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Washington’s governing elites think we’re all morons

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a study in the mighty and their lowly, knowledge and ignorance, truth and falsehood ]
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all-morons

Vice News, Washington’s governing elites think we’re all morons

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First, if you’ll permit, the simple truth:

Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them.

That’s Laurence J Peter, and it’s a quote so succinct and powerful that Jeff Conklin puts it, in large print, above the title of his pamphlet on wicked problems:

conklin-cover-wicked-problems

The simple truth is that the truth is complex, beyond the minds of elites and morons, deplorables and desirables alike.

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Next, the untruth:

The untruth is in a view down the nose from one human person at another, or at a group, a crowd, a mob — a diversity of others.

Clinton:

You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the ‘basket of deplorables’. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic – you name it.

Romney:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. .. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. .. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

Such sentiments remind me irresistably of the Magnificat — given here in my own version:

He is not one who is ashamed to show his strength,
and buffets proud folk about like leaves in a gale.
He upsets those that hold themselves high and mighty
and rescues the least one of us.
He feeds the hungry,
and tells the rich they can go fetch their own food.

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And then the nuance..

Let’s start with the fact that I’m a snob. I’m an almost equal-opportunity despiser. I prefer not to act on my snobbery, except when choosing which sorts of books and music I wish to consume, but it’s there in me, like an undertow, like an unrest.

Now we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s the setup, as described in What Washington Gets Wrong:

73 percent of government officials think the public knows little or nothing about programs aimed at helping the poor, 71 percent of them think the public knows little or nothing about science and technology policy, and 61 percent of them think the public knows almost nothing about childcare. In fact, when it comes to fundamental policy areas like social security, public schools, crime, defense and the environment, it was hard to find government officials who thought the public knew “a great deal.”

Assuming Americans know so little, government officials tend to use their own judgment rather than the people’s when making policy decisions. With issues of science and defense, more than half of officials think they should “always” or “mostly” heed their own opinions. With crime, welfare and the environment, at least 42 percent of officials who felt the same way.

Okay, first off, government officials — how well do they stack up?

This is from Counterpunch — it’s a succinct summary of a Jeff Stein piece from the New York Times:

There are very few people in the U.S. government who understand basic Islamic history or even regard it as important. In 2002 Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), the incoming chairman of the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, was asked by a reporter whether al-Qaeda was Sunni or Shiite. “Predominantly — probably Shiite,” he responded stupidly. And what about Lebanon’s Hizbollah? “Hizbollah. Uh, Hizbollah . . . Why do you ask me these questions at 5 o’clock?” He later added, “Speaking only for myself, it’s hard to keep things in perspective and in the categories.” Obviously the Intelligence Committee chairman was unaware that Hizbollah is a Shiite organization aligned with Shiite Iran and Shiite-led Syria against al-Qaeda-type Sunni Islamist forces.

Jeff Stein, the national security editor of Congressional Quarterly, wrote a New York Times op-ed in 2002 highlighting the (bipartisan) ignorance among Washington “counterterrorism officials” including key Congressional committee members about the divisions within Islam. He had asked many of them the fundamental question, “What’s the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?” and was shocked by their responses. “Most American officials I’ve interviewed,” he concluded, “don’t have a clue.” Rep. Jo Ann Davis, Republican Congresswoman from Virginia then heading the subcommittee overseeing much of the CIA’s work with Muslim assets, told Stein, “The Sunni are more radical than the Shia. Or vice versa.” (In other words, all Muslims are radical; it’s just a question of degree. Talk about Islamophobia. And talk about ignorance!)

Alabama Republican Congressman Terry Everett, head of a subcommittee on tactical intelligence, told Stein after some briefing, “I thought it was differences in their religion, different families or something. Now that you’ve explained it to me, what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult.” In 2001, after FBI counterterrorism chief Gary Bald had publicly revealed his ignorance about Islam, FBI spokesman John Miller declared such knowledge to be unnecessary, and indeed made it a point to belittle it. “A leader needs to drive the organization forward,” he told Stein. “If he is the executive in a counterterrorism operation in the post-9/11 world, he does not need to memorize the collected statements of Osama bin Laden, or be able to read Urdu to be effective. … Playing ‘Islamic Trivial Pursuit’ was a cheap shot for the lawyers and a cheaper shot for the journalist. It’s just a gimmick.”

That was in 2006, ten years after Osama bin Laden’s Decxlaration of War against the United States, and five years after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

In fact, one might say, when it comes to fundamental policy areas like defense.. government officials aren’t necessarily terribly savvy. And I’m relieved to know that by March 2014, at least, the then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey, knew that ISIS has an “apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision.”

