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The DoubleQuote as Feedback Loop

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a new variant on the DoubleQuote format addresses loops and escalations ]
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I seem to be thinking about feedback loop diagrams today, eh?

And what with my Twitter feed filling with images from Ferguson, MO, and someone posting an image from the Bundy Ranch standoff by way of comparison, it occurred to me that images of cops taking aim at citizens (Ferguson, MO, upper panel below) and citizens taking aim at cops (Bundy Ranch, lower panel) didn’t just naturally fall into the visual DoubleQuote category, they also formed a potential feedback loop.

And as my just posted mutual escalation spiral is intended to suggest, mutually antagonistic feedback loops like this come perilously close to spiraling out of control.

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So, too, we now have another variant on the DoubleQuote format — the DoubleQuote as feedback loop. I suspect that now I’ve “seen” it, I may find it comes in handy on other occasions.

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Sources:

  • Ferguson
  • Bundy Ranch
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    An idealized mutual escalation spiral

    Thursday, August 14th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- thinking out loud about positive feedback loops viewed as spirals, plus a question or two ]
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    Here’s the diagram I came up with today, doodling in an attempt to think through some of the implications of mutual escalation as a form of positive feedback loop.

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    In reality, a positive feedback loop can’t go on building indefinitely. Some form of external modulation must occur, either producing homeostasis or a crash, no?

    How do we diagram that? — I ask as an interested amateur…

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    Form is Insight: painter’s eye, cinematographer’s segue

    Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a follow-up to Form is Insight: parliamentarian scuffle, photographer’s eye -- Breugel's Fight between Carnival and Lent comes to a movie house near you ]
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    Jem Cohen‘s film, Museum Hours, is set largely in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, with a particular focus on Pieter Breughel the Elder. Less than 10 minutes into the film, this shot, showing a detail of one of his paintings:

    is followed seamlessly — as though nothing had happened — by this one, a “detail” one might say, of the Vienna street, perhaps indeed as the viewer steps into it right outside the museum:

    Between the two shots — in the cut — we move from the sixteenth to the twentyfirst century, and from curated museum to careless street. The painter’s eye is echoed by the cinematographer’s segue: litter remains litter.

    **

    The first image is a seemingly insignificant detail taken from the area of Breughel’s painting containing the “figure of Carnival”:

    which you can easily spot, low down and slightly left of center, in the painting as a whole, here:

    The painting itself, which goes by the title The Fight between Carnival and Lent, presents Breughel’s juxtaposition of festive and fasting seasons which follow one another seamlessly in the calendar of the church, while their respective impulses wrestle constantly for dominance in the hearts of humankind…

    **

    Drew Martin at The Museum of Peripheral Art blog notices the successive “litter” shots from inside and outside the museum in Cohen’s film, too, and writes:

    The most brilliant thing about this movie is the use of segue. In one scene, a series of shots focus on details of a Bruegel painting with the guide’s voice listing the objects “.. discarded playing cards, a bone, a broken egg ..”, and then the images switch to nondescript ground shots in Vienna, as he continues “.. a cigarette butt, a folded note, a lost glove, a beer can.”

    When I write of the power of juxtapositions and of the eye that perceives pattern, then, I am not speaking of something that is entirely subjective and personal, but of a faculty native to the human, yet woefully under-practiced, under-explored. My intention is to suggest that this faculty is not merely of use to the artist or art-historian, but basic to a rich and full cognizance of the world around us. It is one techne of reading the world, one of many.

    **

    How’s this for another juxtaposition from the same film?

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    Form is Insight: parliamentarian scuffle, photographer’s eye

    Monday, August 11th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- insight -- from the artistic eye via the ayat of the Qur'an and poetic and scientific "readings" to the craft of intelligence analysis ]
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    You might think this was an image taken from some art book by EH GombrichArt and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation? — or John Berger — Ways of Seeing, perhaps? — but it’s not. As you might have guessed from my title, or from seeing it elsewhere recently, on BoingBoing, Twitter or wherever.

    It’s a journalist’s photo of a brawl in the Ukrainean parliament, where debate is still as lively as it was on the floor of the US House of Representatives in 1798:

    or 1858:

    A Parliamentary brawl, it would seem, is one mode of the continuation of politics by other means. Or is it just politics as usual?

