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A poem for our night & times, by Carolyn Forché

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — Halloween greetings, and a pre-midterm reminder of what demagoguery brings ]
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The box is a box of Halloween humor, a slight thing and entirely innocent, designed to delight with a nostaligic frisson on Halloweens past.. Spooky Halloween Feel Boxes for Adults: Put your hand in — preferably with eyes averted or blindfold — and feel, as in touchy-feel..

Among the sensations you are invited to feel.. cold spaghetti.. worms in a fishing box.. you get the idea.

**

My first association, when I saw a pointer to this article was the Gom Jabbar in Dune — a box containing pain, increasing pain. Should the candidate withdraw his hand from the box, he dies by cyanide needle, and the only means of survival is the ability to overcome instinct, which Paul Atreides manages by recitation of the Litany against Fear:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

**

Here’s the movie version:

**

Black boxes..

The very idea of boxes filled with feelings is, to my mind, a fine one to explore, in humor, as in the New Yorker piece, or in deadly earnest, as in Frank Herbert‘s masterpiece, Dune.

**

But then, reading Colin Stokes and Ellis Rosen‘s NYorker humor piece, I came inevitably to this image:

I said inevitably, perhaps unavoidably would have been keener to the point. I couldn’t avoid my second association.

**

That second association was to Carolyn Forché:‘s prose-poem The Colonel from her second volume, The Country Between Us.

On reading her poem itself again after so many years, after reading it aloud to audiences on various occasions, after one miraculous night in the early eighties when I heard her read in LA, after reading her American Poetry Review piece about the experiences inn Al Salvador that lead to this particular poem and others — The Memory of Elena with its unforgettable paella among them — that second and more powerful association was to:

The Colonel

What you have heard is true. I was in his house. His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English. Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to scoop the kneecaps from a man’s legs or cut his hands to lace. On the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was some talk then of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck themselves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.

**

Shattering.

Humor has darkened to tragedy — tragedy does not suffice to speak of this horror — the box of touchy-feelies has become the Colonel’s grocery sack spilled on the floor, dried apricots are dried peach halves — despite the differences, the associative leap was, for me, inevitable.

And far too All Hallows Eve appropriate for comfort..

Far too apt for the upcoming midterms, too..

Threeness games — some back-up materials

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — ternary logic is of special import because it upsets binary oppositional thinking ]
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In a recent comment, I said that to connect with my various posts on three-player games, there’s this from an episode of Designated Survivor:

transnational three-way spy trade

For the record, that’s a win-win-win strategy.

**

While we’re on the subject of threeness games, there’s Brett Kavanaugh‘s explanation of Devil’s Triangle as a drinking game in his testimony:

Sen Whitehouse: Devil’s Triangle?
Judge Kavanaugh: Drinking game.
Sen Whitehouse: How’s it played?
Judge Kavanaugh: Three glasses, in a triangle..
Sen Whitehouse: And?
Judge Kavanaugh: You ever play Quarters?
Sen Whitehouse: No.
Judge Kavanaugh: It’s a Quarters game.

Here’s a more conventional explanation:

A “Devil’s Triangle” is a widely used term for an act of sexual congress between two men and a woman; but during his hearing, Brett Kavanaugh nonsensically insisted that this was some sort of drinking game.

Okay, these matters are interesting not because they deal with threeness as in friend or foe games in which temporary alliances (twos) can overcome single ones while new alliances can switch losers for winners — nor as in Konrad Lorenz‘s goose pecking order example, where a > b > c > a — but simply because threeness is involved — three players, three cups &c.

**

For good measure, from MIT Tech Review, The first “social network” of brains lets three people transmit thoughts to each other’s heads:

In recent years, physicists and neuroscientists have developed an armory of tools that can sense certain kinds of thoughts and transmit information about them into other brains. That has made brain-to-brain communication a reality.

These tools include electroencephalograms (EEGs) that record electrical activity in the brain and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which can transmit information into the brain.

That — apart from the brains themselves — is the basic tech involved.

In 2015, Andrea Stocco and his colleagues at the University of Washington in Seattle used this gear to connect two people via a brain-to-brain interface. The people then played a 20 questions–type game.

An obvious next step is to allow several people to join such a conversation, and today Stocco and his colleagues announced they have achieved this using a world-first brain-to-brain network. The network, which they call BrainNet, allows a small group to play a collaborative Tetris-like game.

That’s the gaming.

And here’s the pretty diagram that allows those like myself who have only the haziest of ideas where or what the occipital cortex is to nod sagely, acknowledging that we learn something new every day..

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One isn’t, I’ve argued, even a number: one is one and all alone, and ever more shall be so. Two is the first number, standing as it does both for binary systems (duel and duet, competition and collaboration) and for many or all, as in the one and the many, or one and all..

But three — ah, three is the first differentiated number, neither two nor two plus two (aka two multiplied by two, two to its own power, two squared, four).. It stands in its own right: three.

In the number series, it offers us our first hint that there are shades of grey possible between none and one, yes and no, day and night, black and white..

Three is the tie-breaker, the umpire, balance, justice — three is the liminal number par excellence.

**

And one last scrap of detail:

The proof-of-principle network connects three people: two senders and one person able to receive and transmit, all in separate rooms and unable to communicate conventionally. The group together has to solve a Tetris-like game in which a falling block has to be rotated so that it fits into a space at the bottom of the screen.

