KEEP CALM & CARRY ON, ISIS EDITION (PT 4)

    When I began this as diary as a "series", I pointed to Mosul as a metaphor for Nov 8, 2016, and true to form, the chaos of the ensuing weeks have thrown me off - but constructively so.

    Sadly and ironically, the progress on the "battlefield", Mosul's ancient tightly wound streets booby-trapped for maximum obstruction, has been replaced by the PR & propaganda battle over what really happened March 17, though largely this battle has been lost already - whatever the allies do now, they will be mostly remembered for civilian casualties, despite all the extraordinary painstaking effort they've taken to avoid them.

    And that should give Democrats great pause as well - the seeming victories over Trump & the Republicans the last few weeks can be ephemeral and imagined, with a PR loss pulled from the clutches of victory. As one person noted, giving Flynn immunity to testify can be a huge trap, and that's just 1 possible trip-up point. But I'm more interested in the idea of "cooperation" vs. "collusion" in how we go forward.

    Too Big to Fail: Why Government as a Business Doesn't Work

    Much is being written about Jared Kushner leading another task force to make government run like a business, with the usual caveats about how it's likely to fail. Included are all the usual right and wrong reasons about government not being a business. But the lack of failure is the biggest point.

    American business is successful precisely because so many businesses fail, and are replaced by new trendy companies with just as much chance of failing. Amazon, one of our great recent "success" stories, didn't make a profit for years, and now 20 years later only pulls in profits of maybe 1% of revenues. Uber's much worse, with a 2016 loss of perhaps $3 billion. It's hard to imagine US voters putting up with such poor results. And those are the *good* examples.

    KEEP CALM & CARRY ON, ISIS EDITION (PT 3)

    "Gaslighting" is a meme based on an old movie where you're led to question your own sanity & ability to judge anything.

    In my short previous installment, I noted the fighting in Syria & Iraq taking place in the new mags & tabloids and internet as well. Rather than subsiding with the near elimination of ISIS from Mosul, the conflict exploded onto front pages in the last day not due to what happened, but more due to what may have transpired. As has become rule over the last year or more, your take on the matter will depend on where you fit in the political spectrum and what walled-off garden of social & traditional media you're imbibing.

    Keep Calm & Carry On, ISIS Edition (pt 2)

    Not quite the #2 I'd planned, but in checking on progress for Mosul, I noted RT (Russia Today) continually using the term "indiscriminate strikes" when describing US/allied shelling and street action. Among their continued "3rd party independent" verifiers of this was a group called "Airwars".

    Knife in the Back - Monsters on Main Street

    Even as Hillary is sighted, somewhat like that bear, slipping out of the woods back into the mainstream, I see again and again the disgruntled comments arising in each story, the "we wuz robbed", the "DNC rigged the primaries", the "crooked woman", and the "party left us" kind of betrayed mentality you seldom see so strong except for WWI German vets distraught over Versailles. Not just a few comments - *DOMINATING* the comments section.

    Topics: 

    Keep Calm & Carry On, ISIS Edition (pt 1)

    On April 8, 2014, al-Baghdadi announced Al-Nusra & Islamic State Iraq were joining forces, and soon unleashed an impressive series of attacks that gained large swaths of Iraqi & Syrian territory (see below). Tied to the seemingly unstoppable progress was the horror of ISIS' fanaticism and cruel behavior towards any non-adherent to their fringe beliefs. Besides fodder for those who believe all Islam is like this, it renewed criticism of how the Iraq War was managed, helped fuel the mass emigration from Iraq & Syria that swamped Europe for a time (and almost dented the US), and provided a key thread of fear and loathing for the 2016 campaign trail.

    The threat & ease of spread by ISIS wasn't just do to its methods and persuasion. It relied on the in-fighting of those that might in saner times approach it - in short, they relied on a philosophical vacuum much as they relied on the huge areas of unoccupied desert to make their gains look more impressive.

