Cybernetics in the 3rd Millennium (C3M) --- Volume 5 Number 4, July 2006
Alan B. Scrivener --- www.well.com/~abs --- mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
The Eastern Question
[This is a continuation of last month's e-Zine; see the archives
listed at the bottom of this document if you haven't read part one.]
It is the naive visual man who falls into the oral and oriental
trap, e.g., E. M. Forster and D. H. Lawrence.
-- Marshall McLuhan, 1970
"Culture Is Our Business"
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/007045437X/hip-20 )
I was a little concerned that the "tiki" portion of last time's
issue was a little out of place and superfluous, but in fact I
got the most encouraging feedback regarding that section. So
here's some more.
We continue to see evidence of the Summer of 2006 Tiki Fad,
at the mall in Spencer's Gifts and Party City,
( www.partycity.com )
in the mail order catalogs we get from the Oriental Trading Company,
( www.orientaltrading.com )
featuring the inflatable tiki pole,
( www.orientaltrading.com/application?namespace=browse&origin=searchMain.jsp&event=link.itemDetails&demandPrefix=12&sku=34/886&mode=Searching&erec=2&D=tiki&Ntt=tiki&Ntk=all&Dx=mode%252bmatchallpartial&Ntx=mode%252bmatchallpartial&N=0&sd=INFLATABLE+TIKI+POLE )
and in unexpected places like the Garden Show at the Del Mar Fair.
( www.sdfair.com/fair )
Another of our friends has bought a fez. In my immediate family,
we cleaned a bunch of junk out of our vine-covered back patio and
made a charming little Tiki Room out of bamboo mats and curtains,
nets, shells, coffee sacks, tiki torches, lava rocks and a
totem pole, laced with vines and white Christmas lights.
It makes a great chill zone.
We recently gave in to marketing pressure and joined Netflix,
( netflix.com )
and one of the movies we got to see was "Hawaiian Rainbow"
(documentary, 1988) directed by Robert Mugge,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00000ICA9/hip-20 )
which we watched in the early 1990s when -- as I recall -- we checked
it out of our local library. It tells the story of the evolution
of Hawaiian music, from native chants to missionaries' hymns
to Spaniards' guitars to the Portuguese ukulele, to yodeling
and the slide steel guitar. (Hawaiian food has embraced
Spam as a vital ingredient, and Hawaiian music has a similar
inclusionary attitude.) The movie reminded us that the real
flowering of Hawaiian music was in the 1920s, when cruise ships
came to Waikiki. At that time Hawaiian music became an international
phenomenon. The Hawaiians have a genre they call "Hapa-Haole" or
"half foreign." (Haole seems to mean "no breath" as in "they they
don't chant breathily, they hum hymns.") The singers combine their
native Hawaiian language with a foreigner's tongue, singing in both.
When they did this with English we got familiar songs like:
"Honi kaua wikiwiki"
Sweet brown maiden said to me
As she gave me language lessons
On the beach at Waikiki
by Henry Kailimai, 1915.
( www.huapala.org/O/On_The_Beach_At_Waikiki.html )
But there were other bands that specialized in other European
languages; for example a Polish Hawaiian band would perform and
record in Polish, and enjoy popularity in Poland as well as in
Hawaii entertaining visiting Poles.
And according to the Hawaiian music historians quoted in the
documentary, the "golden age" of this Hapa-Haole music was
between the wars, and the post-war "tiki" fad was a pale shadow.
During a recent round of business travel I was delighted to
have a long layover in the Portland, Oregon airport, which
includes an annex of the legendary Powell's Books.
( www.powells.com )
According to their web site:
Powell's City of Books is ... the largest used and new
bookstore in the world. Located in downtown Portland,
Oregon and occupying an entire city block, the City
stocks more than a million new and used books. Nine color
coded rooms house over 3,500 different sections ...
They also have a marvelous technical book store a few blocks
away, but on this occasion I was confined to the airport.
The most marvelous thing in that little store are the "staff
recommends" tags scattered throughout the shelves, hand-drawn
in colored felt pens. This is how I was directed to the
marvelous irreverent history "Into the Blue: Boldly Going Where
Captain Cook Has Gone Before" (2003) by Tony Horwitz, also
marketed by the alternate title "Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going
Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before."
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0312422601/hip-20 )
It gave me another perspective on Tiki Culture, analogous to
Marco Polo's perspective on China -- that of a European
discoverer reporting back. Horwitz visited most of the
present day places Cook sailed to, with a copy of his logs
in hand, in order to "contrast and compare." I was reminded
of something the Eagles once sang:
"Call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye."
Disease and cultural corruption were left in Cook's wake.
