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Sunday surprise — Xanatos and other Gambits, &c

Sunday, January 27th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — (some of) what gaming, TV watching & quotation mining can get you in terms of strategy ]

First off, let me thank Trent Telenko for turning me onto the Xanatos Gambit at at ChicagoBoyx, which started me on this particular chose of a gaggle of wild geese..

The Xanatos Gambit caught my eye by virtue of its decision flow chart [you start at the top]:

That’s brilliant — not a win-win play, but an i-win-anyway ploy. [Linguists — remind me whether ploy is a warped variant of play, will you?] And Trent then identifies the Xanatos Gambit as Donald Trump’s characteristic play.. ploy.

Here’s an explanatory para::

A Xanatos Gambit is a plan for which all foreseeable outcomes benefit the creator — including ones that superficially appear to be failure. The creator predicts potential attempts to thwart the plan, and arranges the situation such that the creator will ultimately benefit even if their adversary “succeeds” in “stopping” them. When faced with a Xanatos Gambit the options are either to accept that the creator will get the upper hand and choose the outcome that is least beneficial to them, or to defeat them by finding a course that they didn’t predict.


A Xanatos Gambit is a Plan whose multiple foreseen outcomes all benefit its creator. It’s a win-win situation for whoever plots it.

Here’s a quote from a source unknown to me: Cavilo, The Vor Game:

The key to strategy… is not to choose a path to victory, but to choose so that all paths lead to a victory.

Xanatos Gambit / Real Life

In the casino business they say that the house always wins, and indeed, it’s true. When gamblers lose all their money, the house gets rich, but when someone has a lucky streak and wins big, this only serves to encourage others to take more risks, which means the house will actually get even richer in the long run for having “lost” some money to a big winner. The law of large numbers is on their side, after all. This is, in short, how casinos can stay in business—they virtually always turn a profit on the actual gambling

Okay, here the geese gaggle in formation after the Gambit. Our clue:

Xanatos Speed Chess trumps Xanatos Gambits.


Xanatos Speed Chess:

Cosmo Lavish, a Terry Pratchett banker character from Discworld, saith:

Plans can break down. You cannot plan the future. Only presumptuous fools plan. The wise man steers.

I agree wholeheartedly with “You cannot plan the future” — a point I’ve made in my Art of Future Warfare entries

And since we’re in Chess territory:

The Chessmaster:

What? That I used two fourteen-year-old pawns to turn a knight and topple a king? It’s chess, Daniel. Of course you don’t understand.

Unwitting Pawn

Tend to be played by The Chessmaster, logically enough.


Well, I could go on, but let me just list some of the pages I came across, and invite you to look where your interests take you..

Gambit Roulette

A convoluted Plan that relies on events completely within the realm of chance yet comes off without a hitch.

How can anyone, even skilled conspirators, predict with perfect accuracy the outcome of a car crash? How can they know in advance that a man will go to a certain pay phone at a certain time, so that he can see a particular truck he needs to see? How can the actions of security guards be accurately anticipated? Isn’t it risky to hinge an entire plan of action on the hope that the police won’t stop a car speeding recklessly through a downtown area?

If your first reaction to seeing the plan unfold is “There is no way that you planned that!”, then it’s roulette.

The Trickster

This fellow coyote is,
fellow the road-runner is but a shadow of, is
by definition, tricky, has
a penis can cross
the Ventura freeway
in seek of skirt, whose
penis maybe run over
by fate’s own eighteen wheeler..

Poem of mine.

The Fool:

Well, I see the Fool differently:

I claim the final authority, rule
from the steps below the throne.
Kings look to me for approval, fool
that I am, for at court, I alone
see all men as wind in a cage of bone.

Another poem of mine — brought down from the attic.

A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside An Enigma

That’s Churchill, Winston:

I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.

Riddle for the Ages
Secret Identity Identity
Multilayer Facade
Gambit Pileup


There is also:

Knight Templar:

This fellow interests me because of my recent 5,000 word foray into Templar territory, Templarios: Echoes of the Templars and Parallels Elsewhere for Doc Bunker‘s next volume — but what really struck me was the quote used as an epigraph to the topic. It’s from James Baldwin:

Nobody is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart, for his purity, by definition, is unassailable.