    3 years later (in 3 weeks) we see what happens when Kurds, Shi'ites, Sunnis and any other factions join together to confront a regional pariah. It hasn't been easy - the Caliphate gained land much faster than the slow, plodding effort to retake control. Even back in October there was some feeling that defeat of ISIS could be just a few weeks away - but instead the much more extended re-capture of Mosul has enlightened us to the new realities of lightning war, or its non-existence in a terrain where we worry about civilian life rather than raw advance.

    Topics: 

    Intermezzo - Springtime for Hitler

    Today is my dip into happy land, my safe haven, my respite from the madness. Yesterday was the first sign of spring, still chilly but warm enough to go out with only a suit jacket - time for that springtime optimism.

    They used to say no news is good news, but now we have it 24x7, so let's just talk up the good news for a change. Today I'll be largely untouched by political chaos, except to note the bright sides.

    Pop Quiz - Fight Harder or Smarter?

    I was at a pub quiz last night, answering questions with an impromptu team sitting around a table.

    At one point, there was a question about which of 3 early 60's events happened first. I quickly gave an answer that I was pretty sure was correct, and gave me reasons for it. But over the course of the next couple of minutes, my teammates talked me out of it and chose another.

    When we scored the paper a couple minutes later, my answer would have been right. One of the guys who was largely leading the group looked at me and said, "But you didn't fight for your answer hard enough".

    Доброе утро, Америка - Notes from Underground

    As the "Spy who Came in from the Cold" starts to unfold or unravel, these are some of my notes - there will be more, many more, flying at a furious pace I expect. What else is happening? Feel free to pile on, like a Moscow snowdrift.

    Was Trump the "Casino" behind Russian Spies Arrested 2014?

    Little Moscow: More Trump-Russia real estate corruption.

    Plus: how Russian money powered Trump's comeback:

    Bibi: Putin's inspiration?

    Reading Michael Crowley's piece on Bibi's long-term strategy towards Obama, I'm struck by this absurdity in American politics. As Netanyahu comes waltzing into Washington to place demands on the White House, receiving policy concessions served up like John the Baptist's head on a plate, he must be thinking the transformation is complete. But be careful, Bibi - sea changes can be wild, with the occasional tsunami.

    See, as we focus on foreign intervention into domestic politics, it won't be long until someone notices (me?) that we have a codified litmus test in Washington, if not largely accepted across the US, of allegiance to Israel and its needs/wants. For guilt reasons? Fear of the rapture and all things biblical? Sincere belief that these are Israel's and thus our needs? Who knows. For a nation that still largely practices the weird & painful circumcision procedure on all male babies for no actual religious or medical reason, we'll just have to accept we're a bit challenged on certain matters. But back to the story....

    Congress regularly is evaluated for support  on all matters Israel - AIPAC's "who's been naughty or nice" especially resulting in near lock-step adherence to Israeli predilections. Hillary took to this obligation with a flourish in her time as Senator, clinging almost as close to the Jewish state as she did to Obama during the last campaign. Bernie being Jewish got a little bit of breathing room, but even he mailed in his criticisms from an undisclosed remote location, knowing better than to deliver in person lest he be found in the East River with the fishes (a joke, son, it's a joke...)

    BrightBarf Spews -Who will Listen?

    Picking up a reference to a (Not-so-)BrightBarf header on Flynn's resignation at RCP, I was intrigued - while Pat Buchanan was telling those damn Negroes and Hippies to Behave, the Prez's virtual news rag of record was declaring Flynn's resignation was a bad sign - for everyone else. 

    How do they start this - oh, the sanctions on Russia were: " to substantiate the Democratic Party’s sore-loser conspiracy theory" - nothing to do with annexing Crimea, apparently.

    Then, "there is no evidence (yet) that Flynn did anything but discuss sanctions in the most general terms" - oops, guess they didn't read last night's papers. (Maybe Steve Bannon can provide a phone transcript if you guys need - he is in the NSC chain of command, right?).

    But Flynn was caught "because the Department of Justice had been eavesdropping on the conversation" - uh, he was a suspicious character making international calls to Russian leaders - those calls are monitored by NSA, not the DoJ. Info *might* be shared with others, however. [Perhaps they know not to intercept North Korean mobile calls on the Prez's unsecured phone, but I'd guess it's got more taps than a Hollywood jacuzzi.]