But the "curse of paradise" worked both ways. In one
harrowing tale, Cook's ship, the Endeavor, was caught on
the Great Barrier Reef in what looked like open sea and
nearly sank. Only because one experienced sailor remembered
an old technique called "fothering" was Cook able to save
his ship, and limp to the port of Batavia (today called
Jakarta, Indonesia) for repairs. While enroute to that "safe
harbor" he posted a letter to London bragging how he lost no
men to scurvy, and only two to any disease. Imagine how
relieved Cook's men must have been to reach Batavia, which
looked like a familiar European city with carriages and
cobblestones. Imagine their horror when 31 of them died
of diseases caught while in port.
Another thing I was reminded of in this story of cross-cultural
contact is McLuhan's distinction between Oral and Literate
cultures. The joke is sometimes told that we don't know who
killed General Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn because
there were no European survivors to write it down; every surviving
Sioux brave there (and some that weren't) claimed that HE killed Custer.
Likewise we know how Cook died, since it was witnessed by his men
and ended up in the ship's log, but not what happened to his remains,
which only the natives knew and accounts differ. I've come to
understand that the concept of "single truth" is only possible in
a Literate culture, where you bear witness in court and they write
it all down. In an Oral culture there is only "he said she said."
This has contributed to the irony that modern Polynesians have at
times resorted to European accounts of their culture at the time
of first contact in order to attempt to RESTORE lost portions of
(Many similar ironies are documented in the out-of-print 1973 book
"Oh, What a Blow That Phantom Gave Me!" by Edmund Carpenter.)
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0030068819/hip-20 )
As I continued to shop for tiki merchandise in the summer of 2006,
I remembered my first trip to Hawaii in the summer of 1972 at
the age of 18 with my nuclear family. We stayed in the Royal
Hawaiian on Waikiki Beach and saw Don Ho and Hilo Haney at a luau,
plus walked to breakfast of papaya and eggs outdoors under the
palms past the spot where the "Hawaii Calls" radio show used
to broadcast. But I was oblivious because I was a surly teenager
who wanted to be free of my family, so I hid out in books I read
as we toured Pearl Harbor and the East-West Center. At one point
I began to read "Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth" (book, 1969)
by R. Buckminster Fuller,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/3907078233/hip-20 )
which had been recommended to me by the "Whole Earth Catalog."
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1892907054/hip-20 )
Fuller talked about how around the world boat-using people tended
to develop a better intuition for systems theory; examples included
the Phoenicians, the Polynesians, the British and U.S. navies, and
privateers and pirates from the European sea conflicts. All had to
recreate their whole social and technical society aboard watercraft,
sufficiently to achieve short-term sustainability.
(He developed these ideas later in the 1982 book "Critical Path,"
with his discussion of "atoll people" and their importance in
human evolution, and claimed seagoing peoples tended to weave in
triangular patterns, not like land-lubbers' rectangles of warp
and woof, and so argued a connection between Polynesia and the
West coast of South America based on weavings.)
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0312174918/hip-20 )
I was fortunate that I had this epiphany before I got to the
Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu. I was in a better frame
of mind to learn from and respect the Polynesian cultures
( polynesianculturalcenter.com )
This attraction offered almost a Polynesian Theme Park, sort
of like EPCOT's World Showcase only for island groups: Tonga,
Tahiti, the Marquesas Islands, Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand (Aotearoa)
and Samoa each have "lands" staffed by homegrown natives explaining
culture and demonstrating handicrafts and other typical activities.
( readusa.com/hawaii/hawaii_landscape/hawaii_polynesiancuturalcenter.html )
I got a lot out of looking at the Island People through the
lens of Bucky's Boat Culture, but then in the gap between the
daytime exhibits and the evening Hukilau show we were offered
a tour by the organization that owned and operated the Cultural
Center. This was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,
and the tour was of the local Mormon Temple. Since there was
nothing else to do but sit in a gravel parking lot on a sawed
off phone pole and read, my whole family elected to take the
tour, except for me. I sat on the phone pole and read Bucky.
Later they told me I'd made the wiser choice.
It was no secret that the Polynesian Culture Center was run by
the Mormons; most of the Polynesians we met that day were members
of the LDS faith. But it is interesting how far back Mormon
roots in Hawaii go. Consider the traditional "Hukilau."
Most people think it just means "feast" or "party" or "luau."