On Mapping the Varieties of Risk

Monday, August 6th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — a theoretical question or suggestion, with serious or curious personal implications ]

This will get personal, but I’m aiming for a question or suggestion regarding the mapping of risks, in terms both of human life expectancy and of any and all other forms of risk assessment.

moments to flatline — but enough of that


Well, well, I guess some predictive nethods may be better than others. Prophecy has the divine seal of approval, so there’s really no contest except When Prophecy Fails, as Festinger had the audacity to suggest.

Fallback methods, in that event, include prediction, medical prognosis or actuarial life expectancy, mortality or maybe just morbidity, fortune-telling of various sorts — cookie, cookies, tellers, aura readings, tarot..

And for myself, personally, there are various levels of risk that if mapped together would provide a graph with several nodes — to name the obvious, geopolitical risk, life expectancy, expectancy without dialysis, and bleed out.


Let’s takee a stab.

By geopolitical risk I mean roughly what the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists implies — not the time in minutes to Doomsday, but the risk that we’ll be fried in the next year or eight, three, fifteen.. forty-eight.

The year just past proved perilous and chaotic, a year in which many of the risks foreshadowed in our last Clock statement came into full relief. In 2017, we saw reckless language in the nuclear realm heat up already dangerous situations and re-learned that minimizing evidence-based assessments regarding climate and other global challenges does not lead to better public policies.

Eight years or forty-eight?

Let’s hope Doomsday’s a long time coming, or indefinitely postponed.


Life expectancy:

actuarial life table simplified, simplified

Zeroing in, there’s my life expectancy / prognosis. A couple of years ago, a physician friend gave me (informally) fifty-fifty odds of living the year out, and revised his guesstimate upwards as the year inproved my condition. Okay, five years would get me to eighty, which considering my state of health (morbidity) may be a bit optimistic (mortality). I’ve heard of people on dialysis for sixteen years, and then there are those who get transplants..

But if for some reason, my access to dialysis was cut off, I’m told I’d have eight to maybe twelve days — and Russians toppling the grid, or the President and Congress pulling appropriate insurance might switch me from optimist to Soli Deo Gloria

— in double quick time.


And then there’s arterial bleed out, against which precautions are believe me taken. A minute? four? The equivalent, perhaps, of stepping on a jumping jack in Afghanistan? Kiss your Self goodbye.


So a number, a length of time, can be assessed for any one of these, and when people who study in the assessment of risk can give that number, backing it up with whatever persuasions they find appropriate. A number. 50-50. Three years. By my calculation, the Book of Revelation. By their calculation, the Doomsday Clock of the Atomic Scientists. What, as the younglings say, ev. But a single number, or more expansively, range.

But here’s my question: does anyone have a graphical method for mapping all the variants of risk, say the ones I listed for my personal case?

It feels a bit like a ratcheted system – failing death by nuclear annihilation or Yosemite blowing, there’s my prognosis, hopefully a matter of years. That can jum suddenly to days in the grid goes don (think Puerto Rico) — and leap toi a handful of minutes if, Black Swan forbid, a procedure fails and I’m unexpectedly bleeding out.

So does anyonbe make ratcheted graps of how one risk slips to another?

>And my suggestion, if nobody has such a mapping scheme that I could give a look-see to, is that we should think about how to make such a mapping systen=m available.

Thank you for reading, considering, responding to question or suggestion.

Probability and Risk of a Second Civil War

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

[mark safranski / “zen“]

See the source image

Fascinating post by B.J. Campbell, a stormwater hydrologist who crunches numbers for risk probabilities of flooding, who applies his tools to a simple (very simple) historical data set (hat tip Scholar’s Stage ):

The Surprisingly Solid Mathematical Case of the Tin Foil Hat Gun Prepper

….While we don’t have any good sources of data on how often zombies take over the world, we definitely have good sources of data on when the group of people on the piece of dirt we currently call the USA attempt to overthrow the ruling government. It’s happened twice since colonization. The first one, the American Revolution, succeeded. The second one, the Civil War, failed. But they are both qualifying events. Now we can do math.

Stepping through this, the average year for colony establishment is 1678, which is 340 years ago. Two qualifying events in 340 years is a 0.5882% annual chance of nationwide violent revolution against the ruling government. Do the same math as we did above with the floodplains, in precisely the same way, and we see a 37% chance that any American of average life expectancy will experience at least one nationwide violent revolution.

This is a bigger chance than your floodplain-bound home flooding during your mortgage.

Note, by using the American Revolution and the Civil War, Campbell has adopted an extremely conservative data position. Other events that would meet the threshold would include Bacon’s rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion and John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry. Possibly meriting inclusion would be Aaron Burr’s Conspiracy, Nat Turner’s Revolt and the Nullification Crisis.

