zenpundit.com » 2018 » June

Archive for June, 2018

Role-playing elections, Rebekah Mercer, Cambridge Analytica, &c

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — the “politics as game” metaphor comes in towards the end of this post — I think it’s a rich one ]
.


Totally irrelevant mega-foosball game was the best illustration, understandably, Gizmodo could come up with for a sophisticated role-player with strong political implications. Photo: Hector Viva (Getty Images)

**

This is a particularly juicy topic — Bryan Alexander pointed me to it. It seems there are a couple of RPGs, and I don’t mean rocket propelled grenades, in which role-players can play out elections — 2016 and 2020 — with an added emphasis on “an influential technology accelerator.”

First, then, Jane Mayer‘s New Yorker piece, which lit things up:

A Parlor Game at Rebekah Mercer’s Has No Get Out of Jail Free Card
Members of the right-wing family that helped put Trump in the White House can relive the campaign in an elaborate dinner-party game.

I mean, how cool is that? Jane Mayer, whose book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals, prompted reporter Joby Warrick to write that a CIA analyst had warned the Bush administration that “up to a third of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay may have been imprisoned by mistake,” while NYT reporter Scott Shane noted:

Mayer’s book disclosed that International Committee of the Red Cross officials had concluded in a secret report in 2007, that “the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation methods for high-level Qaeda prisoners constituted torture and could make the Bush administration officials who approved them guilty of war crimes.”

**

Okay, Jane Mayer is someone I geerally read with respect — and in her recent piece she delivered her goods on the megadonors and algorithms that plausibly gave Trump the 2016 election:

Robert Mercer, the New York hedge-fund magnate whose huge donations to pro-Trump groups in 2016 have been credited with putting Donald Trump in the White House, has kept a low profile since the election. But his daughter Rebekah, who runs the family’s foundation, now has a way to relive the thrill of the campaign with friends around her dinner table.

This, then, is entertainment, and good, clean fun — unless you happen to have a bias against hedge fund managers and the like.

In March, on a ski vacation at a rented house near Vail, Colorado, she brought a batch of copies of the “Rules of Play” for an elaborate parlor game called the Machine Learning President. Essentially, it is a race to the Oval Office in three fifteen-minute rounds. It’s a role-playing game, more like Assassin than like Monopoly, although players of this game do start out with an allotment of “cash” to spend on pushing their agendas, which can include “algorithmic policing” and “mass deportation.”

“Tonight, the name of the game is power,” reads the first page of the “Rules of Play.” Each player, it goes on, “will assume a new political identity.” Instead of becoming Colonel Mustard or Mrs. Peacock, as in the board game Clue, each player takes on the role of a political candidate or a “faction,” in the game’s parlance. Among the possible roles are Mike Pence, Elizabeth Warren, Black Lives Matter, Russia, Y Combinator, Tom Steyer, Wall Street, Evangelicals, the Koch Network, and Robert Mercer himself.

Colonel Mustard and Mrs. Peacock? or Rich Uncle PennyBags, the moustached logo from Monopoly? From a games perspective, Mayer’s piece is a rich trove — and of course, there’s more I could quote..

**

Now turn to Buzzfeed for a corrective, which is where Bryan landed me:

Rebekah Mercer Says She Isn’t Reliving The 2016 Election Through A Role-Playing Game
“I know nothing about that game, nothing about who created it or who plays it.”

And again, there are details aplenty:

Republican megadonor Rebekah Mercer strongly disputed on Monday a New Yorker report that she “has a way to relive the thrill” of the 2016 presidential campaign via a role-playing game that includes her father as a character.

The story, by journalist Jane Mayer, found that Mercer brought with her on a recent Colorado ski vacation the rules for “Machine Learning President,” a party game in which players assume the roles of politicians, interest groups, an influential technology accelerator, and billionaire donors involved in a hypothetical presidential election. Among the game’s characters is Robert Mercer, Rebekah’s father, a hedge fund billionaire whose donations to the Trump campaign and stakes in Breitbart News and Cambridge Analytica have brought him intense public scrutiny. Other characters include Elizabeth Warren and Mike Pence as presidential hopefuls.

In the three round game — Super Tuesday, the Primary, and the General Election — players split into factions that include the candidates themselves, Wall Street, and Russia. According to a Gizmodo story, the goal of the game “is to get players thinking about ways tech and money could be manipulated to influence the 2020 election.”