There is a song from 1948 that became a hit on the mainland:
Oh we're going to a Hukilau
A huki huki huki huki Hukilau
Everybody loves the Hukilau
Where the laulau is the kaukau at the luau
But if you look up "Hukilau" in Wikipedia, you are referred to
the entry for the Polynesian Culture Center:
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polynesian_Cultural_Center )
which in turn points to a site:
( www.laiebeachretreat.com/hukilau_song.htm )
that tells the story of the song:
This is an old Hawaiian way of fishing, involving casting
a long net from the shore, then enlisting a large group to
help to pull the net to shore. The net is lined with ki (ti)
leaves which help scare fish toward the middle of the net.
Huki = pull lau = leaves, specifically, ki (ti) leaves.
"The Mormon chapel in Laie was destroyed by fire in 1940.
Viola Kehau Kawahigashi organized a Hukilau to rebuild the
church, with the congregation contributing food, talent,
time and energy. ... A $5.00 fee was charged to enjoy the
Hukilau, food and hula show. 250 people arrived for the
first fundraiser in 1947; the church took in $1,250.00.
Jack Owens enjoyed this Hukilau in 1948. That night,
suffering sunburn, aches and pains, he was inspired to
write this song. Introduced publicly at a Methodist luau
in Honolulu, it became an instant hit."
-- "Our Honolulu" by Bob Krauss,
Honolulu Advertiser, April 1998
Wikipedia adds that the song was popularized by Arthur Godfrey,
and that the organization that produced the first Hukilaus
for the LDS church grew into the current Polynesian Cultural Center.
So "Hukilau" means "Hawaiian church fundraiser luau" to be precise.
Of course there are parts left out of the Mormon version of
Polynesian culture. Horwitz's irreverent, Douglas Adams-like
history of Captain Cook talked about how Cook's sailors were
astonished and corrupted by the promiscuity of most of
Polynesia, especially Tahiti, and how they returned the
favor by giving the islanders venereal diseases. But even
he left stuff out. For example, he didn't mention much about
King Kamehaha I.
Before Cook arrived the Hawaiian islands had never been united
under one king. One thing I've heard -- from Park Service
docents on the big island -- is that the Hawaiian kings and
priests had ritualized cannibalism, only used for absorbing
the "mana" (magic) of a vanquished enemy. Kamehaha is claimed
by some to have feasted on Captain Cook's mana (and also somehow
obtained some of his musket and cannon) and so gained the power
to unite the Hawaiian archipelago. Again a Wikipedia article
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamehameha )
fills in some details:
Kamehameha was now alii nui of all of Hawaii east of Oahu,
but the islands of Kauai and Niihau continually eluded him.
When he attempted to invade the islands in 1796, his governor
on Hawaii ... led a rebellion against his rule, and
Kamehameha was forced to return. In 1803 he tried again,
but this time disease broke out among his warriors, and
Kamehameha himself fell ill, though he later recovered.
During this time, Kamehameha was amassing the largest
armada Hawaii had ever seen -- foreign-built schooners
and massive war canoes, armed with cannon and carrying
his vast army. Kaumualii, alii nui of Kauai, watched as
Kamehameha built up his invading force and decided he
would have a better chance in negotiation than battle.
He may also have been influenced by foreign merchants, who
saw the continuing feud between Kamehameha and Kaumualii as
bad for the sandalwood trade.
In 1810, Kaumualii became a vassal of Kamehameha, who
therefore emerged as the sole sovereign of the island chain
So, sooner or later a tale of Tikis involves somebody showing
up with cannon and overwhelming the metal-free technology of
But, why is the rum gone?
-- Captain Jack Sparrow
Bucky Fuller spoke of the Great Pirates, technologically-advantaged
sea-based power brokers who manipulated land-based politics, mostly
in secret. The winners of the battles between Great Pirates locked
up their logbooks and sailed on, while the losers sank to the bottom
of the sea.
When I taught my student directed seminar on "Whole Systems"
at Kresge College, Fuller's "Operating Manual for Spaceship
Earth" was on my required reading list. The most common
question I got about the book was "are these Great Pirates
supposed to be real or are they just a metaphor?" I don't think
Bucky was into metaphors (just similes), and I think he meant
it literally. The whole history of our technological civilization
is bound up with seafarers who monopolized information whenever
possible on shipbuilding, navigation, astronomy and mathematics,
from ancient Phoenicia (now Lebanon) to modern Annapolis.
2006 has turned out to be a Summer of Pirates as well as Tikis.
A friend recommended we see the 1935 classic Errol Flynn movie
"Captain Blood" directed by Michael Curtiz.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005JMR7/hip-20 )
We did so in advance of renting the DVD of "Pirates of the
Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl" (movie, 2003) directed
by Gore Verbinski,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005JM5E/hip-20 )
so we'd be all caught up to see the sequel in theaters this summer.
