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On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: eleven

Friday, October 21st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — graphical thinking really has pretty much permeated the tech end of our culture at this point ]
.

Two more examples of graphics — in the double sense of the word, or graphics squared if you like, where graphs, in the node and edge mathematical & network sense are used within graphics, in the visual or illustrative sense:

The first comes from a page on Carnegie Europe’s Strategic Europe blogpost titled Cyberspace and the World Order:

2016-01-14_cyber_605

The second is from the Eventbrite invite to The Future of Cybersecurity: A Conversation with Admiral Mike Rogers at Georgia State University on Moday 24th at 10am, courtesy of John Horgan.

cdn-evbuc-com

**

From a graphic (visual) perspective, the symbolic content is in each case interesting, and I’d be glad to read any comments on why, for instance, there’s a honeycomb hex grid in the upper image, and why the information flow is so much more curvaceous after the lock than before it (assuming a left-to-right reading in temporal sequence) — and in the lower image, why some of the nodes and edges are slowly getting stained red (and here I’m guessing an epidemiological image for the spread of a virus).

From a graphic (graph as potential HipBone game board) perspective, the upper graph doesn’t offer a game board as I envisage them, but the lower one certainly does, albeit this would be a complex game, with the sizes of nodes and lengths of edges to be taken somehow into account.

**

Earlier in this series:

  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: preliminaries
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: two dazzlers
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: three
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: four
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: five
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: six
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: seven
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: eight
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: nine
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: ten
  • Of Boxes and Worldviews

    Sunday, October 9th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — this won’t be appearing in the Proceedings, sad to say — luckily, here at ZP I’m my own managing editor! ]
    .

    Bravely or foolishly, I keep on writing essays about our ignorance, in areas of which I’m ignorant myself. Not surprisingly, I don’t win any prizes, but I do manage to get my feelings about ignorance down and, sometimes, out.

    For example, here’s my Coast Guard Essay Contest 2016 submission:

    **

    Of Boxes and Worldviews

    What boxes may we imagine we’re in, as we consider this 2016 Coast Guard Essay Contest?

    I ask this, because the challenge presented in the contest is described in part thus:

    No issue is too big or too narrow as long as it makes the Coast Guard stronger. This does not mean authors cannot be critical and take on conventional wisdom and current practices. In fact, we encourage you to push the “dare factor.”

    I’d argue that by now, it’s conventional wisdom to challenge conventional wisdom, that we’re now cosily settled in a box called “out of the box thinking” – that we’re effectively in “nested boxes” – and that what’s needed therefore is a grand scale questioning of the very way we think.

    Is there such a thing as a Coast Guard question? There are certainly questions that have relevance to the US Coast Guard and its future, and some of them are mentioned in the prologue to this contest announcement – issues in the Arctic, which presumably range from sovereignty issues and under-ice flag raising claims, to the impact of methane release on global warming as permafrost melts in what amounts to a vicious circuit, a feedback loop, a serpent biting its own tail – issues of drug interdiction, to include the use of cartel submarines and drones, and so forth.

    My problem with these questions is that they are effectively silos – specialty topics which, yes, the Coast Guard needs to address, and is indeed addressing, but silos, boxes nonetheless. In a word, they tend to the linear, in a world that is inherently cross-disciplinary, feedback-driven, complex – in which even the most straightforward of questions is involved with others in a peculiar web of tensions, arising and dissipating, between numerous vectors and stakeholders, of the sort first identified by Horst Rittel as “wicked problems”, and clarified thus by Dr Jeff Conklin of Cognexus:

    A wicked problem is one for which each attempt to create a solution changes the understanding of the problem. Wicked problems cannot be solved in a traditional linear fashion, because the problem definition evolves as new possible solutions are considered and/or implemented.

    Wicked problems always occur in a social context — the wickedness of the problem reflects the diversity among the stakeholders in the problem.

    Most projects in organizations — and virtually all technology-related projects these days — are about wicked problems. Indeed, it is the social complexity of these problems, not their technical complexity, that overwhelms most current problem solving and project management approaches.

    Importantly, Dr Conklin notes,

    There are so many factors and conditions, all embedded in a dynamic social context, that no two wicked problems are alike, and the solutions to them will always be custom designed and fitted.

    You don’t understand the problem until you have developed a solution. Indeed, there is no definitive statement of “The Problem.” The problem is ill-structured, an evolving set of interlocking issues and constraints.

