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Sunday surprise 2, for Sally B, poetic afflatus

Monday, September 3rd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — a romantic attribute of poets, close to the holy spirit ]
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Poetic afflatus is the term for a private wind of inspiration which follows a poet around — on fortunate days. That photo of Donald Hall which Sally Benzon so much admired, I believe illustrates the afflatus — Hall has allowed his hair to stray wherever the whim of wind may take it, while the urbane Obama has curated his to stay close to the skull in all weathers — a remarkable juncture of opposites.

Here, then, for Sally B and all, is the only example I know of, presenting that private wind in a motion picture — here surrounding the person of Richard Burton, ruffling his hair and scarf while all else in the room is still — in an unforgettable clip from Christian Marquand‘s 1968 film Candy, itself a loose (not to say libertine) update of Candide:

Metaphors, more iv, featuring Oliver Roeder & Chris Cillizza

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — others besides david ronfeldt who find game & sports metaphors valuable — or should that be invaluable? ]
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I’m making this post a “special” because Ron Hale-Evans pointed me to a trove of articles variously about or touching on game metaphors for politics, geo or otherwise.

**

This was the start:

What game is President Trump playing? By that I mean what actual game is he playing?

Trump’s political performance, in seriousness and in jest, has often been likened to chess. Even to three-, four-, eight-, 10- and 12-dimensional chess. His proponents argue he’s a grandmaster,1 and his detractors argue he’s a patzer. CNN’s Chris Cillizza has written two different articles accusing Trump of playing “zero-dimensional chess,” whatever that means. Even Garry Kasparov, probably the greatest actual chess player of all time, has weighed in, inveighing against the use of this gaming cliche via Politico.

In my job here at FiveThirtyEight, I spend a lot of time thinking about games — board games, video games, chess tournaments, math puzzles, the game theory of international affairs. So I understand that “playing chess” is easy shorthand for “doing strategy” or “being smart” or whatever. But I think we can do better. I humbly propose to you that Trump is not playing chess (of any dimension), but rather something called “ultimate tic-tac-toe.” It’s time to update your tropes.

It’s a good day when I find an entire article dedicated to game or sports metaphors for politics, but this one had some great links..

Instances:

**

The second thing this Corker episode makes clear is that, strategically speaking, Trump is playing zero-dimensional chess. As in, the only strategy is that there is no strategy.

In the wake of Trump’s absolutely stunning 2016 victory, the conventional wisdom — in political circles — was that Trump was a strategic genius, always seeing five moves ahead. He was playing three-dimensional chess while the media was still trying to figure out which way pawns could move. The reason no one thought Trump could win was because “we” didn’t see the whole board the way he did. No one else saw it that way. Trump was a genius. An unconventional genius but a genius nonetheless.

There, incidentally, is the definition of zero-dimensional chess:

Trump is playing zero-dimensional chess. As in, the only strategy is that there is no strategy.

And:

**

The key part is when he concludes Flake will be a “no” on the tax reform package in the Senate because, well, his political career is “toast” — or something.

I submit this as yet another piece of evidence that Trump is playing zero-dimensional chess.

What do I mean? Simply this: When Trump won the White House — against all odds — the working assumption was that he had executed a plan so brilliant and so complex that only he (and the few advisers he let in on the plan) could see it. He was playing three-dimensional chess while the media, the Clinton campaign and virtually everyone else was still playing checkers.

But as his first year in the White House has progressed, there’s mounting evidence that Trump may not be playing three-dimensional chess. In fact, he might just be playing zero-dimensional chess. As in, the only strategy Trump is pursuing is no strategy at all.

From a game-policy metaphor angle, this doesn’t take us much further, although you can read the whole post for details of the Trump-Flake business..

And..

**

Chess? That’s not what Garry Kasparov sees Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin playing—three-dimensional or any other kind. But if they did sit down for a game, the former grandmaster believes the Russian president would obviously win.