“I know nothing about that game, nothing about who created it or who plays it and, unlike Ms. Mayer, I didn’t even really read those pages and I shredded them when I got home,” Mercer wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News. Mercer did not explain why she shredded the game rules.

Ooh, shredded the game rules. And then there’s a nanny, who may have leaked the story.

**

Fast forward (by which I mean, click through) to Gizmodo‘s piece:‘Machine Learning President’ Designers Have No Idea How the Mercers Got Their Game

When a group of about 40 players first tested out a live game called the Machine Learning President at a private event in San Francisco this February, they were unaware that the game would end up memorialized in the pages of The New Yorker.

But during a ski vacation in March, the Republican mega-donor Rebekah Mercer gathered her friends together to play several rounds of the game, which pits special interest groups, political candidates, and activist organizations against each other in a simulated presidential election, aided by cash and artificial intelligence. A lawyer for Mercer told The New Yorker that she owned a copy of the Machine Learning President but had not created it and that it did not reflect her family’s views.

Indeed, the game was in fact designed by an outfit that was less than friendly to the Mercer’s position:

It’s not hard to draw comparisons between the rules of the game, with its reliance on big cash and tech capabilities, and the actions of the Mercer-backed Cambridge Analytica during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. But, as Mercer’s lawyer stated, she had nothing to do with creating the game -— in fact, it was conceptualized by one of her vocal critics.

**

Here we go:

Brett Horvath and Berit Anderson are the co-founders of Scout AI and the creators of the Machine Learning President. In 2017, the pair published a scathing critique of Cambridge Analytica, the now-shuttered political consultancy that misused the data of tens of millions of Facebook users and sat at the center of the social network’s largest scandal in years. “By leveraging automated emotional manipulation alongside swarms of bots, Facebook dark posts, A/B testing, and fake news networks, a company called Cambridge Analytica has activated an invisible machine that preys on the personalities of individual voters to create large shifts in public opinion,” the duo wrote.

Wrote, in fact, in a piece titled The Rise of the Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine — and here we’re getting into more serious, “Alert, ICYMI” waters — subtitled:

There’s a new automated propaganda machine driving global politics. How it works and what it will mean for the future of democracy.

The 20-page piece begins:

“This is a propaganda machine. It’s targeting people individually to recruit them to an idea. It’s a level of social engineering that I’ve never seen before. They’re capturing people and then keeping them on an emotional leash and never letting them go,” said professor Jonathan Albright.

Albright, an assistant professor and data scientist at Elon University, started digging into fake news sites after Donald Trump was elected president. Through extensive research and interviews with Albright and other key experts in the field, including Samuel Woolley, Head of Research at Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project, and Martin Moore, Director of the Centre for the Study of Media, Communication and Power at Kings College, it became clear to Scout that this phenomenon was about much more than just a few fake news stories. It was a piece of a much bigger and darker puzzle?—?a Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine being used to manipulate our opinions and behavior to advance specific political agendas.

**

So Reberkah Mercer was sent a copy of a game whose progenitors were seriously opposed to Cambridge Analytica style “weaponization” of US presidential politics, and had created a game to get others thinking along similar lines.. she then played it, or didn’t.. then, either way, shredded it.

Back to Gizmodo:

That invisible machine—and the lack of preparedness for it in the 2016 election—provided inspiration for the Machine Learning President. The goal of the game is to get players thinking about ways tech and money could be manipulated to influence the 2020 election. (It also inspired Scout AI to spin out another group, Guardians AI, that’s focused on protecting pro-democracy groups from information warfare and cyber attacks.)

“This is an experience we created to help pro-democracy groups and strengthen democracy against some of the ways technology might interfere with fair elections,” explained Randy Lubin, one of the game’s designers and the leader of a design studio called Diegetic Games. “We knew that some sort of game or simulation or exercise was a really great way to understand the incentives and systems at play.”

I think there’s plenty of eccentric and wonky games and wargames stuff in here, and would have posted this anyway — but if I need a rationale within my own “system”, I’ve been collecting game metaphors as you know, and this one has the game metaphor in those last words:

We knew that some sort of game or simulation or exercise was a really great way to understand the incentives and systems at play.