    This takes us way past the elegant, non-linear, feedback-aware models that Jay Forrester pioneered ar MIT under the name of Systems Dynamics, way past the simple rules-sets with which agent-based modeling works, and into a rarefied concept-space where the arts and humanities as much as tech and the sciences — perhaps even more – come into play.

    Here the nature of the questions asked is neither disciplinary nor silo’d, the questions are not Coast Guard or Army, Intel or National Security, or even Medical or Aesthetic, Local or Global – but human: human questions, crossing not only the usual disciplinary boundaries, but the great Cartesian boundary between the physical and the spiritual – or as Clausewitz would say, between physical and moral.

    It’s far easier to think in terms of men, women and materiel, all of which can be counted, than in terms of morale – which takes the women and men seriously, after all – because morale is far less easily quantified. Indeed, with the exception of Matrix Games, it is far easier to game the physical side of conflict than the human. And yet Clausewitz says,

    One might say that the physical seem little more than the wooden hilt, while the moral factors are the precious metal, the real weapons, the finely honed blade.

    I suggested above that we need to get out of the Matrioshka-nested boxes of our current thinking, and if I can put that another way, we need to get to the heart of creativity.

    **

    From the point of view of pure creativity, as diagnosed by Arthur Koestler in his classic book, The Act of Creation, the aha! or eureka! of the creative breakthrough is in fact a “creative leap” — from one frame of reference to another, as shown in this diagram based on those in his book:

    koestler

    From the point of view of cognitive science, as Gilles Fauconnier & Mark Turner illustrate and confirm with neuro-scientific precision in their book on “conceptual blending”, The Way We Think, the tide has now turned from a more literal to a more analogical understanding of mental processing, at the most basic levels, and across all disciplines:

    We will focus especially on the nature of integration, and we will see it at work as a basic mental operation in language, art, action, planning, reason, choice, judgment, decision, humor, mathematics, science, magic and ritual, and the simplest mental events in everyday life. Because conceptual integration presents so many different appearances in different domains, its unity as a general capacity had been missed. Now, however, the new disposition of cognitive scientists to find connections across fields has revived interest in the basic mental powers underlying dramatically different products in different walks of life.

    From the point of view of Marshall McLuhan, writing to the poet Ezra Pound back in the 1940s, the issue is that following the rational enlightenment of the eighteenth century, which brought us today’s scientific and technological breakthroughs but has left us a wasteland in terms of values, threatening our planetary home with our weapons, our eager overpopulation, our fierce tribalisms, and excessive energy requirements, we have lost one central ingredient in human thought: the ability to think analogically rather than logically, in terms of relationships rather than linear causality.

    McLuhan wrote, presciently,

    The American mind is not even close to being amenable to the ideogram principle as yet. The reason is simply this. America is 100% 18th Century. The 18th century had chucked out the principle of metaphor and analogy.

    And computer scientist and Pulitzer prize-winner Douglas Hofstadter has aptly subtitled his book Surfaces and Essences, co-authored with cognitive scientist Emmanuel Sander, “Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking”.

    The analogical leap is the leap out of the box.

    **

    Thus far I’ve de-emphasized the “Coast Guardness” of my thinking. But let’s view some Coast Guard related issues in light of the above:

    Let’s take a simple lateral comparison first – how does the Chinese Coast Guard compare with our own, what are the physical overlaps and differences, strengths and weaknesses, of theirs and ours?

    Please note that this question cross-cuts, to a greater or lesser degree, with any and all other questions involving the USCG. It also leaps from ours to theirs, responds to Sun Tzu’s “know your enemy”, works by comparison and contrast, invites us into detail – and is far more easily answered in physical terms than in terms of morale. SIGINT is better at locating ships than at reading the mind and heart.

    Budgeting.

    If ever there was a tangled knot, the US system for allocating budgetary items would be it. Not only do the federal services each have a series of individual pulls and pushes, but the fifty states, their senators and congresspeople do too. And then there’s the lame-duck president and the president soon to be elect. Until November, there’s the two party scramble, with voters on both sides of the aisle drifting to and fro between partisanship, frustration, and independence. And there are undertows and swells of popular emotion influencing these other factors.

    The Coast Guard, arriving at its wish list for the next budget, must be single minded as to its objectives, flexible as to its willingness to negotiate – to a point – but balancing its clearly understood urgencies against the shifting tides of political wills in concert and in conflict, in a multi-vectorial tug-o-war, one against many. And there are no doubt similar tussles within the USCG, doctrinal purists and innovators, old hands and new, with their own mixed agendas, their temporary victories and defeats.