“Both of them despise playing by the rules, so it’s who will cheat first,” Kasparov told me in an interview for POLITICO’s Off Message podcast. “But in any game of wits, I would bet on Putin, unfortunately.”

Kasparov gets into some interesting details, not entirely uncritical of Obama, and even GW Bush, but flicking Trump off the board with a flick of his cultivated fingernail..

I think I’vetheis referenced the Kasparov article once before, but hey, this is a rich harvest..

Next:

**

Shall we play a game?

Imagine that a crisp $100 bill lies on a table between us. We both want it, of course, but there’s no chance of splitting it — our wallets are empty. So we vie for it according to a few simple rules. We’ll each write down a secret number — between 0 and 100 — and stick that number in an envelope. When we’re both done, we’ll open the envelopes. Whichever of us wrote down the higher number pockets the $100. But here’s the catch: There’s a percentage chance that we’ll each have to burn $10,000 of our own money, and that chance is equal to the lower of the two numbers.

So, for example, if you wrote down 10 and I wrote down 20, I’d win the $100 … but then we’d both run a 10 percent risk of losing $10,000. This is a competition in which, no matter what, we both end up paying a price — the risk of disaster.

What number would you write down?

In the 538 post, the game’s available for interactive play.. And later in the same piece, too..

Now imagine that you’re playing the same game, but for much more than $100. You’re a head of state facing off against another, and the risk you run is a small chance of nuclear war

That was instructive, I think, though my mind is artificially dimmed at present..

And finally:

**

This one revolved around a tweet in which Trump had said

:When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win. Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore-we win big. It’s easy!

How easy? was this post’s response:

But how easy? And how exactly do you win them? (Also, what’s a trade war?)

Let’s find out. You (Yes, you!) have just been elected president of your very own country. Congratulations! Now it’s time to get to work. There is another country out there that has goods you can buy, and you have goods it may want to buy. Your job is to choose your foreign economic policy — which you’ll do in the little game we’ve prepared for you below.

The rules go like this: You can cooperate with the other country, allowing the free flow of its goods into your country. Or you can defect, imposing tariffs on the foreign goods. And because you will trade with the same country over and over again, you have to decide whether to stick with a single strategy no matter what or whether to change course in response to your opponent. The other country faces the same choice, but you can’t know in advance what plan they’ve chosen. Free trade helps both countries, generating big windfalls for both sides. But it’s possible for a single country to improve its own situation at the other’s expense — you both have a selfish incentive to defect, taxing the imports from the other country and helping only yourself. However, if you both defect, you both wind up isolated, cutting yourselves off from the market and reducing earnings on both sides.

Again, the game is available for interactive play.

We’ve simplified trade dramatically: You’re engaging in 100 rounds of trade with a randomly chosen FiveThirtyEight reader. In each round, you and your trade partner can either cooperate (allow free trade) or defect (impose a tariff). Your goal is to pick a strategy that earns you as much as possible.

The game mechanics here were interesting (and “gave the game away” where the game is game theory a la Prisoners Dilemma):

Well..

Was there a trade war? Was it good? Did you win it?

Tariffs are the weapons of a trade war

The game you just played took a little game theory — the formal, mathematical study of strategy — and retrofitted it to the world of international relations. (Of course, our simulation is extremely simplified, and it runs in a very controlled little world that ignores alliances, trade deals, political histories, other countries, and hundreds of other factors.)

**

Memory slippage — lest we forget, there was one last game ref today:

It’s the NYorker‘s film criticism of the latest impossible Mission, and the game sentence in the piece itself reads:

Despite the deft coherence of the plot’s mirror games of alliance and betrayal, which provide the illusion of a developed drama, the movie almost totally deprives its characters of inner life or complex motives.

Mirroring’s one of the patterns I love to collect, and game thinking here might note the Kierkegaardian note:

In his 1846 essay “The Present Age,” Søren Kierkegaard decried the widespread tendency of the time -— which he summed up as an age “without passion” —- to “transform daring and enthusiasm into a feat of skill.”