Yes, politics itself can be viewed as a game, modeled in a game, learned from in a game, wargamed — or simply “played” in a game for dinner party entertainment. The possibility of red-teaming 2020 is where this gets cutting-edge interesting.

Boom!

An Invitation to the Church of the Open Question

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — announcing a new blog for matters quasi-religious, poetical ]
.

The Church of the Open Question is the name of my church.

I have held this domain name, churchoftheopenquestion.com, for some years now, and a blog-church by that name should be coming online shortly — this is its first announcement.

My church bears that name because it expressly questions dogmatic formulations, while encourageing depthful exploration of the possible resonances of dogma that might go missing if all such formulations are dismissed out of hand.

Push open a question, leave it open, and what you have is possibilities.

The marvelous, beautiful, well-spoken Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel has titled her book on Tibetan Madhyamaka philosophy, The Power of an Open Question: The Buddha’s Path to Freedom, and I find myself to have come by a natural unfolding to a position very sympathetic to that which she has attained by the disciplined enterprise of Madhyamaka Buddhism under the tutelage of her husband, Lama Dzigar Kongtrül — a delightful homecoming for me.

I view my church — and the swing-doors that are its central feature — as offering a place where, for instance, Catholics who are leaving Catholicism may find certain doctrines illuminated as imaginative or poetic vehicles for wonder, which they can then carrry with them as spiritual values in an overwhelmingly secular and monteized societty, while those approaching the Church from outside it may find means of delighting in poetic or imaginative readings of texts that, stated in plain prose as definitive beliefs, are difficult indeed to swallow.

**

As an example, here’s a poem I wrote in this spirit, exploring the central symbolism of thr Christmas story..

Christmas for Buddhists

Suppose the full radiance inhabiting all things,
on the specific occasion we now celebrate,
finding itself as fond of narrative as of symmetry,
of emptiness as of fullness, decided
for the sake of teaching its selves a thing
or eight, to take on a newborn form,
while letting its nature shine forth visible
to its mum, sundry animals, three visiting kings

and an assortment of invisible winged beings —
what better place than the animal stall
outside an inn, where no room was available
for a pregnant visitor to give birth, could
that master of story, Original Face, choose,
to tell humanity: humility is the necessary virtue?

or it’s close cousin, exploring the Mass:

To suppose the Eucharist

Suppose the hypothetical all of everything
in unspooling itself chose to exhibit itself in
one human, suppose further all the sun’s
light were caught in wheat and baked into
bread, all the world’s pains and passions
crushed like grapes into wine, suppose the
one person took loaf and cup and with
word and gesture raised them blood, body

of his own self to be supped and sipped,
thus woven into his one flesh, blood, mind —
just when his flesh is torn, blood spills —
suppose then that his mind to love were to
entrain this new body of many bodies to
heal with all radiance each instance of pain..

That one certainly owes something to Teilhard de Chardin, as the first may to Thomas Merton — this, then, will be above all a gathering or congregation of friends..

**

I’m encouraged by Dr Jordan Peterson‘s claim that he “wanted to establish a church .. in which he would deliver sermons every Sunday” — although in my own case, every now and then will have to substitute for every Sunday.

I have a first sermon lined up, too, in which I want to ask “What did Mozart see as Christ‘s life” when chosing the words “Ave verum corpus natum” to set to some of his most wondrous music? The answer’s a bit surprising, and suggestive of the many devotional moods the contemplation of that life can give rise to..

Coming shortly.. Clapton, too. And Anthony Bourdain.

Puppetry cascades, or “art is theft”

Friday, June 22nd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — and if you experience vertigo reading any of these cascades, feel free to hang in there vertiginously — or let go ]
.

Alright, here’s a DoubleQuote in images:

I don’t believe there’s a direct borrowing (aka plagiarism, theft) here, but both images rely on a shared puppet cascades convention.

**

It’s been a bit of a yawn to say art is theft — at least since a few borrowings past Picasso, and maybe before him — what makes this pair of puppet cascades interesting is:

First, that each depicts a portion of a cascade of puppets — in the earlier, My Fair Lady version, Bernard Shaw puppeting Henry Higgins puppeting Eliza Dolittle, while the recent New Yorker graphic might as well be X (unshown) puppeting Steve Bannon puppeting Trump with Jeff Sessions and Scott Pruitt, maybe.