Both movies took place in Port Royal, Jamaica, and even featured
a shot of the same Governor's House. Curious for more information
I went to Wikipedia,
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Royal )
and found that Port Royal was destroyed by an earthquake in 1692,
perhaps divine punishment for its slave trade, and also the
intriguing report that at times Britain lacked the resources to
protect Port Royal from French and Spanish warships, and so the
town hired pirates to protect them. Hmmm.
Both movies also spoke of "letters of marque" so I looked that
up, and found it even in our own U.S. Constitution. It gives
some insights to the 18th Century minds of our founding fathers
that Article I Section 8 gives the Congress the power:
To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the
high seas, and offenses against the law of nations;
To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal,
and make rules concerning captures on land and water;
To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money
to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;
To provide and maintain a navy;
To make rules for the government and regulation of the
land and naval forces;
To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws
of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;
Of course letters of marque are a license that a King or Queen
grants to a pirate enabling him (or her) to become a "privateer"
and pillage enemy ships with full support of the crown.
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter_of_marque )
I also remember my 10th grade U.S. History class in which
learned about the "triangular trade" in which slaves went
from Africa to the Caribbean, sugar went from the Carribean
to England, and rum went from England to Africa. Toss in
a few guns for the Africans who capture and sell the slaves,
and the whole thing becomes an ever-accelerating money
machine, making the owners rich enough to move back to London
and buy a Lordship and a seat in Parliament.
In Robert MacNeal's excellent documentary series "The Story
of English" (1986),
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6302892058/hip-20 )
he tells how the English slave traders sailed upriver in Africa
and met tribes who were not able to communicate with each other
very well, since their were so many different languages.
The English taught each tribe a little English, in order to
have a trade language. Later the tribes discovered they could
use this new language to trade with each other. It became "pidgin"
(which, in pidgin, means "business") and spread around the world
to nearly every place English speaking people traded.
(A delightful book on contemporary Hawaiian pidgin is "Pidgin To
Da Max" (1981) by Douglas Simonson, Pat Sasaki & Ken Sakata.)
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/093584841X/hip-20 )
I used to wonder how the little United States won its revolution
against the British Empire (which the sun never sat on), until
I learned that both the 1776 revolution and the war of 1812
the American front was a small distraction in a war between England
and France. And of course after we won our independence, we
dissolved our little navy, preferring not to meddle in European
affairs. At first Jefferson was a small government man. But it
was privateers with letters of marque from the Barbary states
attacking U.S. shipping that convinced him that he need a standing
navy, and the tax structure to support it. In a sense you could
argue we that wouldn't have our current constitution if it wasn't
for the Barbary pirates.
I was recently in Washington, D.C. briefly and paid a visit
to one of my favorite sites there: the Jefferson Memorial.
( www.nps.gov/thje/memorial/memorial.htm# )
Inscribed on an inside wall of the rotunda are the words:
I am certainly not an advocate for frequent changes in laws
and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in
hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more
developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new
truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the
change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to
keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to
wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized
society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous
Looking at the work "barbarous" there carved in the marble, I
recalled its etymology, from the Barbary pirates (who in turn
are named for the Moslem "Berbers" of North Africa and the
Mediterranean). I figured Mr. Jefferson had reason to give
a lot of thought to the "barbarous" elements of his world.
Men go crazy in congregations
But they only get better one by one
-- Sting, 1991
"All This Time"
on the album "The Soul Cages"
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000002GL2/hip-20 )
It's sometimes hard to remember now, five years later, what
9/11 was like for Americans, how confused and afraid we were,
and how much changed -- not by fiat, but by some vast undercurrent
of shifts in individual attitudes. Now that we are less afraid,
and less confused, we rationalize away our panicked reactions
at the time, and so we miss seeing just how many profound changes
occurred in a day.
Recently I began reading "Chaos, Gaia, Eros: A Chaos Pioneer Uncovers
the Three Great Streams of History" (book, 1994) by Ralph Abraham.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0062500139/hip-20 )
This grand manifesto attempts find patterns in human history
over the sweep of thousands of years, invoking the rigorous
social science of Lewis Frye Richardson and the awareness of
metacommunication of Gregory Bateson along the way. He uses the
term "bifurcation" taken from chaos theory to describe what
I have previously called "inflection points." In C3M v. 4 n. 5,
"Cyberpunks in Cyberspace" ~ or ~ "The Future of Science Fiction"
( www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/c3m_0405.txt )
I have found history has points where things really do change,
which I call "inflection points." Futurists can help
extrapolate trends between these points, but across them
prediction is difficult. A list of recent such points in
U.S. history would include:
* 1941 - attack on Pearl Harbor
* 1952 - I'm still figuring this one out, but it resulted in
the election of Eisenhower and the withdrawal from Korea
* 1963 - Kennedy assassination
* 1968 - Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy assassinations;
"police riots" at Democratic Convention in Chicago
* 1974 - "smoking gun" Watergate tape; Nixon resigns
* 1979 - American hostages taken in Iran
* 1992 - American artists adopted computers; "alternative"
music oxymoronically became mainstream; Clinton elected
* 2001 - 9/11
(I remember when the Berlin Wall fell -- part of the 1992 bifurcation,
some called it "the end of history." After 9/11 I noticed that
history had come back, but now instead "the end of irony" was being
heralded. I thought, "what a drag for Alanis Morisset.")
