

    But the more important impact of our taxonomical confusion, in my view, is intellectual, not legal: We just don’t know what to call an incident of (a) mass murder (b) by means of a gun (c) in which motive is unclear or mixed but involves clear elements of (d) bigotry, (e) mental illness, and (f) expressions of affiliation with a foreign terrorist group. And because we don’t know how to describe it, we also don’t know what aspects of it to prioritize in responding and preventing future such events.

    One interesting question is why we care? It’s a crime; it’s a tragedy; it’s big. Why do we fight over what to call it?

    There’s more, naturally, and I recommend the whole piece.

    **

    Wittes also links specifically to another, earlier Lawfare post..

    Jane Chong, White Hate but Islamic Terror? Charleston, Hate Crimes and Terrorism Per Quod:

    Netizens have taken particular interest in contrasting the immediate reaction to Charleston with the immediate reaction to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. Presumably these two attacks have emerged as fertile subjects for comparison partly because of the early dearth of evidence that either alleged perpetrator had official ties to or an operational role in a designated terrorist organization.

    South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is among those who have been singled out for his disparate treatment of Charleston and Boston. Commenting on what the Charleston shooting might signify for his home state, Senator Graham described Roof as “one of these wacked out kids” and stated, “I don’t think it’s anything broader than that.”

    This presents a sharp contrast with the views Graham espoused back in 2013 on the appropriate treatment of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: “This man, in my view, should be designated as a potential enemy combatant and we should be allowed to question him for intelligence gathering purposes to find out about future attacks and terrorist organizations that may exist that he has knowledge of, and that evidence cannot be used against him in trial. That evidence is used to protect us as a nation.”

    Judd Legum of Think Progress cited the Senator’s statements as a glaring example of our collective insistence on seeing violence motivated by Islamic extremism as a systemic threat while minimizing right-wing supremacist violence as the work of individual madmen. As Charles Kurzman and David Schanzer noted in a New York Times op-ed the day before the Charleston attack, such bias is particularly indefensible given the data: Attacks carried out by Muslim Americans account for 50 fatalities in the thirteen and a half years since 9/11, while plots by right-wing extremists have resulted in 254 fatalities between 9/11 and 2012.

    The conflation of terrorism with Islamic extremism is an undeniable error. But distinguishing Boston and Charleston need not unequivocally boil down to bias of this particular kind.

    Chong continues:

    Consider President Obama’s reactions shortly after each attack—reactions that, if read in isolation, might seem to reflect this bias. On April 16, 2013, the day after the Boston bombings, President Obama delivered a speech in which he stated the following:

    [G]iven what we now know about what took place, the FBI is investigating it as an act of terrorism. Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians it is an act of terror. What we don’t yet know, however, is who carried out this attack, or why; whether it was planned and executed by a terrorist organization, foreign or domestic, or was the act of a malevolent individual. That’s what we don’t yet know.

    Now contrast this with President Obama’s speech last Thursday, one day after the attacks in Charleston, which nowhere made mention of terrorism:

    The FBI is now on the scene with local police, and more of the Bureau’s best are on the way to join them. The Attorney General has announced plans for the FBI to open a hate crime investigation. We understand that the suspect is in custody. And I’ll let the best of law enforcement do its work to make sure that justice is served.

    Superficially speaking, there are at least two ways to read the administration’s initial decision to investigate one attack as a terrorist act and the other as a hate crime. A critic might contend that President Obama, like Senator Graham, appears to have untenably reserved the terrorist designation for Muslim extremists. Alternatively, we could take President Obama’s words at face value and recognize the weapon of choice as a critical factor in how a massacre tends to be classified when facts remain sparse and the evidence is still forthcoming. Those words again: “Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians it is an act of terror.”

    And so our inquiry evolves. Is Dylann Roof being widely portrayed as a hater and not a terrorist because, based on the available evidence, he is a white supremacist and not a Muslim extremist? Or is it because his weapon of choice was a gun and not a bomb?

    Again, I’d encourage you to read the whole piece.

    **

    As an addendum, if you want some thoughtful consideration of Thomas Mair, the (alleged) killer of the British MP Jo Cox, you way want to read Barth’s Notes on the topic:

    Richard Bartholomew, Some Notes on Claims about Thomas Mair


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