    Humans, wily at times, straightforward at others, subject to shame and pride – the conceptual landscape within which any particular problem plays out – let alone the interlocking monster of the whole – is inevitably subject to constant change, closer to the paradoxical understanding of Heraclitus that all is flux than to Coast Guard Office of Strategic Analysis doctrine. Hey – it may well be that the Coast Guard would by its nature have understood the threat-nature of the Iranians in Millennium Challenge 2002 as well as Paul Riper, playing red team, did. From USCG to Marines is a difference of silo, but cross-fertilization is the name of the next game, and Defense Readiness (CG 3-0, Operations, 2.2.4) 1., Maritime interception/interdiction operations, is an area of USCG theoretical expertise and practical experience.

    maritime-governance

    In short, the move is from blocked out and simplified complexity to a far more richly complex way of thinking, analogous to an n-dimensional concept space of shifting weights and tensions, of which this water-loaded spider’s web is a pretty good two-dimensional analog:

    Spider web covered with dew drops

    Imagine each water drop is a player, and that the entire web reconfigures as one drop shifts or is shaken, caroming into another, perhaps stretching one of the strands of the web past breaking point – and all this in an n-dimensional space beyond the capacity of most human minds to cognize, let along predict.

    It is this kind of web into which our massive data inflows are directed, and the interface between the data-crunching capacity of our computers and analytic software, and the multiplex capabilities of the keenest human analytic minds – that’s where the “intel” usefully functions. Before it hits that interface is is data. Within a capable mind, or within the web-like tensions and resolutions of our keenest domain expert, analytic, and hopefully decision-making minds, is where the intelligence becomes meaningful.

    Incalculable data points, multitudinous conflicting interests, and the human instinct for meaning.

    As the US Coast Guard’s European colleagues have been finding out under increasing public scrutiny and with painful intensity, not only are there political and scientific issues to navigate, there can also be strictly humanitarian impacts of the sort that we find occurring in the interdiction of refugee boats making the trip between Turkey and the Greek island of Chios.

    All in all, the work of the Coast Guard is a potent brew, and Computer Go pales before its complexity.

    **

    On a more personal note..

    Do you speak any form of Inuit? Or Athanbaskan? There are in fact 16 indigenous languages with corresponding worldviews in Alaska.

    What are caribou to you? Are you fluent in the magical worldview of the shamans? And what, as climate change drastically reshapes native Alaskan living, takes the place of shamanism in the leadership of native populations – in Alaska, an area of special concern to the USCG?

    If you are of a scientific bent – and the USCG Academy awards Bachelor of Science degrees, so most who have passed through those gates into the Service probably are – how concerned are you by global warming – and how concerned by comparison with the preservation of Inuit or Athabaskan culture?

    The truth is that both go together.

    Military and law enforcement agencies are tasked with setting things right in the external world, but the world of the human psyche has its own specialists – psychiatrists no less than spiritual leaders – and while at some level the US Presidency is often considered the pinnacle of human power, there’s also a category of figures we respect for a different kind of authority, one that is earned above all by integrity and generosity of spirit: the names of Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi and Pope Francis come to mind.

    Each of these four figures embodies the practice of contemplation in action – a practice which looks within the self for a compassionate response to adversity. Among the Inuit, and across the circumpolar region more generally, this practice of looking inward for values is the particular task of the shaman – and more recently, the artist.

    The Yupik, Inupiaq and Irish artist Susie Silook’s work, Looking Inside Myself, is a recent sculptural presentation of this theme:

    susie-silook-ypik-inupiaq-looking-inside-myself

    Cultural anthropology thus opens us to entire worldviews which are themselves both important to local stakeholders and profoundly illuminating in their own right. Indeed, in these worldviews, the whales, walrus, seals, the ravens and reindeer have voices – a concept largely foreign to western thinking until Mr Justice Douglas gave his dissenting opinion in SIERRA CLUB v. MORTON, 405 U.S. 727 (1972), alerting the nation via the Supreme Court that ecological considerations could no longer be ignored in coming to terms with the world we live in. In the arctic, such considerations have peculiar force, by reason of the extreme nature of the human and natural habitat.