Whatever you call them, there is no doubt that the 2001 terror
attacks were an example of this type of discontinuity.
I must confess that one of the first thoughts to enter my head
when I saw the first tower fall -- besides "oh my God I'm watching
thousands of people die" -- was "things are going to be a whole lot
harder now for the cypherpunks."
The cypherpunks is a group of people,
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cypherpunks )
including my friend John Gilmore,
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Gilmore_%28advocate%29 )
who have been working since the early 1990s to bring strong
encryption to the masses, to increase personal privacy over the internet.
(A good history of some of their efforts is the 2001 book "Crypto:
How the Code Rebels Beat the Government Saving Privacy in the Digital
Age" by Steven Levy.)
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0140244328/hip-20 )
I foresaw huge loss of ground for these folks. And sure enough, it
has come to pass and more so.
As one journalist interviewing Gilmore
( grep.law.harvard.edu/features/04/08/18/112237.shtml )
summarized, the strong libertarian view held by the cypherpunks
Phil Zimmermann told me that the September 11-attacks made him
think over his decision to release PGP as freeware. However, he
reached the conclusion that it was right to release PGP and that
society is better off with strong encryption. Ian Clarke goes
to the same school of thought and told me that censorship is
the enemy of freedom and understanding, and therefore the friend
of terrorism. Seth Finkelstein got the same question and claimed
"statistically, real threats are rare, but ambition and corruption
But not so the weak libertarian views of the American public.
The majority seemed quite ready to make the devil's bargain
Ben Franklin warned against, when he said "Those who would
give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety,
deserve neither Liberty nor Safety"
Still, there were those who spoke up, and sometimes in
unexpected places. I was at the 2002 meeting of the
National Institute of Urban Search and Rescue (NIUSR)
( www.niusr.org )
-- which included the folks who'd sent rescue dogs from
San Diego to New York to help with the search for Twin Tower
survivors -- showing some of the viz work I'd done for Mindtel,
( aero.mindtel.com/odb-dgc-osd-nii/04-04/HIP_images/NIUSR/C/_image_index.html )
and an old, retired Army Colonel, who looked as hawkish as they
said, "I've fought my whole life to preserve some freedoms
and I don't want to see us just give them away now."
In the essay-length book "Fixed Ideas: America Since 9.11" (2003),
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1590170733/hip-20 )
author Joan Didion describes being on a book tour on September 11, 2001:
All I can say about ... the two weeks that followed
is that they turned out to be nothing I had expected, nothing
I had ever before experienced, an extraordinary open kind of
traveling dialog, an encounter with an America apparently
immune to conventional wisdom. The book I was making the
trip to talk about was "Political Fictions" ,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0375718907/hip-20 )
a series of pieces I had written for "The New York Review"
about the American political process from the 1998 through
the 2000 presidential elections. These people to whom I
was listening -- in San Francisco and Los Angeles and
Portland and Seattle -- were making connections I had not
yet in my numbed condition thought to make: connections
between that political process and what had happened on
September 11, connections between our political life and
the shape our reaction would take and was in fact already
These people recognized that even then, within days after
the planes hit, there was a good deal of opportunistic ground
being seized under cover of the clearly urgent need for
The phrase, "a good deal of opportunistic ground being seized
under cover" has continued to ring in my ears, as I've watched
this administration use secret laws and directives, redefinitions
of prisoners of war, totally covert domestic spying programs,
suspension of habeas corpus, and powers granted by the Patriot
Act and other panic legislation to edge us towards the kind of
dictatorial power we condemn in the hands of a Stalin or a Mao
or a Castro.
As the New York Times has complained:
Ever since Sept. 11, the Bush administration has taken the
necessity of heightened vigilance against terrorism and turned
it into a rationale for an extraordinarily powerful executive
branch, exempt from the normal checks and balances of our
system of government. It has created powerful new tools of
surveillance and refused, almost as a matter of principle,
to use normal procedures that would acknowledge that either
Congress or the courts have an oversight role.