    **

    The illustration at the head of this post is indeed “art criticism” in the tradition of Gombrich and Berger, but it’s not an illustration of Old Masterly technique — it’s an artist’s comment on a press photo of a recent brawl, as indicated above, in the Ukrainean parliament. Here’s the photo itself:

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    It’s masterful — and indeed Old Masterful enough that Manzil Lajura posted the photo itself with the two attendant images on FaceBook under the title “Pelea en el parlamento Ucraniano convertido en arte renacentista” — roughly, Brawl in the Ukrainian parliament transformed into Renaissance art..

    And yes.

    Lajura’s post was then picked up and tweeted by James Harvey:

    And thence onwards into viral multiplicity.

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    So what does this have to do with intelligence — in the analytic sense, or the general sense of intellectual capacity?

    Just that it’s a matter of “reading” a surface for more than superficial insight — for “signs” (ayat, the word also used to describe verses in the Qur’an).

    What I’m calling “reading” here takes many forms, visual and artistic in this instance, verbal in the case of “closely read” texts — but generalizable as the ways in which we “read” the world. In my post What the Dickens? Symbolic details in Inspire issue 3 exploring the evidence for al-Awlaki’s involvement in the thankfully foiled mail attacks on two Chicago synagogues, I quoted Fazlun Khalid, Islam and the Environment:

    The Qur’an refers to creation or the natural world as the signs (ayat) of Allah, the Creator, and this is also the name given to the verses contained in the Qur’an. Ayat means signs, symbols or proofs of the divine. As the Qur’an is proof of Allah so likewise is His creation. The Qur’an also speaks of signs within the self and as Nasr explains, “… when Muslim sages referred to the cosmic or ontological Qur’an … they saw upon the face of every creature letters and words from the cosmic Qur’an … they remained fully aware of the fact that the Qur’an refers to phenomena of nature and events within the soul of man as ayat … for them forms of nature were literally ayat Allah”. As the Qur’an says, “there are certainly signs (ayat) in the earth for people with certainty; and in yourselves. Do you not then see?” (Adh-Dhariat, 51:20, 21).

    — and gave some additional details in a more recent update post, Eavesdropping on Twitter — about al-Awlaqi and Dickens.

    **

    For the mystic, such signs are revelatory of the divine within the natural; for artists, hallmarks of true beauty; for a scientist, for a poet, perhaps, letters in the calligraphy with which the world is written, for jihadists and natsec analysts alike, signals in a significant code — a language used by jihadists in communication, a code analysts must surely learn to read. Here’s Galileo, with a scientist’s view:

    Philosophy [nature] is written in that great book which ever lies before our eyes. I mean the universe, but we cannot understand it if we do not first learn the language and grasp the symbols in which it is written. The book is written in the mathematical language, and the symbols are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures without whose help it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word of it, and without which one wanders in vain through a dark labyrinth.

    Recognizing the Fibonacci series / golden ratio spiral, as in the photo of the Ukrainean brawl, is just one of the ways to “read deeper” whatever sights, sounds, texts and images come our way — one of a thousand. William Benzon, blogging at New Savanna today, mentions another. He quotes J. Hillis Miller on Kenneth Burke:

    Burke came to Harvard when I was a graduate student and gave a lecture about indexing. What he was talking about was how you read. I had never heard anybody talk about this. He said what you do is notice things that recur in the text, though perhaps in some unostentatious way. If something appears four or five times in the same text, you think it’s probably important. That leads you on a kind of hermeneutical circle: you ask questions, you come back to the text and get some answers, and you go around, and pretty soon you may have a reading.

    Who are these folk? They are the kinds of folk who would have been recruited from Yale’s English department in the glory days of OSS and CIA

    But what kind of analysis? Attempting to distinguish “signal” from “noise,” officials at the CIA and Defense Department debate competing methods of data-sifting and weigh the aggressive, “hypotheses-driven” style of interpretation favored by the Pentagon. Probability and risk are continually assessed, and sometimes the talk can sound nearly philosophical. Referring to the search for illegal weapons in Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared on Aug. 5 that “the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.”