    An anthropologist such as Richard Nelson can live in the style that anthropologists term “participant observation” with peoples of very different cultural assumptions than our own for extended periods, and with no other motive than to understand their host cultures — and thus gain both the people’s trust and a depth of insight into their understanding of the world — of which Nelson’s Make Prayers to the Raven, in which he presents an Athabaskan view of the natural world, is a celebrated example. The study of the circumpolar bear cult, as presented by Paul Shepard and Barry Sanders in their The Sacred Paw: the Bear in Nature, Myth and Literature, arguably brings us as close to the archaic origins of religion as human science can bring us.

    Somehow, these matters of extreme subtlety must at times be borne in mind while making the split-second decisions so characteristic of both military and law enforcement practice. And the higher the decision-maker in an action-oriented profession, the greater the need for deep understanding. In Napoleon’s own words, we can see that his actions, too, sprang from contemplation:

    It is not genius which reveals to me suddenly and secretly what I should do in circumstances unexpected by others; it is thought and meditation.

    Thought and meditation are the activities that prepare the mind for what Clausewitz termed the coup d’oeil:

    When all is said and done, it really is the commander’s coup d’œil, his ability to see things simply, to identify the whole business of war completely with himself, that is the essence of good generalship. Only if the mind works in this comprehensive fashion can it achieve the freedom it needs to dominate events and not be dominated by them.

    I have emphasized the cultural and contemplative side of things because Clausewitz’ “comprehensive” fashion of thinking demands it. The USCG Arctic Strategy mentions cultural matters only very briefly, giving far more weight to ecological considerations – which while complex in their own right, and sadly contested in the case of global warming, are far easier for a contemporary western, scientifically-trained mind to comprehend than the diverse human value systems of other cultures.

    Indeed, from an Alaskan native perspective, climate change and the tradition values of the peoples are tightly coupled at the leadership level. From a native perspective, there is a need for a new kind of leadership, one that replaces traditional shamanism, well-adapted to earlier conditions but now lost, with an exacting blend of traditional and modern forms of knowledge. As Steven Becker puts it in “A Changing Sense of Place: Climate and Native Well Being”, in face of an uncertain future, “agile and adaptive leaders” are required, who “can meet the physical, economic, and sociocultural challenges resulting from climate change.”

    These leaders need to be well versed in western science and management, but they must also be thoroughly grounded in their Native language, culture, and traditions (Kawagley 2008). They must see the value in both Native and western science, see the complementary uses of the two, and use both methods appropriately as the basis of true adaptive management (Tano 2006).

    I have emphasized this “new shamanic leadership” issue, not because interactions with native leaders will occupy more USGC time and attention than air-sea rescues or other highly visible, courageous and newsworthy exploits but precisely because they are subtle, not likely to capture headlines, and thus easily overlooked – and also because they touch on my own personal interests.

    But not only are these “agile leaders” (or “new shamans” as I prefer to think of them) leaders with whom forward-thinking Alaska-based USCG members may on occasion fruitfully collaborate, but because they are also emblematic of leadership in general, embodying both the best of scientific and technological “hands on” know-how with the finest human and ecological values.

    In this, they represent the way forward, not just for the Coast Guard or Alaska, but for contemporary civilization in a world of rapid, complex, often dangerous, and ultimately transformative change.

    **

    Well, whaddaya think, eh?

    On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: ten

    Sunday, October 9th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — a long, lazy Sunday post, packed with quirky interest and neat maps ]
    .

    Ten? What’s so special about ten, hunh? Just because you have ten fingers, you suppose that makes ten special?

    **

    One:

    As simple as a map can get:

    worry-line
    Simon Kirby, The Worry Line

    Two:

    As complex as one can get:

    most-complex-ny
    Eric Jaffe, The World’s 15 Most Complex Subway Maps

    And I mean complex, cognitively complex:

    When it comes to information processing, an average person’s “cognitive threshold” is about 250 connections, or the equivalent of roughly eight bits of data, according to the researchers. New York’s system neared that limit, with 161 total connections, and the most complicated two-transfer trip a person could make on the subway exceeded it—clocking in at 8.1 bits. Maps for the Paris Metro (with 78 total connections), Tokyo Metro (56), and London Tube (48) clustered around six bits of information.

    Three:

    Naked:

    naked-map
    Nick van Mead, Can you identify the world cities from their ‘naked’ metro maps?

    The Guardian wanted to know if you could recognize various cities if shown their metro maps without the stations markings.. and i could manage Chicago (above).