Or, as "The Onion" put it in a succinct headline on Aug. 2, 2006:
Bush Grants Self Permission To Grant More Power To Self
(And isn't it a bit Orwellian to take prisoners and declare
them non-prisoners through some legerdemain, hold them
in limbo indefinitely, and them feed them something you
call Liberty Rice?)
Fortunately a few checks and balances are still working.
The Supreme Court just ruled against the Administration
on Gitmo War Trials.
( www.breitbart.com/news/2006/06/29/D8IHUVMO0.html )
And a FISA judge quit to draw attention to Bush going around
the FISA court. (See "Why Did Luttig Quit? How Bush alienated
one of his most compliant judges.")
( www.reason.com/hod/has051806.shtml )
A judge has finally had the guts to order a stop to the NSAs
( www.ipdemocracy.com/archives/001863judge_in_wiretap_case_there_are_no_kings_in_america.php )
and my friend John Gilmore is appealing his case about whether the
government can have secret laws (in the case of ID requirements to fly)
to the Supreme Court.
( arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20060817-7533.html )
But it sure makes me wonder what other outrages there are going on
now secretly that I'm only going to find out about much, much later...
KIND'A MAKES YOU NERVOUS
If you want to tease the kids from California,
shake their bunks and shout "earthquake!"
-- summer camp lore
Of course, meanwhile, while our civil liberties are under attack
at home, we are also under attack worldwide by terrorists.
I remember a coincidence of swimming pools being closed in
Orlando in November of 2001 that I mistook for a bio-terrorism
attack. We're all a little jumpier these days.
There has a been a clamor for explanation, both in 2001 and
again this year, as to why on 9/11 the FAA didn't tell NORAD
about the hijackings in time to shoot them down. We still
haven't gotten a straight answer on that one, which of course
just encourages the nut bag conspiracy theorists, but I have
my own theory. Who was it who said we were in a state of "deep
peace" just before the attacks?
From sampling the quality of services offered across this
country to business travelers, I can say with confidence that
most employees do not remember their training. They remember
what they did yesterday, and they do it again. When something
unusual happens -- even if they were trained on it -- they will
not know what procedures to follow.
(Hurricane Katrina confirmed this once again: government officials
who been to expensive off-site disaster simulation conferences
failed to follow their training.)
But if those who Protect and Serve aren't necessarily paying
attention, I sure am. As I rethink history I begin to rewrite
it. Events that I didn't connect before I now do. Consider
this list of terror attacks compiled by Ann Coulter
( www.anncoulter.com/cgi-local/article.cgi?article=140 )
in her column of July 26, 2006:
-- November 1979: Muslim extremists (Iranian variety) seized
the U.S. embassy in Iran and held 52 American hostages for
-- 1982: Muslim extremists (mostly Hezbollah) began a nearly
decade-long habit of taking Americans and Europeans hostage
in Lebanon, killing William Buckley and holding Terry Anderson
for 6 1/2 years.
-- April 1983: Muslim extremists (Islamic Jihad or possibly
Hezbollah) bombed the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing 16
-- October 1983: Muslim extremists (Hezbollah) blew up the U.S.
Marine barracks at the Beirut airport, killing 241 Marines.
-- December 1983: Muslim extremists (al-Dawa) blew up the U.S.
Embassy in Kuwait, killing five and injuring 80.
-- September 1984: Muslim extremists (Hezbollah) exploded a
truck bomb at the U.S. Embassy annex in Beirut, killing 24
people, including two U.S. servicemen.
-- December 1984: Muslim extremists (probably Hezbollah)
hijacked a Kuwait Airways airplane, landed in Iran and
demanded the release of the 17 members of al-Dawa who
had been arrested for the bombing of the U.S. Embassy
in Kuwait, killing two Americans before the siege was over.
-- June 14, 1985: Muslim extremists (Hezbollah) hijacked TWA
Flight 847 out of Athens, diverting it to Beirut, taking
the passengers hostage in return for the release of the
Kuwait 17 as well as another 700 prisoners held by Israel.
When their demands were not met, the Muslims shot U.S.
Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem and dumped his body on the tarmac.
-- October 1985: Muslim extremists (Palestine Liberation Front
backed by Libya) seized an Italian cruise ship, the Achille
Lauro, killing 69-year-old American Leon Klinghoffer by
shooting him and then tossing his body overboard.
-- December 1985: Muslim extremists (backed by Libya) bombed
airports in Rome and Vienna, killing 20 people, including
-- April 1986: Muslim extremists (backed by Libya) bombed a
discotheque frequented by U.S. servicemen in West Berlin,
injuring hundreds and killing two, including a U.S. soldier.