Of course, if Dabiq falls, as it very soon many, that strategic vision may get stretched to breaking point..

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So much for government officials. What of the general population, down on whom those paragons of virtue look?

In November 2002, a year after the 9/11 attacks, according to National Geographic News:

In a nation called the world’s superpower, only 17 percent of young adults in the United States could find Afghanistan on a map, according to a new worldwide survey released today.

Ast forward to 2006, and a National Geographic-Roper Public Affairs Geographic Literacy Study of American youth between ages 18 and 24 finds:

Six in ten (63%) cannot find Iraq on a map of the Middle East, despite near-constant news coverage since the U.S. invasion of March 2003. Three-quarters cannot find Indonesia on a map ñ even after images of the tsunami and the damage it caused to this region of the world played prominently across televisions screens and in the pages of print media over many months in 2005. Three-quarters (75%) of young men and women do not know that a majority of Indonesiaís population is Muslim (making it the largest Muslim country in the world), despite the prominence of this religion in global news today. Neither wars nor natural disasters appear to have compelled majorities of young adults to absorb knowledge about international places in the news.

Of course, that’s young people.

Young people today .. if you want to dismiss these findsings .. or young people are our future .. if you want to let the impact settle in.

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Here, for my convenience, is a map kindly provided by The Washington Post in 2013, in an intriguing Ezra Klein piece aptly titled Most Americans can’t find Syria on a map. So what?

syria-on-the-map

Maybe Firesign Theater had it right when they titled their 1971 album: I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus.

Concerning the Future — black swans & white

Sunday, September 25th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — in concern, yes — and hope ]
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timeline-with-swans-sm

I know which I’d choose — but I can’t speak for the powers that be (Ephesians 6.12 included).

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Here’s a paragraph from David Barno and Nora Bensahel, The Future of the Army: Today, Tomorrow, and the Day After Tomorrow:

Some future developments can be predicted, but others will be unexpected and unforeseen. “Black swans” —- unpredictable events with very serious consequences — will be as inevitable then as they have been in the past.105 In 2000, for example, no analyst could have possibly foreseen all of today’s disparate security challenges—the 9/11 attacks, the rise of al-Qaeda and ISIS, a resurgent Russia annexing Crimea and threatening neighbors with force, and China building artificial islands in the South China Sea from which to project power, among others. Unpredicted and unpredictable events will indubitably disrupt sober defense planning and could shift US defense priorities in an instant — especially if there were a nuclear exchange overseas or if a weapon of mass destruction were used against the homeland.

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I’m somewhat sceptical of the polling methodology used by the Lincoln Leadership Initiative to generate these conclusions reported by The Hill:

Among those who say they will vote for Trump, 48 percent say he’ll create a database to track Muslims? 36 percent say there will be race riots? 33 percent say the government would default on its debt? and 32 percent say Trump would punish his political opponents and authorize internment camps for illegal immigrants.

Only 22 percent of Trump supporters believe he will start a nuclear war.

Whatever the reliability of the poll — and I’ve asked — it seems clear that at least some potential voters believe Donald Trump, if elected president, might use nuclear weapons, perhaps in the fight against ISIS.

I’d call the database, the race riots and the debt default that Barno and Bensahel mentiom black cygnets at best, but the prospect of nuclear war almost qualifies IMO as a full-on black swan — and I’d refer you back to the final sentence of the Barno-Bensahel quote above:

Unpredicted and unpredictable events will indubitably disrupt sober defense planning and could shift US defense priorities in an instant — especially if there were a nuclear exchange overseas or if a weapon of mass destruction were used against the homeland.

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Barno-Bensahel sat they would consider a nuclear exchange a black swan in their chapter on 2020-2035, whereas Trump’s first term, if he were to be elected president, would barely touch the beginning o0f that range — so that particular black swan, if it is one, might conceivably occur quite soon.

But note that word “conceivable” — a true black swan, to my way of thinking, would be something that hadn’t even occurred as a possibility to forward thinking folks like David Barno — indeed not even, with all due respect, to John Robb.

And Barno-Bensahel predict out to 2040.

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My own predictive vision as a student of wisdom literature and propecies of various kinds shows me the following timeline:

timeline-with-swans

It goes without saying that I could be wrong — a whiter shade of swan might make all the difference.

On play as wildness

Saturday, September 24th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — what’s true of hex maps is true of all mental models ]
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There’s a certain let-your-hair-down quality to play.

