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Analysis, and the question of trust

Sunday, March 29th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — who was taught to think of “longer term” as extending to our children of the seventh generation ]
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Here’s the problem:

Nicole Kidman as analyst Dr Julia  Kelly in DreamWorks SKG's first movie, The Peacemaker

Nicole Kidman as analyst Dr Julia Kelly gets an order in DreamWorks SKG’s movie, The Peacemaker

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In the Introduction to Cyber Analogies (Feb 2014, 133 pp., Emily Goldman & John Arquilla, eds) we read:

The project was conceived and carried out to help very senior, busy, responsible people understand topics and issues that are fast-moving and dynamic, and have potentially great consequences for society, security, and world affairs.

I’m never quite sure that “very senior, busy, responsible people” are the right people to task with understanding “topics and issues that are fast-moving and dynamic, and have potentially great consequences for society, security, and world affairs.”

Ahem.

Do I qualify as a heretic yet?

I feel some kinship here with Pundita‘s recent comment:

I venture there are too many Grand Master chess players in America’s defense/diplo establishment and not enough ping pong players.

And the estimated number of exposures varies, I know — but how far would you trust the “very senior, busy, responsible people” who, we now know [1, 2, 3], covered up our poison gas casualties in Iraq?

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At the expense of strategic analysis..

I’m thinking about all this because there’s a shift under way in intel circles, as described in the recently issued Report of the Congressionally-directed 9/11 Review Commission, The FBI: Protecting the Homeland in the 21st Century:

Once deployed to the field, many of these analysts have been embedded in operational squads in the field, though their work favors support to tactical and case work at the expense of strategic analysis. The FBI launched a more structured Integrated Curriculum Initiative (ICI) in 2014, with the primary goal to develop a comprehensive basic training program for new agents and analysts that teaches them to operate in a threat-based, intelligence-driven, operationally-focused environment.

More explicitly, Scott Shane wrote in C.I.A. Officers and F.B.I. Agents, Meet Your New Partner: The Analyst:

Some people who study intelligence and counterterrorism are concerned that the pendulum could swing too far. Intelligence analysts, said Amy Zegart, a Stanford scholar who studies intelligence, could become too consumed by daily operations and neglect strategic thinking about threats that could be years away.

At the C.I.A., she said, counterterrorism analysts are already “too tactical,” focused on the next drone target. If the same model is now applied to the rest of the agency’s work, other analysts, too, could be caught up in short-term demands, she said. “Who in the U.S. government,” she asked, “is going to be thinking about longer-term threats?”

Longer-term? You mean, longer than the current electoral cycle?

Intended clouds and unintended consequences

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — this post is mostly concerned with unintended consequences in foreign policy, not Berndnaut Smilde‘s intended and dramatic clouds, but hey! ]
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Nimbus Sankt Peter, 2014. Artist: Berndnaut Smilde

Nimbus Sankt Peter, 2014. Artist: Berndnaut Smilde

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Obama said in an interview on Vice this week:

ISIL is a direct outgrowth of Al-Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion. Which is an example of unintended consequences. Which is why we should generally aim before we shoot.

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Rumsefeld said:

As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

Walt said:

In international relations, at least, none of our theories are all that powerful, the data are often poor, and coming up with good solutions to many thorny problems is difficult. Unintended consequences and second-order effects abound, and policymakers often reject good advice for their own selfish reasons.

Taleb said:

Before the discovery of Australia, people in the Old World were convinced that all swans were white, an unassailable belief as it seemed completely confirmed by empirical evidence. The sighting of the first black swan might have been an interesting surprise for a few ornithologists (and others extremely concerned with the coloring of birds), but that is not where the significance of the story lies. It illustrates a severe limitation to our learning from observations or experience and the fragility of our knowledge. One single observation can invalidate a general statement derived from millennia of confirmatory sightings of millions of white swans. All you need is one single (and, I am told, quite ugly) black bird.

Clapper said:

unpredictable instability is the new normal

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Let me list them:

  • unintended consequences
  • known and unknown unknowns
  • second-order effects
  • black swans
  • unpredictable instability
  • Are these all what you might call “birds of a feather”?

    **

    Taleb also said:

    Viagra, which changed the mental outlook and social mores of retired men, was meant to be a hypertension drug. Another hypertension drug led to a hair-growth medication. My friend Bruce Goldberg, who understands randomness, calls these unintended side applications “corners.” While many worry about unintended consequences, technology adventurers thrive on them.

    and:

    Mandelbrot’s fractals allow us to account for a few Black Swans, but not all. I said earlier that some Black Swans arise because we ignore sources of randomness. Others arise when we overestimate the fractal exponent. A gray swan concerns modelable extreme events, a black swan is about unknown unknowns.

    It strikes me that we could use a Venn diagram of these things, so we can better understand what we don’t understand.

    **

    So let’s add a couple more to our list:

  • corners
  • cloud of unknowing
  • The anonymous author of the Cloud of Unknowing, speaking of God, says:

    For He can well be loved, but he cannot be thought. By love he can be grasped and held, but by thought, neither grasped nor held. And therefore, though it may be good at times to think specifically of the kindness and excellence of God, and though this may be a light and a part of contemplation, all the same, in the work of contemplation itself, it must be cast down and covered with a cloud of forgetting. And you must step above it stoutly but deftly, with a devout and delightful stirring of love, and struggle to pierce that darkness above you; and beat on that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love, and do not give up, whatever happens.