-- December 1988: Muslim extremists (backed by Libya) bombed
Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all
259 on board and 11 on the ground.
-- February 1993: Muslim extremists (al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya,
possibly with involvement of friendly rival al-Qaida) set
off a bomb in the basement of the World Trade Center,
killing six and wounding more than 1,000.
-- Spring 1993: Muslim extremists (al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya,
the Sudanese Islamic Front and at least one member of
Hamas) plot to blow up the Lincoln and Holland tunnels,
the U.N. complex, and the FBI's lower Manhattan headquarters.
-- November 1995: Muslim extremists (possibly Iranian "Party
of God") explode a car bomb at U.S. military headquarters
in Saudi Arabia, killing five U.S. military servicemen.
-- June 1996: Muslim extremists (13 Saudis and a Lebanese
member of Hezbollah, probably with involvement of al-Qaida)
explode a truck bomb outside the Khobar Towers military
complex, killing 19 American servicemen and injuring hundreds.
-- August 1998: Muslim extremists (al-Qaida) explode truck
bombs at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing
224 and injuring thousands.
-- October 2000: Muslim extremists (al-Qaida) blow up the
U.S. Navy destroyer USS Cole, killing 17 U.S. sailors.
-- Sept. 11, 2001: Muslim extremists (al-Qaida) hijack
commercial aircraft and fly planes into the World
Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania,
killing nearly 3,000
And this doesn't include multiple wars in the 1800s with
Barbary pirates, the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968,
the terror attacks at the 1972 Munich Olympics, and post-9/11
the anthrax scare, lone nut scares like the 4th of July shooting
at LAX, the DC snipers, various Jewish organizations attacked,
and attacks on our allies in Bali, Spain, London, and Jordan.
I find myself thinking that we will look back on this as the
Three Hundred Years War, and none of our current tactics give
me much hope of decisive victory.
PLAYING THE ODDS
Rarely does a magazine story create the sort of firestorm
sparked 20 years ago next week when NEWSWEEK reported on
new demographic projections suggesting a rising number of
women would never find a husband. Across the country, women
reacted with anger, anxiety -- and skepticism. The story
reported that "white, college-educated women born in the
mid-1950s who are still single at 30 have only a 20 percent
chance of marrying. By the age of 35 the odds drop to 5
percent." Much of the ire focused on a single, now
infamous line: that a single 40-year-old woman is "more
likely to be killed by a terrorist" than to ever marry,
the odds of which the researchers put at 2.6 percent.
The terrorist comparison wasn't in the study, and it wasn't
actually true (though it apparently didn't sound as
inappropriate then as it does today, post 9/11). Months
later, other demographers came out with new estimates
suggesting a 40-year-old woman really had a 23 percent
chance of marrying. Today, some researchers put the odds
at more than 40 percent. Nevertheless, it quickly became
entrenched in pop culture.
-- Daniel McGinn, May 31, 2006
( www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12940306/ )
In "Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences"
(book, 1988) by John Allen Paulos,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0809058405/hip-20 )
the fact that the above "statistic" was reported in "Newsweek"
and repeated all over the place is cited as evidence of widespread
innumeracy. A back-of-the-napkin estimate would make it obvious
that it couldn't possibly be true. But it was even repeated
without question on the TV show "Designing Women" (1986 - 1993)
created by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000A7W13/hip-20 )
Of course, the underlying statistical fact in this analysis is
that being a terror victim is RARE. To bring this point home
I decided to calculate some odds myself. Assuming that we would
lose 3,000 Americans to terror attacks every 20 years (which
is being generous), and assuming a large meteor strike anywhere
on Earth would -- through nuclear winter -- destroy civilization
and kill approximately 100% of Americans, and using NASA's published
odds annually of a large meteor strike, I was able to conclude
that odds of me, personally, being killed by a large meteor strike
are greater than those of me being killed by a terrorist. We
need to get the people who are still watching "Designing Women"
reruns on "Lifetime" network to start writing to congress
in support of a Meteor Shield! (NASA has since revised its
odds downward, but I'd still like that Meteor Shield.)
If we REALLY want to go after America's enemies: we lose about
50,000 people a year to car crashes, and the biggest single
cause is impaired driving. We need Federal inspectors in
every bar parking lot, checking the exiting drivers! (Just kidding.)
Recently several different people, in person and in the blogosphere,
have posed to me the question: What if (America) we hadn't done
anything after 9/11? Of course, politically this was untenable.
The American people were crying "Do something!" But what if we'd
had the restraint in the weeks following 9/11 to NOT REACT?
No "get the planes out of the sky" order? No stock market crash?