Second, note the X (Bernard Shaw) in the later version, and then ponder the idea that cascades may have a source, or may continue backwards ad infinitum, but Someone or Thing implicitly or explicitly needs to fill that X space. In the earlier version, Bernard Shaw does it, but that only begs the question, is Something puppeting Bernard Shaw? Deity, perhaps, or Muse?

And in the contemmporary version, where the upper puppeteer is cut off from vision, They‘s a good guess for the X Who‘s puppeting the Bannon figure, because Bannon, They, and Puppetry are all widely associated with conspiracy theory. Oh, and think, X-Files!

Hey, in reality Lerner and Lowe were making musical out of Shaw‘s theatrical Pygmalion out of Gilbert and Sullivan — and the cascade theft goes on and on, back into the mists and myths of antiquity..

The actual figures in the New Yorker cascade are X, Lord Bell (representing Bell Pottinger, the PR firm), and, below, the brothers Atul, Ajay, and Tony Gupta. The article itself, The Reputation-Laundering Firm That Ruined Its Own Reputation, is well worth a read. And look at the illustrations careful documentation of the ownership-lineages it’s pilfering from:

Illustration by Ben Jones; photographs by (clockwise from top): David M. Benett / Getty; Martin Rhodes / Gallo Images / Business Day / Getty; Foto24 / Gallo Images / Getty; David M. Benett / Bell Pottinger / Getty

**

Property is theft, now — that’s Proudhon.

Three books in one day — splendid!!

Friday, June 22nd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — Imagination, Joan of Arc, and Coronation ]
.

Oh, the other day was a great day, bringing me three terrific books:

  • Henry Corbin, Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi: Alone with the Alone
  • Marina Warner, Joan of Arc: the Image of Female Heroism
  • Matthias Range, Music and Ceremonial at British Coronations: From James I to Elizabeth II
  • The Corbin is simply the most dedicated book on spirituality I would take with me if I could, and which I’d dearly love to crack. Marina Warner was a stellar presence in the cafe I frequented in Little Clarendon Street in Oxford, and hijacked me once to help paint her new digs. And the Range? It’s a book I’ve long wished to read and finally, here it is.

    Quite a trio!

    Eyes everywhere and the World Cup

    Friday, June 22nd, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — just keeping a paranoid eye on an old and subtle game.. ]
    .

    You know I’m always looking out for examples of the Matryoshka doll effect, where a large doll holds smaller, nested “child” dolls, one within the other in a diminishing series — theoretically ad infinitum — and more generally of macro-micro, as a pattern always worth pondering?

    Well, it’s World Cup time, and The Atlantic just posted a fine run of photos of soccer pitches from around the world — one of which caught my eye:

    That’s just a detail, showing you the larger radomes of the Bundesnachrichtendienst / German Intel Service, and smaller versions of the same used to play soccer and — who knows? — pick up signals of my and your interactions around the world and off into near space too perhaps.. Japanese reports of moon tastings, my own poems, your moon-bounced messages..

    Here, for your enjoyment, is the whole picture:


    Sean Gallup / Getty

    People play football at a field next to radomes of the digital communications listening station of the Bundesnachrichtendienst, the German intelligence agency, on June 2, 2015, in Bad Aibling, Germany.

    Photographer Sean Gallup certainly has a strong eye for macro-micro, too.

    **

    When I was first introduced to NSA by somone who knew it better at least than I did after dipping into James Bamford, he explained:

    NSA > National Security Agency > No Such Agency > “Nonesuch to you, Mister”

    I’m grateful Nonesuch wasn’t named the Bundesnachrichtendienst!

    See the rest of The Atlantic‘s soccer fields around the world, including this image:


    RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images)

    The caption here reads:

    Ex-FARC rebels play football in the unarmed zone known as Territorial Spaces for Training and Reincorporation (ETCR in Spanish) “Antonio Narino”, where former guerrilla fighters receive training to facilitate their development, reconciliation and reincorporation to civilian life, in Icononzo, Tolima Department, Colombia, on June 12, 2018

    **

    Next up in an expanding line of intelligent footballs, way out past our friendly moon: the Dyson sphere and matroshka brain architecture ..


    Switch to our mobile site