    Topics: 

    Pat on the Back: Trump takes 51st Super Bowl

    In a last minute surprise, Trump's untraditional campaign team upset the over-confident Falcons last night to win the 51st Super Bowl held in Trump-friendly Texas.

    Neglecting to revisit key strategic border sections of the field more amenable to their game play, the Falcons relied on an over-cautious strategy from their early lead going into halftime, giving the Patriots the opportunity to microtarget an unnoticed but increasingly receptive field of key white receivers. The Nation's Team relied on the more exceptional game play of true stolid conservative players steeped deep in the field's vast, largely empty heartland rather than the Falcs' preferred focus around the crowded edges of the sidelines, often resting on slick and fancy footwork rather than core fundamentals.

    While the final score seemed close and tenuous, Trump noted he could have won by much more but the line refs and scorekeepers had rigged the contest, costing his team at least 20 points, and especially faulted the Falcons for relying on undependable non-white players, and the media for reporting pre-game events.

    Dissipating Power

    I remember it well, the heated 2008 campaign, and one of the vaunted risers in the party - scratch that, *conscience* of the party - Samantha Power - had just called Hillary a "monster". In this case it was for "deceit", saying anything to win, but it might as well have been for Powers' forte, foreign policy - poking holes in US reactions in Bosnia and Rwanda and elsewhere.

    9 years later, Powers goes out like a vanquished lion - braying in futility in her last moments as UN rep against Russia's transgressions in Syria. But what happened in-between? Where did these outspoken values go in the Obama years with a largely reactive, not pro-active stance on human rights and threading our way through more Mideast engagements and muddied mushy responses? Seth Mandel provides a comprehensive summary of this transition from Lion Queen to largely defanged kitten.

    This is not a post of schadenfreude - I'm saddened and confused and disheartened. It's symbolic of the real world as we know it, the demise of optimism and righteous fury, and where we get tripped up time and time again. The other side's busy ignoring that world, running red lights, hitting pedestrians on the sidewalk - but still, careful driving doesn't make you a good driver. But it's a helluva lot easier to tell if someone's a good driver than whether they're doing the right thing in foreign politics.

    A Lot of Rice

    Once I was taking a bus tour in China, and the tour guide kept pointing out a bunch of boring obvious stuff, "China grows a lot of rice. We have a lot of rice in China..."

    After a while, I noticed that when he said, "look out on your right", there was something unsightly and run-down on the left, and vice-versa.

    As we get all hot & bothered by what's going on, stop a bit and consider what else is happening that might not bother us, might have escaped our notice.

    Topics: 

    The 15%, pack mentality & unrolling stupidity

    Smoking still accounts for a half million deaths a year  in the US, 1 of every 5 deaths.1 out of every 650 Americans dies from cigarettes yearly.

    This isn't news. MAD Magazine used to run iron lung parodies in the 60's. We know smoking kills, a lot faster than global warming.

    Driving has 1/15th the number of fatalities, and we make Google self-driving cars take precautions.

    15% of adults - 36.5 million Americans - smoke. More than 16 million have a smoking-related disease - slow suicide.

    You might think it's looking better, only 15% compared to 21% 12 years ago - but that's still an awful lot of stupid. *MORE* people smoke in the 25-44 range than over 65.

    Play Ball (Better Luck Next Year)

    1) Focus on things that make a difference - ignore the chatter and buzz, the click-bait and easy gotchas - they just chip away at time. Baseball announcers have to fill a lot of dead air, so can talk about anything from root canals and outboard motors and somehow connect it to the game. My mother called it "diarrhea of the mouth", but in baseball circles they call it "a good living" or "Harry Carey", depending.

    2) Time is money, money is time, and we don't have enough of either. Stop the class warfare over money - money largely wins elections and ball games. Everyone says the players are overpaid, but they still buy tickets and fill the stadium. Care about values, cultivate rich ethical friends, fast track the road to wins.

