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On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: nine

Sunday, October 9th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — if the territory is graphical, so’s the map ]

Terrain, with its named places and transportation links between them, is graphical, as illustrated in this map:

It makes me wonder how often graph theory (of the sort that gives us the Königsberg Bridge Problem, see the first post in this series) is applied to troop movements — as it often is to public transportation (see the upcoming tenth post).


My next example of the use of a node-and-edge graphical design both puzzles and intrigues me:

It puzzles me, because I can’t quitec grasp what Raza Rumi — a very bright fellow — is up to in choosing this particular illustration. And it intrigues me, because once on a vision quest I glimpsed an outstretched eagle’s or hawk’s wing, with a similar graphical overlay of its structural essence. It’s a sight I’ve never forgotten, an exquisite linking of the real and abstract worlds, and one that I’m sadly ill-equipped to reproduce visually myself. Words don’t do it justice.


My third example, as you can see, is taken from a learned paper describing the use of graphs to illustrate musical compositions according to a strictly defined protocol:

What interests me here — aside from the fact that any of these digrams could be used as a board in a sufficiently complex HipBone or Sembl game — is that I ran across this particular paper within 24 hours of reading m’friend Bill Benzon‘s account of his friend Michael Bérubé and his son Jamie, introduced in this tweet:

Bill’s post Jamie’s Investigations, Part 1: Emergence to which his tweet refers us — is illustrated thus:


Michael Bérubé, we read, has recently published a book about Jamie, who has Down’s, Life as Jamie Knows It: An Exceptional Child Grows Up, and it contains a series of Jamie’s drawings, of which this is one example.

Bill, who is himself the author of Beethoven’s Anvil: Music in Mind and Culture, notes “Jamie loves music, and his dad is a rock-and-roll drummer, so’s his older brother Nick, I believe.” And here’s the clincher — he then asks:

In what way are these drawings like drum beats?

So that’s two examples of novel visual representations of musical pattern in just two days, earlier this week.


Enough for now — onwards to On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: ten — a long, fascinating post IMO, long enough that I’m glad this is a Sunday.

Earlier in this series:

  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: preliminaries
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: two dazzlers
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: three
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: four
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: five
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: six
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: seven
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: eight
  • 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 ]


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


    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:


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


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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..


    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.


    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?


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

    Perhaps because I’m looking for the tauromachia

    Thursday, September 15th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — Syria echoes Guernica ]

    This, from JM Berger today, offers a glimpse of Syria that is neither war, nor peace, if I might put it this way, but war longing for peace:

    Irresistibly, it reminds me of this:

    Isn’t that a bull’s head in cloth, hanging right above the shoulder of the leaping boy in the Syrian image — and isn’t that alnmost exactly Picasso’s swooping white head, again in cloth, just to the right of it? The illusion of their similarity is enhanced by the aspect ratio of the Twitter image from Syria, which cuts off a stretch of green in the original photo, just below the image as you see it here..


    But it may be I’m seeing this because the bullfight and tauromachia have been on my mind recently — mythic combats of man pitted agains one of his worthiest opponents. There’s an archaic resonance there that’s inmportant in some way, but the actual killing of the bull, blood in the sand, horrifies me, the animal descending from grandeur to humiliation, its bowed head propped on one horn as it awaits finality — terrible.

    And I was accordingly happy to recall the less violent version of the sport, still pitting man’s skill against adversary — in the bull-leaping of Knossos:

    and its latter-day practice, shown here at the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona:



    This image comes from the fabulous Constellations of Words site.

    Syria and drawing the web of tensions

    Friday, September 9th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — with a Magnus Ranstorp squib in its tail ]

    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 —


    — 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.


    Maybe this one’s the best:

    New York Times correction ouroboros

    Friday, September 9th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — irresistible but sad, sad, sad ]

    Gary Johnson, Libertarian Party presidential candidate, flubbed a question about Aleppo in an interview:

    That’s not great.

    The New York Times then corrected him:

    Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor and Libertarian Party presidential nominee, revealed a surprising lack of foreign policy knowledge on Thursday that could rock his insurgent candidacy when he could not answer a basic question about the crisis in Aleppo, Syria.

    “What is Aleppo?” Mr. Johnson said when asked on MSNBC how, as president, he would address the refugee crisis in the Syrian city that is the de facto capital of the Islamic State.

    That’s not great either.

    The Times then had to correct its correction of Mr Johnson:

    Correction: September 8, 2016

    An earlier version of this article misidentified the de facto capital of the Islamic State. It is Raqqa, in northern Syria, not Aleppo.

    That’s having to eat your words.

    The Times then had to correct its correction of its correction of Mr Johnson:

    Correction: September 8, 2016

    An earlier version of the above correction misidentified the Syrian capital as Aleppo. It is Damascus.

    That’s having to admit that when you had to eat your own words, you didn’t even chew them properly.



    For the record, everyone concerned has my sympathy. Eating one’s own words, eating one’s hat, eating humble pie is seldom pleasant — or in the case of the serpent, eating one’s own tail!


    Full disclosure: I too have blind spots, am vastly ignorant, and am prone to error. Plus I’m terrible at geography.

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