The continuum from “daring and enthusiasm to “feat of skill” is an interesting one for game designers to place their games on — before and after design, and when player feedback is in.

A rich day indeed.

**

Sources:

  • FiveThirtyEight, Trump Isn’t Playing 3D Chess
  • CNN Politics, Donald Trump is playing zero-dimensional chess
  • CNN POlitics, Donald Trump is playing zero-dimensional chess (again)
  • Politico, Garry Kasparov Would Like You to Stop Saying ‘Trump Is Playing 4-D Chess’
  • FiveThirtyEight, How To Win A Nuclear Standoff
  • FiveThirtyEight, How To Win A Trade War
  • Trump on Twitter, trade wars are good, and easy to win
  • New Yorker, Mission: Impossible -— Fallout
  • **

    Some other posts in this series

    And I emphasize Some, previous posts in the game & sports metaphor series, as somewhat randomly collected, and Likelky not in sequential order:

  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=57435
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=59988
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=59082
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=58644
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=57908
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=59678
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=57493
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=59496
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=60193
  • With any luck, some of these will have links to yet others in the series..

    **

    And dammit, pwned by another one before my head hit the pillow..

    Pawn, yes. Pwn?

    Black Swan (bookstore) vs Red Hen (restaurant)

    Monday, July 9th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — a parallelism post, more than one about free speech and civility ]
    .

    Lexington, VA, and Richmond, VA, the logos:

    **

    A neatly observed opposition, more or less a natural DoubleQUote, between the Black Swan incident where a fellow customer assaulted Steve Bannon verbally in a bookstore and the restaurant incident where the owner of the Red Hen restaurant ejected Sarah Huckabee Sanders, saying her views did not conform to the ethic — or should that be ethos — of the restaurant:

    Now from a purely amateur natural history perspective, in a match between a black swan and a red hen, muy money is on the swan every time, as I trust Nassim Nicholas Taleb would agree. And Nabokov too, for that matter.

    From a popular consumer interest perspective, if the match is bookstore vs restaurant, restaurant wins hands down — but I’d go with bookstore, especially if it’s a used bookstore..

    **

    As to civility vs freedom of expression, thank God I’m not a cop or a judge — I require both. And that’s certainly a paradox, and probably a koan our society will have to face one of these days.

    Steve Bannon as a person I find intriguing to the point of sympathy, because he’s read many of the oddball authors I have, though my resulting observations come out of left field, and his out of right..

    **

    But none of that is what ultimately draws me to this post, it’s the delicious double parallelism of red vs black, swan vs hen.

    **

    I’ve been wondering, putting together this post, whether the bookstore is named for NN Taleb’s celebrated book, or for the wildly popular ballet film of thet name:

    Btw, Vogelgesang is birdsong: hen cluck, swan song.

    The new bad boy in girls’ lives, & other complex natsec issues

    Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — Trump hits Iran-ball hoping to put N-Korea-ball in the pocket? ]
    .

    Bad boy?

    **

    Consider this:

    The drivers of various significant natsec behaviors from a natsec perspective, can be pretty hard to characterize, pin down, and model. To take just today’s example (well, yesterday’s):

  • WaPo, MS-13 is the new bad boy in girls’ lives
  • Think about it, just skim the surface, and it’s obvious. Of course, MS-13 would be the new bad boy in girls’ lives. But what does that mean? Who has mapped the way in which girl’s lives might require or enjoy bad boys, and how gang identity, and thus by entension the game itself, might fulfill that requirement, that need.

    How true was it that ISIS or AQ was in its day the bad boy in girls’ lives?

    It seems pretty obvious Mick Jagger was bad boy in girls’ lives, back when Paul McCartney was the boy those same girls could bring home to meet the parents.

    Is extremism always the bad boy in girls’ lives?

    And once we’ve wondered about a few exmples, we need to reflect on the ornery nature of individual human psychology.