    If such matters arose at a university, they would attract the attention of philosophers of science or even theorists of literature, who study how to tease meaning out of texts. And indeed, the academy has profoundly shaped the rough-and-tumble espionage trade since the founding days of the CIA. In his classic 1987 study, “Cloak and Gown: Scholars in the Secret War, 1939-1961,” Yale historian Robin W. Winks showed how professors took a crucial role in creating and manning the agency and its forerunner, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). No university played a greater role than Winks’s own. “From Yale’s class of 1943 alone, at least 42 young men entered intelligence work, largely in the OSS, many to remain on after the war to form the core of the new CIA,” Winks notes.

    It wasn’t just globe-trotting historians and social scientists who made the leap. As Winks emphasized, Yale’s literature specialists played a key role in shaping the agency’s thinking.

    **

    The photographer and editor who took and “framed” that image of the Ukrainean parliamentary brawl had an ‘eye” for pattern-recognition — in terms of “form” as much as “content’.

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    Locked horns: reading the abstract news

    Sunday, June 1st, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- pattern recognition in news media, also polarization, Swiss cows, and klezmer ]
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    Berkane & Bergamote, two Heren cows, lock horns for the title of 'queen' in Grimetz, Switzerland

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    It’s fairly extraordinary what happens when you scan a news item or op-ed piece in search of those remarks that are abstractions from the particular topic of the piece. I was struck by this today when I read:

    A tradition of vigorous, nuanced debate is increasingly being boiled down to a binary choice of worldviews.

    I mean, how many other topics in the same newspaper that day might that sentence have been slipped into without causing an eyebrow to lift?

    Of similar interest, perhaps, and from the same piece:

    ultimately, a big tent does have parameters

    That doesn’t strike me as quite as open an insight, but maybe that’s just because “big tent” has more speciic resonance. And then there was:

    Both views are completely valid, but they can be conflicting

    That one intrigues me because on the face of it, it’s a contradiction: maybe a little set theory, expressed in the form of slightly different wording, could resolve it.

    Here’s one more, still from the same piece, with a touch of zen to it — or is that psychotherapy?

    By looking at ourselves, we can be better people

    And this one, forgive me, is simply chilling:

    are you now or have you ever been … ?

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    So, “big tent” and all, are we talking about the US Congress here?

    Actually, those quotes all come from a Washington Post piece by Marc Fisher titled For Jewish groups, a stand-off between open debate and support of Israel — but that’s pretty much beside my point.

    The thing is, as SI Hyakawa pointed out, good writing tends to be writing that moves up and down the “ladder of abstraction” from intimate details (“my cow Bessie” — or “Berkane” or “Bergamote” in this instance) to broad-sweep analysis (“13% of livestock in the region”), because details (and anecdotes) evoke emotion while statistics and abstractions ensure that the wider picture is not omitted from the telling.

    WHich is why, among other things, in a world of think tanks and white papers which favor analytics and statictics almost to the exclusion of details and emotions, my own analytic tradecraft, as expressed in the HipBone Games and Sembl Thinking projects, favors quotes and anecdotes as highly as facts and stats.

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    One of the specific art acts discussed in that WaPo piece is The Shondes‘ klezmer rock punk song, I Watched the Temple Fall [lyrics, YouTube ]. Here’s what the band has to say about the song:

    We wrote “I Watched the Temple Fall” because we were thinking a lot about what Jews put our faith in, and where that faith really lives. We’d been talking about Abraham Joshua Heschel’s notion of Judaism as a religion of time, not space, and thinking about how that related to Zionism. Confining ideas into spaces (temples, states, what have you) can falsely polarize us and take us away from the big, important stuff. We wanted to write a song that clearly said, “Look, it might be devastating to face, but the state of Israel commits actions daily that violate the basic tenets of Judaism.

    Rock, punk, and klezmer I don’t know much about, but Heschel‘s book The Sabbath is one that has moved me profoundly, and reading this particular statement made me wonder what David Ronfeldt might find of interest for his Space-Time-Action (STA) theory in the song, or in Heschel’s thought.

    **

    Well, we began this post — about the attractions of abstraction — with an image of two Swiss cows named Berkane and Bergamote locking horns in a championship fight — here’s some klezmer from Itzhak Perlman — again, see, I’m climbing back down the ladder of abstraction to the level of the individual — to round things out:

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