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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.

Hope as slogan, hope as navigation

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a visual DoubleQuote on the difference between artist and politician ]

As you may have gathered, I’m an admirer of the artist Alyce Santoro‘s work, and yesterday I came across her Existential Navigational Chart, with its little note in the bottom left corner:

Soundings in the Unfathomable at Mean Low Water (MLW)

In any case, it reminded me of the enormous difference between a political slogan and an artist’s insight.

Obama‘s HOPE (upper panel, below) was a lure, an appeal to an ideal in the sea of practical politics — and opinions are divided as to how well he managed to fulfill that one-word promise:

Tablet DQ 600 hope and hope islands

Alyce‘s navigational mapping of area surrounding the the Hope Islands (lower panel, above) on the other hand, is both more fanciful and more realistic — a wonderful combination if you think about it. Notice the nuance she manages to pack into her map, with Inner Hope Island, Little Hope Island, Hope Island, and on southwards to Lost Hope Island, False Hope Island, and Hope Ledge — and all so close to both Little Despair Island, and Love Rocks —

Who, truly alive, has not been stranded on one or more of those islands, nor dashed against Love Rocks?


You can download a print quality, high resolution file of Alyce’s chart without cost, or click through to her Philosoprop shop to purchase a signed copy.

The Shoehorn — two into one won’t go

Monday, July 18th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — these things are multi-factorial, and can’t truthfully be shoehorned to fit two categories — “terrorist” or “deranged” — as realtors might say, it’s nuance, nuance, nuance ]

Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt have an interesting piece in the NYT today, titled In the Age of ISIS, Who’s a Terrorist, and Who’s Simply Deranged? It hinges on a comparison of two similar events in France, two years apart, in Dijon and Nice.

Here, I’ve presented them as a DoubleQuote. The Dijon article (upper panel, below) comes from an NYT report dated December 23, 2014:

Tablet DQ 600 Terrorist or Deranged

The Nice report (lower panel, above) comes from Mazzetti and Schmitt’s piece today.


Mazzetti and Schmitt point out that shortly before the Dijon attack,

In September 2014, the spokesman for the Islamic State put out a call for the group’s followers to attack Westerners by any means possible, and to do so without awaiting further instructions from the group’s leaders.

“Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him,” the spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, said during a 42-minute recorded statement.

The whole Mazzetti and Schmitt piece is worth your reading. Categorization, as they explain, is changing —

“A lot of this stuff is at the fringes of what we would historically think of as terrorism,” said Daniel Benjamin, a former State Department coordinator for counterterrorism and a professor at Dartmouth College. But, he said, “the Islamic State and jihadism has become a kind of refuge for some unstable people who are at the end of their rope and decide they can redeem their screwed-up lives” by dying in the name of a cause.

Mr. Benjamin said this also led the news media and government officials to treat violence like the Nice attack differently from other mass attacks, like shootings at schools and churches that have been carried out by non-Muslims.

“If there is a mass killing and there is a Muslim involved, all of a sudden it is by definition terrorism,” he said

— and this has impacts far beyond the horrific crimes themselves.

For instance, here’s one conclusion with significant foreign policy implications:

But terrorism experts caution that because the Islamic State seems to have broad appeal to the mentally unbalanced, the displaced and others on the fringes of society, there are limits to how much any military campaign in Syria and Iraq can reduce violence carried out in other countries on the group’s behalf.


As Will McCants puts it in a Time piece titled The Difference Between ISIS and ISIS-ish:

The pattern is tragically familiar: a troubled youth with a criminal past attacks in the name of ISIS. Charlie Hebdo, Orlando, San Bernardino and perhaps now Nice. They are not ISIS, exactly, but ISISish men and women who have no organizational ties to ISIS but murder in its name.

And Heraclitus:

No man ever steps in the same river twice.

Soundbites and hasty headlines don’t chew what they bite. Each case is its own case — sui generis. Classical philosophy used to posit four types of cause: formal and material, efficient and final. In terms of acts of sudden violence, we may want to consider a variety of contextual influences, subconscious drives (James Gilligan‘s work on violnce and shame is deeply relevant here), overt signalling by perps including claims of bayat, methods employed and their history in previous actions and inspoirational or technical literature, and post-action claims by known terrorist groups

Life does not pretend to be simple. Convenience is no substitute for careful analysis.

Premasticated, predigested

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — executive summaries — aren’t they just babyfood for thought? ]

I have nothing against Alicia Silverstone, that’s the first thing:

tablet dq premasticated

What interests me more, though, is the necessity for executives to be fed (readers?) digests on matters of national security.

If I recall correctly, Jerome Ravetz once made the point that the chief executive charged with the oversight of dozens of nuclear power plants may well have to make multi-million dollar decisions very rapidly, after brief briefings, and with full confidence that his orders will be obeyed without question.. which is not a situation that encourages nuanced discussion.

Brevity may be the soul of executive decision-making, I can see that. I don’t have to like it.

Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — what color does a chameleon turn in a hall of mirrors? ]



There’s an interesting ascetic aesthetic in photography which prefers black and white to full spectrum color, but the black and white in question has a rich spectrum of its own, a continuum of shades of grey between black and white poles. Not so with black and white choices of the sort President Bush proposed when he said:

Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.


Some of the nuances to consider:

David Kilcullen on this video at 48.55:

A lot of families in Afghanistan have one son fighting with the government, and another son fighting with the Taliban. It’s a hedging strategy.


In Syria, many families face a terrible dilemma

In recent months I have noticed a trend of some families sending at least one of their children to join ISIL because that was the only way for them to generate an income in the family.


And then this:

U.S. Soldiers Told to Ignore Afghan Allies’ Abuse of Boys

Rampant sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan, particularly among armed commanders who dominate much of the rural landscape and can bully the population. The practice is called bacha bazi, literally “boy play,” and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene — in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records.



Is the CIA undercounting civilian deaths from drone strikes?

Determining the number of civilian casualties under such circumstances is a difficult task — even for the human rights groups that devote significant resources to doing so. If the CIA is simply counting zero civilians killed in operations where it can’t say for certain who the agency is even firing at, that doesn’t inspire much confidence in their numbers.
assumed to be combatants.


And then there’s the paradox, found even in scripture:

The Synoptic Gospels attribute the following quote to Jesus of Nazareth: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30), as well as its contrapositive, “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Luke 9:50; The Synoptic Gospels attribute the following quote to Jesus of Nazareth: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30), as well as its contrapositive, “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Luke 9:50; Mark 9:40)


As I said at the top of this post —


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