    Four:

    Coffee:

    coffee-shop-mapo
    Chris Ward, Coffee Stops

    Sadly, the map is not the territory, or I could get my Java from South Ken while sitting at my desk just outside Sacramento.

    The London Coffee Map, “Coffee Stops,” was designed by Chris Ward, who calls himself “the boss who works from coffee shops.” He recently published Out of Office: Work Where You Like and Achieve More, a best-selling guide to leading a successful working life outside an office building. Apparently, being properly caffeinated is one of his biggest tips. Now you can grab your joe at local London cafes with quaint names like Scooter and Electric Elephant.

    Five:

    Mug:

    I could then quaff it from an appropriately poetical Map Mug:

    50112-greater-shakespeare-map-mug-normal
    Royal Shakespeare Company, Greater Shakespeare Map Mug

    The map here representing affinities between characters in the Bard’s various plays:

    greater-shakespeare-map-rsc

    **

    Interlude:

    — and we’re half way to ten, let’s imagine ourselves at Shakespeare and Co‘s bookstore and cafe in Paris

    shakespeare-co

    **

    Six:

    Calvino

    While we’re on a literary streak, here’s a thumbnail of one of artist Rod McLaren‘s illuminations of Italo Calvino‘s Invisible Cities:

    italo-calvino-mapped
    Rod McLaren, Invisible Cities Illustrated #2: Trude/Ersilia

    The detail here is fantastic, as befits Calvino’s work:

    The diagram, a network of curved lines connecting to every other node on a 6 x 5 grid, has two configurations: if the picture is hung one way up, it shows the “Ersilia configuration” (where the lines are like the threads strung between the buildings of Ersilia); if hung the other way up, it shows that of Trude (where the lines are like a complicated airline route map).

    Ersilia (Trading Cities 4, p78):

    In Ersilia, to establish the relationships that sustain the city’s life, the inhabitants stretch strings from the corners of the houses, white or black or gray or black-and-white according to whether they mark a relationship of blood, of trade, or authority, agency. When the strings become so numerous that you can no longer pass among them, the inhabitants leave: the houses are dismantled; only the strings and their supports remain. From a mountainside, camping with their household goods, Ersilia’s refugees look at the labyrinth of taut strings and poles that rise in the plain. That is the city of Ersilia still, and they are nothing.

    They rebuild Ersilia elsewhere. They weave a similar pattern of strings which they would like to be more complex and at the same time more regular than the other. Then they abandon it and take themselves and their houses still farther away.

    Thus, when travelling in the territory of Ersilia, you come upon the ruins of the abandoned cities, without the walls which do not last, without the bones of the dead which the wind rolls away: spiderwebs of intricate relationships seeking a form.

    Trude (Continuous Cities 2, p128):

    If on arriving at Trude I had not read the city’s name written in big letters, I would have thought I was landing at the same airport from which I had taken off. The suburbs they drove me through were no different from the others, with the same greenish and yellowish houses. Following the same signs we swung around the same flower beds in the same squares. The downtown streets displayed goods, packages,signs that had not changed at all. This was the first time I had come to Trude, but I already knew the hotel where I happened to be lodged; I had already heard andspoken my dialogues with the buyers and sellers of hardware; I had ended other days identically,looking through the same goblets at the same swaying navels.

    Why come to Trude? I asked myself. And I already wanted to leave.

    “You can resume your flight whenever you like,” they said to me, “but you will arrive at another Trude, absolutely the same, detail by detail. The world is covered by a sole Trude which does not begin and does not end. Only the name of the airport changes.”

    All of which reminds me of nothing so much as Antonio Gaudi‘s model — made of hanging chains — catenaries —

    inverted-model-barcelona

    which when turned upside down provide the structure for his Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona:

    sagrada-familia

    Seven:

    Ghost:

    Meanwhile, back in London, we have maps of the ghost (ie abandoned) London tube stops:

    ghost-stations
    Dylan Maryk, Ghost Stations On The London Underground

    Eight:

    That’s one way to de-clutter the Tube map — show what ain’t there any more.

    Here’s another —

    declutteredtubemap
    Matt Thomason, 150 years of The London Underground

    Don’t ask me what it means — seeing as Hugh Grant gets a station, it’s either gentlemanly or ungentlemanly, I’m not sure which.