….In 2010, 8.5 million tourists visited Syria, accounting for 14% of their entire GDP. Eight years later, they have almost half a million dead citizens, and ten million more displaced into Europe. They didn’t see this coming, because if they did, they would have fled sooner. Nobody notices the signs of impending doom unless they’re looking carefully.Further, the elites of a nation rarely take it on the chin. They can hop on a plane. The poor, disenfranchised, and defenseless experience the preponderance of the suffering, violence, and death. They’re the ones that should be worried.
Pretend you’re someone with your eyes on the horizon. What would you be looking for, exactly? Increasing partisanship. Civil disorder. Coup rhetoric. A widening wealth gap. A further entrenching oligarchy. Dysfunctional governance. The rise of violent extremist ideologies such as Nazism and Communism. Violent street protests. People marching with masks and dressing like the Italian Blackshirts. Attempts at large scale political assassination. Any one of those might not necessarily be the canary in the coal mine, but all of them in aggregate might be alarming to someone with their eyes on the horizon. Someone with disproportionate faith in the state is naturally inclined to disregard these sorts of events as a cognitive bias, while someone with little faith in the state might take these signs to mean they should buy a few more boxes of ammunition.

Americans have been insulated from untoward events such as civil wars, famines, coups, epidemics and insurgencies for so long that they forget that such things are accepted as normal if distant risks by most people on Earth. Whether you wish to dispute Mr. Campbell’s odds or reasoning in his scenario the chances are and remain non-zero.

Play: a study in contrasts

Friday, April 15th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — tree-climbing, and what to do in the utter absence of trees ]

Both these papers — which together make an amazing study in contrasts in terms both of play and risk, adult and child — come from the American Journal of Play, Volume 8, Number 2:

Tablet DQ play contrasts

Take care you don’t fall off that space station and scrape your knee..

The “refugee” koan

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — considering both sides, while tilting one way or the other ]

I call it a koan because you can flip it — there are two sides to it, and very possibly a serrated edge that it can balance on, foiling your best efforts to come up with a yes-no answer:

On the one side, Tsarnaev:

Not a Christian, BTW..


Okay, before the second shoe drops…

Consider this, from Benjamin Wittes, In Defense of Refugees today on Lawfare:

It is worth reflecting at least briefly on the security risks of turning our backs on hundreds of thousands of helpless people fleeing some combination of ISIS and Assad. Imagine teeming refugee camps in which everyone knows that America has abandoned them. Imagine the conspiracy theories that will be rife in those camps. Imagine the terrorist groups that will recruit from them and the righteous case they will make about how, for all its talk, the United States left Syria to burn and Syrians to live in squalor in wretched camps in neighboring countries. I don’t know if this situation is more dangerous, less dangerous, or about as dangerous as the situation in which we admit a goodly number of refugees, help resettle others, and run some risk—which we endeavor to mitigate — that we might admit some bad guys. But this is not a situation in which all of the risk is stacked on the side of doing good, while turning away is the safe option. There is risk whatever we do or don’t do.

Most profoundly, there is risk associated with saying loudly and unapologetically that we don’t care what happens to hundreds of thousands of innocent people — or that we care if they’re Christian but not if they’re Muslim, or that we care but we’ll keep them out anyway if there’s even a fraction of a percent chance they are not what they claim to be. They hear us when we say these things. And they will see what we do. And those things too have security consequences.

And, from a very different area of the political spectrum, this:

There’s a reason that hospitality is actually a religious virtue and not just a thing that nice people do: it is sacrificial. Real hospitality involves risk, an opening of the door to the unknown other. There is a reason it is so important in the Biblical narratives, which were an ancient people’s attempt to work out what they thought God required of them in order to be the people of God. Hospitality isn’t just vacuuming and putting out appetizers and a smile — it’s about saying, “Oh holy Lord, I hope these people don’t kill me or rape my daughters, but our human society relies on these acts of feeding and sheltering each other, so I must be brave and unlock the door.” Scary stuff. Big stuff. Ancient and timeless stuff. “You shall welcome the stranger.”

Now: is that wisdom, or foolishness?


Aha, the second shoe..

Besides Tsarnaev, who else do we know who came here as a refugee?

albert einstein non christian refugee

Einstein, no less.

And Einstein was not a Christian either, FWIW.

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