It appears that one Tausendsassa Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser said or perhaps wrote, muttered, whispered, shouted, or simply thought out loud, “the straight line is a godless line” — at any rate, someone noticed and recorded the phrase, and now it’s scattered across the net and difficult to track to its source.

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But we do love order, don’t we?

hex-grid

And so the rivers on our hexagonal maps all too easily follow the hexagons..

rivers-and-tree-clusters-hexagonal-map

when they’d more realistically cross over them, following their own courses:

free-rivers

and note how easily even our efforts to bring natural variety to our hexagonal mappings conform more to hexagons than to variety.

hexmaptopo

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Zennist Thich Nhat Hanh in Listening Deeply for Peace writes:

A traditional Vietnamese Zen garden is very different from a Japanese Zen garden. Our Zen gardens, called hon non bo, are wild and exuberant, more playful than the formal Japanese gardens with their restrained patterns. Vietnamese Zen gardens are seriously unserious. For us, the whole world is contained in this peaceful place. All activities of life unfold in true peace in the garden: in one part, children will be playing, and in another part, some elderly men will be having a chess game; couples are walking; families are having picnics; animals are free to wander around. Beautiful trees are growing next to abundant grasses and flowers. There is water, and there are rock formations. All ecologies are represented in this one microecology without discrimination. It is a miniature, peaceful world. It is a beautiful living metaphor for what a new global ethic could bring.

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Here is the wrestling of a tree with such angels as gravity, sun, wind and rain:

methuselah-bristlecone-pine-tree

Here is the wild calligraphy of the Rio Mamoré across the forests of the Amazon basin:

meanders_oli_2014194

Syria and drawing the web of tensions

Friday, September 9th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — with a Magnus Ranstorp squib in its tail ]
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The issue is complexity, and how you represent it. The case in point is Syria.

Here’s a diagram that suggests complexity as a sort of crazy weaving, all straight lines and colors:

Daveed’s diagram has a network feel to it, with actord as nodes and the tensions between them as edges:

Karl Sharro’s tackling the wider context, but his illustration at least gives the sense of a ball of twine after a cat has carefully re-arranged it:

Juan Cole simply provides a screenshot from Google Maps —

jarabulus

— the headline America’s Syria SNAFU: Pentagon’s Militias fight Turkey & CIA’s Militias — which is effectively friendly fire framed as paradox — and some paras beneath it using words to describe the tangle:

The Turkish incursion into Syria at Jarabulus was advertised as an attack on a Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) stronghold and smuggling station in conjunction with (fundamentalist) remnants of the Free Syrian Army.

But the southern outskirts of Jarabulus had already fallen to the Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which are majority Kurdish but have a significant Arab component. The Arab, non-Kurdish SDF brigades such as the Seljuk brigade, the Army of Revolutionaries, and Northern Sun Brigade had fought to liberate the northern Syrian city of Manbij, due south of Jarabulus from Daesh. They have an outpost in the village of Amarna just a few miles south of Jarabulus, where they call themselves the Jarabulus Military Council.

The Turkish army, having secured Jarabulus itself with the help of fundamentalist militias, moved down to Amarna, where they met fierce resistance from the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are allied with the Kurds. The Turkish air force bombarded the SDF positions in Amarna and the militias responded by destroying two tanks and killing one Turkish soldier. Fighting continues there.

To be honest, I’m not sure which of those means of modeling a complex system leaves us best able to understand the situation on the ground.

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Maybe this one’s the best:

Given my propensity for seeing conflicts in sectarian terms

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — delicious irony in the twitter stream as a teaching tool re middle east ]
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Given my propensity for seeing conflicts in sectarian terms, it’s a breath of fresh air / splash of wet water for me to read Hayder al-Khoei, scion of the eminent al-Khoei family and Chatham House Fellow, tweeting on the subject of the English football hooliganism in Marseille over the last three days, which has included both bottle-throwing against French riot police and a running battle with a pack of Russian supporters brandishing knives:

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Al-Khoei‘s observations offer us a brilliant parody of the way western analysts, myself included, all too often write about events in the Middle East, and I admire his skill in delivering his reproof — but it’s also worth remarking that England as I understand it seems less and less interested in attendance at its established Protestant church, while France is notable for it’s official laïcité. Indeed, of the three nations involved in this circus, only the Russians appear to be experiencing quite a resurgence of Orthodoxy, coming after decades of official atheism.

Enfin:

The England v Russia match was a 1-1 draw. Game theorists would presumably call the event a zero-sum game, since the two sides do seem to have cancelled each other out — but in the larger context of sectarian rivalry, the entire three days have surely been lose-lose, while al-Khoei‘s wit is a win for us all.


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