    **

    God says, “But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die” — and what’s the very next thing the fledgling humans do?

    Or as Wallace Black Elk said to me, “stolen watermelon tastes best.”

    Those two are fairly straightforward, the message is simply “humans are liable to do the exact opposite of what might be intended or predicted. But then there’s this, anecdotal to be sure, but I can voich for it myself:

    In my early thirties, I made my way cross-country to Inia along the hippie trail, and in the midst of majestic mountains in Iran, I got out of the van, did a headstand, and made a vow to give up smoking. I climbed back into the van, and ten minutes later had another cigarette. Ah, but I didn’t bite my nails — up to that time a long-established habit — for almost a decade..

    Go figure. There’s a logic there, but it involves a sidestep. Or, as they say, some wires got crossed.

    And it gets worse.

    **

    Blaise Pascal‘s observation in his Pensées (1623-1662) opens the possibility that any number of undertows may suddenly erupt and sweep us off in unforeseen directions:

    Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point. The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing

    **

    Or to give you a vivid example of the same pattern of process torn from this day’s news — and threatening thousands of Hawaiian householdsL

    On April 30, the floor of a crater on top of the Kilauea volcano collapsed, sending its pool of lava back underground and causing small earthquakes. Scientists predicted the magma would travel elsewhere and push its way back to the surface somewhere in the East Rift Zone.

    They were correct.

    Days later, the ground split open on the east end of Leilani Estates, exposing an angry red beneath the lush landscape. From the widening gash, molten rock burbled and splashed, then shot dozens of feet in the air.

    The Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency called it “active volcanic fountaining.” Some residents said it was Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, coming to reclaim her land. About 1,700 Leilani Estates residents were ordered to evacuate amid threats of fires and “extremely high levels of dangerous” sulfur dioxide gas.

    Soon, another such fissure had formed a few streets to the west. Then another, and another. For days, hot steam and noxious gases rose from the vents, before magma broke through, with some lava fountains shooting as high as 330 feet into the air — taller than the tip of the Statue of Liberty torch.

    At least 12 fissures have been reported in and around Leilani Estates, according to the county civil defense agency. Lava spouted along the vents and oozed through the neighborhood, leaving lines of smoldering trees in its wake and igniting cars and buildings.

    So far, lava has destroyed at least 35 structures, 26 of which were homes, the agency said Monday night.

    The world, like the min, is full of surprises.

    **

    King Canute, I was taught as a young boy, set his throne on the beach at low tide and forbade the waters to come in. This Hawaii resident had much the same idea..

    **

    And we would like to know how Iran will respond to Trump withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. And China. what Admiral Stavdridis calls “the knock-on effect with North Korea”. Saudi Arabia.The game is one of recriprocal Nuclear Dominoes, and exactly how they’ll fall is..

    Well, here are a few headlines to chew on:

  • Ha’aretz, From Doomsday to Delay: 5 Scenarios Ahead of Trump’s Decision on the Iran Nuclear Deal
  • Independent, Donald Trump’s decision on the Iran nuclear deal could have a disastrous ripple effect on the fight against terrorism
  • Atlantic, The Three Crises Sparked by Trump’s Withdrawal From the Iran Deal
  • Toss a coin, Roll the dice. Or maybe pray to Pele for a favorable outcome for you and yours, no guarantees..

    Two koi fish, the one waterfall

    Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — a yakuza movie shimmering between American and Japanese ]
    .

    Is strategy found here?

    In the film, The Outsider, from which I have borrowed the koi quote above — which gives a riverine equivalent of the steady progress open to a pawn in the strict logic of chess — the outsider of the title played by Jared Leto is tatooed with a single koi fish moving up a waterfall, which the woman, enough said, tells him indicates that he is arrogant.

    **

    She, Miyu, played by Shioli Kutsuna, has two koi fish —

    The film invites your understanding, needlessly, by explaining.

    **

    Ah well: how a brush pen readied on an ink-stone resembles a knife blade sharpened on a whet-stone.


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