    Nine:

    Music:

    I simply didn’t know you’d have to travel this far to get from Dylan to the Beatles:

    london_music_genres_detail
    Dorian Lynskey, in Tufte, Response to London Underground maps

    I mean —

    bob-dylan-john-lennon
    Michelle Geslani, The Beatles and Bob Dylan met 50 years ago today

    Ten:

    I’ve kept this one for last because in some ways it’s the subtlest:

    exhibition-in-borders-we-trust

    It’s the work of architect Jug Cerovic., and on his page In Borders We Trust he offers this conceptual comment:

    Borders are primarily a mental construct.

    Just like a deity, they exist only insofar as People believe in them. Question is however how necessary our belief in their existence is and when exactly does that belief start harming us?

    At which point do borders cease to be a convenient orientation marker, a helpful tool for the comprehension of the land we inhabit, a common identifier for the construction of a shared identity? At which point do borders become a dogmatic limitation to imagination, a terrifying prison for the body and mind, a symbol and support of hatred?

    Borders do not possess an inherent bad or good character, on the contrary they are a malleable concept subject to appropriation and interpretation.

    “In borders we trust” examines the perception, physical manifestation and enforcement of the couple formed by People and Borders focusing on three key areas of the contemporary migration routes:

  • Gibraltar
  • Serbia
  • Levant
  • For this purpose the peculiar relationship between Borders and People is illustrated with a sequence of three distinct maps:

  • Borders without People
  • Borders with People
  • People without Borders
  • This novel perspective of a seemingly familiar representation, with each component of the couple shown separately and juxtaposed to their combined illustration, questions the articulation and pertinence of our present predicament.

    Happily, this is an area that I’ve delved into at some length myself in my earlier post, No man’s land, one man’s real estate, everyone’s dream? — with specific reference to ISIS’ bulldozing of the border between Iraq and Syria, and the Basque country, Euskadi, saddling the French / Spanish border.

    Cerovic has achieved an eminently practical limited version of one of my own grandiose castle-in-air schemes — building a universal graphical mapping system. Cerovic’s version offers us a universal graphical underground / tube / metro mapping system, in the form of his book One Metro World — you still have a couple of weeks to support it on Kickstarter!

    map-app

    **

    Earlier in this series:

  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: preliminaries
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: two dazzlers
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: three
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: four
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: five
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: six
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: seven
  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: eight
  • And hey, and we’re back at maps — where we started in

  • On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: nine
  • 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 ]
    .

    all-morons

    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:

    conklin-cover-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.

    Clinton:

    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.

    Romney:

    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?

    syria-on-the-map

    Maybe Firesign Theater had it right when they titled their 1971 album: I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus.

    Syria and drawing the web of tensions

    Friday, September 9th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — with a Magnus Ranstorp squib in its tail ]
    .

    The issue is complexity, and how you represent it. The case in point is Syria.

    Here’s a diagram that suggests complexity as a sort of crazy weaving, all straight lines and colors:

    Daveed’s diagram has a network feel to it, with actord as nodes and the tensions between them as edges:

    Karl Sharro’s tackling the wider context, but his illustration at least gives the sense of a ball of twine after a cat has carefully re-arranged it:

    Juan Cole simply provides a screenshot from Google Maps —

    jarabulus

    — the headline America’s Syria SNAFU: Pentagon’s Militias fight Turkey & CIA’s Militias — which is effectively friendly fire framed as paradox — and some paras beneath it using words to describe the tangle:

    The Turkish incursion into Syria at Jarabulus was advertised as an attack on a Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) stronghold and smuggling station in conjunction with (fundamentalist) remnants of the Free Syrian Army.

    But the southern outskirts of Jarabulus had already fallen to the Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which are majority Kurdish but have a significant Arab component. The Arab, non-Kurdish SDF brigades such as the Seljuk brigade, the Army of Revolutionaries, and Northern Sun Brigade had fought to liberate the northern Syrian city of Manbij, due south of Jarabulus from Daesh. They have an outpost in the village of Amarna just a few miles south of Jarabulus, where they call themselves the Jarabulus Military Council.

    The Turkish army, having secured Jarabulus itself with the help of fundamentalist militias, moved down to Amarna, where they met fierce resistance from the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are allied with the Kurds. The Turkish air force bombarded the SDF positions in Amarna and the militias responded by destroying two tanks and killing one Turkish soldier. Fighting continues there.

    To be honest, I’m not sure which of those means of modeling a complex system leaves us best able to understand the situation on the ground.

    **

    Maybe this one’s the best:


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