    Yet another useful use for DoubleTweets

    Sunday, February 15th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — in hindsight it looks like what — foresight? prediction? prophecy? predestination? ]
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    Use-case: confirming that intel was available ahead of time.

    **

    It should be noted, though, that the intel may have been scatter-shot, from a source of questionable reliability, lacking in precision as to date & place, methodology, etc.

    Arguably this is too little, too late.

    John Schindler 3: his latest

    Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — third of three, almost caught up ]
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    Schindler a few days back:

    Schindler’s latest:

    **

    Today’s John Schindler post, The West, Islam, and the Last Stand of the WEIRD, is another blockbuster must-read, but for my purposes in this series I’ll just quote a short excerpt. It’s the middle paragraph here that’s key, but I’ll give you a little before and after for context:

    While Christian Europe of the last century still had some common ground with believing Muslims, the gap today between our societal values and those of most Muslims is vast and cannot be overcome without huge changes, perhaps on both sides, that seem unlikely to happen without bloodshed.

    To make matters worse, the only European country that is making an effort to appeal to normal people of faith in dangerous times is Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, the Kremlin, speaking through its religious mouthpieces, has staked out a clear position that terrorism is unacceptable, but so is intentionally offending religious people with blasphemy. In this formulation, Russia — and Russia alone — offers a welcoming home to Christians and Muslims alike, while driving extremists of all sorts, whether they be jihadists or Communist cartoonists, out of the public square. Religion is not the problem, Russia makes clear, and its support for traditional religions here is consistent — extremism is.

    WEIRDos in the West naturally find all this a tad comedic, and they were mightily surprised when Pope Francis (“One cannot provoke; one cannot insult other people’s faith; one cannot make fun of faith”) came alarmingly close to towing the Kremlin line about Charlie Hebdo. Yet again, post-moderns were distressed to discover that the Pope of Rome is actually a Catholic. You have to be part of the WEIRD demographic to find it “shocking” when traditional religion stands up against aggressive blasphemy.

    **

    I still haven’t quite figured out how almost everybody comes to have an opinion about almost everything: I know enough about a small archipelago of topics to have a sense of how much I don’t know, even in my areas of interest, in between my islands — and I am vividly aware that my chosen archipelago is only one of many, many, many — oh, why don’t I just quote Newton, and let him speak for us all:

    I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

    There are areas of knowledge that John explores, in this post in particular, that I don’t know enough about to trust my own opinions on, but one point he keeps making keeps on shining through: that the western secular mindset has a blind spot wherever religious intensity appears.

    And by religious intensity I don’t necessarily mean piety, or deep theological knowledge — which are the criteria that pollsters use to judge such things. The disciples of Christ were fishermen, he talked with prostitutes and (oy!) centurions among others, they were his peeps. The test, then, is not mosque, church or synagogue attendance, nor dietary behavior: religion happens, first and foremost, to humans, and that’s something John captures neatly, as it applies to Muslims, in this para about the majority of Muslims world-wide:

    They try, they fail, they keep trying. They usually make an effort during Ramadan, at least, and if a life crisis appears, they will pray and seek the comfort of the mosque; the rest of the time their lived faith is rather hit-or-miss. In other words, they are completely normal human beings.

    Human beings, that is, with an available transcendant perspective that can be activated by crisis, by global dissonance, by perceived injustice — as the supreme justification for brutality among those so disposed, and as the supreme invitation to good works among the likes of Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, and many less known but no less generous souls.

    Heaven and Hell, no less than East and West, are present in human reality, as John Milton knew. We should permit them, with caution and understanding, into our minds and models, and onto our maps. First, though, we should understand and sense what they mean, within human hearts and minds — no easy task.

    Camera angle: the place of aesthetics in analytics

    Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — suggesting that the ability to make “creative leaps” falls within the aesthetic realm ]
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    Kiefer Sutherland asleep towards the beginning of the movie Dead Heat:

    Kiefer Sutherland in Dead Heat ca 8.30

    And Mantegna‘s Lamentation over the Dead Christ

    Mantegna_Andrea_Dead_Christ

    **

    I don’t think there’s much doubt that the film-maker Mark Malone, was influenced by Mantegna’s mise-en-scène.

    What interests me here, however, is not the diference between the two narratives, one secular, one sacred, nor the question of influence, but the opportunity this juxtaposition provides for me to stress that resemblance, or more generally, pattern (as in “pattern recognition”), is an aesthetic skill, with the corollary that the richest and most illuminating congruences between items of cognition across disciplines or media are those in which the parallelisms or oppositions are most exact.

    It is the exactness of the formal correspondance between two thoughts, images, or events that permits their divergences to become salient to us, and in our search for insight, it will be precisely those correspondences which most richly illustrate this principle that will offer us the greatest possibility of fresh insight — which can then be explored with all the rigors our critical faculties can contrive.


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