    (Jesus corollary: as the poor will be with us always, so will the rich and glamorous and obnoxious. Deal with it).

    3) Watch Moneyball, take away key points: a) adapt or die, b) you're not out to replace a player - you're out to buy scores and wins, c) the competition will copy your successful techniques if allowed, d) don't trust the polls - do your own analytics.

    PS - argue about candidate values and flaws and street-cred *after* you win the pennant - until then, make lemonade: get up earlier, hustle after grounders, and don't confuse being a player with being a commentator.

    Did we give up? (when the Germans attacked Pearl Harbor)

    An old yogi asked me once, "is the purpose of suffering to suffer?", presumably to mean it's to learn, as a way to avoid suffering. He continued, "the baby poops its diaper - do you put a flower in it? No, of course you don't put a flower in it - you clean the diaper".

    Yes, to stay on this road is to kill ourselves, spiritually, psychically, maybe if lucky even physically. Gurdjieff talked about a man enthralled with this most beautiful fruit he'd discovered, so much he couldn't put it down, even though the red peppers were killing him. Yes, we as a party and a people do love to hear ourselves talk.

    28 years ago, the Berlin wall came down, freeing millions behind the Iron Curtain soon followed by apartheid crumbling in South Africa and then the Soviet Union itself. The US responded as it usually does, put on its suit, grabbed its briefcase, went out to try to sell these people something - computers, fertilizer, cars, deodorant, stuff. Plenty of stuff.

    Fuck Da Noize

    Yesterday a female CEO/glorified saleswoman "broke LinkedIn"** with a potty-mouth post to blatantly flog her not-so-in-demand and rather niche/regional product. Predictably it got a lot of reads, attention, comments, and a predictable followup post - basically, "so I said fuck, get over it".

    LinkedIn will undoubtedly not "get over it", but *will* absorb the change and suffer another hit to its already waning fortunes as professional-network-turned-Facebook, anticipating the day where it becomes MySpace (read: past tense).

    But the noise is instructive. She did what many insurrectionists will do - drive the bus straight into the wall and laugh about it. The famed article "The Tragedy of the Commons" was based more on shared markets being damaged by neglect, less cared for than private spaces - Adam Smith's non-benign one-handed twin.

    Here the noise is not just the uproar - it's also the cognitive dissonance - the "you can't do that" feeling that destroys our confidence and basic precepts, violates our now (epi-?)genetically encoded values system - taking the last cookie without asking, crossing the street on red, etc., etc.

    Was Comey Blackmailed?

    The most obvious question, yet no one's asking it.

    It's not like he didn't know the rules. And it was a complete nothing-burger.

    Did Putin get to Jimmy? Enquiring minds want to know.

    Discuss.

    Bayesic Instinct

    Towards the late days of October, Huffpost's lead pollster started releasing polls claiming greater than 90% probability of a win, explicitly challenging Nate Silver of 538 and his "conservativism" or even manipulating the data. One commenter noted, "we'll know after Nov 8". It was all too funny and surreal, like a guy saying he knows all about carpentry and grasping the hammer head and nailing with the handle.

    No, you can't "know" anything from a single outcome, unless you predicted 100% that it wouldn't happen - that your certain hypothesis was refuted. Otherwise, you're simply left with false confidence in 1 data point - unless you bothered to research your outcome.

    As background, I'm pretty awful in probabilityand statistics - having the basics of dice permutations down, and getting the math of certain cross-correlations in dependent events, and doing enough damage in trying to model stochastic processes. But mostly I done forgot.

    But even if I hadn't, it might not matter. Just as the field of linguistics is going through a phase of rough and tumble re-evaluation after 30-40 years of certainty centered around Chomsky, probability and data analysis is getting an upgrade - perhaps not changing the science, but more how people use it as an art.

    In trying to make some sense from this awful year and a half, and draw some usable lessons from it (rather than another set of kneejerk platitudes and I-told-you-soes, I'm digging into both psychology and analytics in the new year to get some different insights - angles I wouldn't have thought of before.

    Topics: 

    Pages

    Latest Comments