The two senders, wearing EEGs, can both see the full screen. The game is designed so the shape of the descending block fits in the bottom row either if it is rotated by 180 degrees or if it is not rotated. The senders have to decide which and broadcast the information to the third member of the group.

This is all a bit primitive thus far, but then it’s also a beginning — a window on vast possibilities.

**

  • Zenpundit, Numbers by the numbers: three / pt 1,
  • Zenpundit, Spectacularly non-obvious, I: Elkus on strategy & games
  • Zenpundit, Spectacularly non-obvious, 2: threeness games
  • Zenpundit, Spectacular illustration of a game of three

  • & no doubt, more..
  • Three — watch out for it, in Hegel, in CS Peirce, in George Boole, in Clausewitz, everywhere!

    JM Berger’s Extremism, from MIT Press. Brilliant.

    Monday, September 24th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — my third JM Berger review, following reviews of Jihad Joe and ISIS: State of Terror ]
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    **

    I ordered a copy of JM Berger‘s Extremism months early from Amazon, having followed many of the posts in which he was formulating the insights that led to the book, and expecting a volume full of the very detailed diagrams and network analyses they contained:

    Image sources:

  • ICCT, Countering Islamic State Messaging Through “Linkage-Based” Analysis
  • Intelwire, EXTREMIST CONSTRUCTION OF IDENTITY
  • **

    These diagrams, and the research that underlies them — the work of JM and his colleague, Haroro J Ingram — attest to JM’s skill at the detailed drill-down level, the equivalent of rock-face drilling in a mine. The book couldn’t be further from my expectations: it attests to an entirely different set of skills, those of simplicity, grace, and a superb command of language.

    JM has the ability to communicate directly with a lay audience at their (our) level. He neither shies away from nuance nor adds needless complications — either of which would be a form of condescension to the reader.

    JM’s writing is direct and clean:

  • Terrorism is a tactic, whereas extremism is a belief system.
  • Extremism is a spectrum of beliefs, not necessarily a simple destination.
  • Group radicalization precedes individual radicalization
  • **

    Above are three of the pull-quotes, extracted from the book’s text, that state some of JM’s basic propositions on lucid, large-print, white on black pages, scattered as needed across the book’s 167 short pages (plus glossary, notes, bibliography, further reading, index)..

  • What extremism is, how extremist ideologies are constructed, and why extremism can escalate into violence
  • That’s the core proposition of the whole work, buttressed as it is with a wealth of detailed research and analysis. And radical…

    JM’s approach is already radical in its (his) refusal to treat only one ideological or religious frame for extremism. Studying both ISIS and home grown Identity groups, those who promote violence and those who arguably foreshadow it, led JM to see extremism itself as the most fruitful category to study — not terrorism, nor Islam, not the Citizen Sovereignty movement nor alt-right, but extremism tout court.

    That broadening of the frame allows Berger a set of analytic insights that were obscured by detail in earlier, more limited studies, and his book is the elegant formulation of those insights, simply, and with a forest of scholarship in support.

    **

    JM lists Impurity, Conspiracy, Dystopia, Existential threat, and Apocalypse as central “crisis narratives” utilized by in-groups as they view out-groups — but it is the in-group-out-group distinction which is central to his thinking, its wrongness characterized by the in-group’s paranoid conspiracist suspicions of the out-group’s impurity, dystopic being the nature of the world now ruled by the out-group, and to be abhorred or saved by the in-, with existential threat and apocalypse providing the sense of time-crunch, urgency.

    All this, I say, with a simplicity and elegance which belies the originality and scholarship that undergirds it.

    Above highly recommended.

    Enquirer Cover, Playboy Centerfold &c

    Monday, August 27th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — not hookers: one Playmate, one porn star, both sex-workers of one or another kind ? ]
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    Pravda on the Checkout Line – nice title — Politico Magazine — note last on the right, middle row

    **

    In Scaramucci on symmetry, I quoted James Fallows:

    I argue that “projection,” in the psychological sense, is the default explanation for anything Donald Trump says or does.

    Projection means deflecting any criticism (or half-conscious awareness) of flaws in yourself by accusing someone else of exactly those flaws. Is Trump’s most immediately obvious trait his narcissistic and completely ungoverned temperament? (Answer: yes.) By the logic of projection, it thus makes perfect sense that he would brag that he has “the greatest temperament” and judgment, and criticize the always-under-control Hillary Clinton for hers.

    **

    I just came across what looks to me like a perfect example of Trumpian projection — if you’ll grant me that Trump, via his friendship with David Pecker, the publisher of the National Enquirer, proactively influences the front page of that rag-mag.

    Here we go:

    last on the right, middle row, above — a closer look, a clearer image

    See there at the foot of the page?

    She Ordered Me To — pay HUSH MONEY to hookers

    That’s under a general header:

    24 Years of Cover Ups and Crimes Exposed

    **

    Oh dear, and Donald Trump, according to the sworn testimony of Michael Cohen, his personal attorney, in Federal Court, caused considerable moneys to be paid to at least two young ladies, one a porn star and director, the other a Playboy Playmate of the Year if that falls under a different category, to buy their respective silences on his alleged affairs with them, the payments being made in time to avoid any sordid revelations in the immediate run-up to the 2016 election..

    Time, methinks, for the Enquirer to rerun that front page with a few of the details switched to reflect the Federal-bench-approved Truth.

    On Mapping the Varieties of Risk

    Monday, August 6th, 2018

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

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    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?
    soli
    **

    >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.


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