No Patriot Act? No Department of Homeland Security? No Afghanistan
and Iraq wars? Think of all the money we would have saved! And I
suppose you can argue that -- just like ignoring teasing in grade
school -- if the terrorists don't create terror then they can't win.
Of course, this is a fantasy. But it's a useful "Thought Experiment"
for assessing if we are getting our money's worth from of all of our
(Of course, you can also argue that "do nothing" is what we did
after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The terrorists decided
they had to come back bigger after that failure.)
And I keep thinking about the experiments on making dogs
schizophrenic in the lab. As one of Ivan Pavlov's researchers
In a famous experiment by Shenger-Krestovnika, published in
1921, a dog was trained to salivate to a circle but not to an
ellipse. The ellipse was then made progressively more like a
circle. When the ratio of the axes of the ellipse was reduced
to 9:8, the dog could discriminate it from a circle only with
great difficulty. It showed some signs of success on this
problem for about three weeks, but then its behavior was
disrupted. It was unable to respond correctly not only on
this difficult task, but also when presented with obvious
ellipses and circles that had given it no trouble in the
earlier part of the experiment. What is more, instead of
coming to stand quietly in the apparatus of the past, the
animal now showed extreme excitement, struggling and
( www.noogenesis.com/malama/punishment.html )
It is not reward or punishment that makes the dogs crazy, it
is THINKING THEY CAN CONTROL IT WHEN THEY REALLY CAN'T.
This is one of the dangers we face collectively trying to
spend our way to 100% security.
In Africa, Asia, Amerindia, Oceania, Europe came and established
its order of Analysis and Death. What it could not use, it killed
or altered. In time the death-colonies grew strong enough to break
away. But the impulse to empire, the mission to propagate death,
the structure of it, kept on. Now we are in the last phase.
American Death has come to occupy Europe. It has learned empire
from its old metropolis.
-- Thomas Pynchon, 1973
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0140188592/hip-20 )
George Carlin explains why Americans play football: "Because we're
Europe Junior." And what's Europe's game? "Beat the s### out of
the other guy and take his land!"
But ever since the United Nations charter -- or maybe even
the League of Nations -- we have been restrained from taking
anybody's land. So we've used proxies: Chiang Kai-shek in China,
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiang_Kai-shek )
Nguyen Cao Ky in South Viet Nam,
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nguyen_Cao_Ky )
and the Shah of Iran.
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammad_Reza_Pahlavi )
None of these worked out too well; in fact only Taiwan wasn't
a total loss.
I told you last time how the U.S.A. backed the brother of
the Dey of Tripoli in a military revolt in 1805 (timed to
coincide with the shelling of the capital by the U.S. fleet),
but then abandoned him when negotiations with the Dey improved.
Our man on the ground, Eaton, was pretty irate about the way it
This reminds me of the story of Lawrence of Arabia, who I saw
biographied recently on the History Channel. This British officer
lead Arabs in revolt against the Ottoman Turks, promising them
independence after the war (WWI), and then the Arabs were betrayed
by Lawrence's superiors, who along with France and Russia chopped
up Arabia for their own purposes.
As it says in Wikipedia
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_Revolt )
in the article on the Arab Revolt of 1916-1918:
The United Kingdom promised in the Hussein-McMahon
Correspondence that it would support Arab independence if
they revolted against the Ottomans. The two sides had
different interpretations of this agreement. The United
Kingdom, France and Russia divided the area in ways
unfavorable to the Arabs under the 1916 Sykes-Picot
Agreement. Further confusing the issue was the Balfour
Declaration of 1917, which promised support for a Jewish
"national home" in Palestine.
Lawrence was so ashamed of how this worked out that he
lived for years under various assumed names.
When America became a late-comer to the European-style Empire
games around the turn of the 20th Century, we repeated many of
England's mistakes. Then, after World War Two we tried to
turn into Boy Scouts. Are we surprised nobody trusted us?
When the French and English tried to take back the Suez Canal
when it was nationalized by the Egyptians in 1956, by sending
in paratroopers, we (and the Russians) made them stop.
But somehow we didn't become heroes to the Egyptians.
I vividly remember my grandfather around 1976 saying that he
didn't want to know what CIA was doing on his behalf.
But I did. I was reading "The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence"
(book, 1976) by Victor Marchetti, at the time,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0440203368/hip-20 )
and I was sure our bad deeds done secretly would come back
to haunt us publicly. But what really irks me still is things
done stupidly, such as backing obvious toadies.
Typing "define:toady" into Google yields these definitions:
* sycophant: a person who tries to please someone in order
to gain a personal advantage
* fawn: try to gain favor by cringing or flattering; "He is
always kowtowing to his boss"
Take the last Shah (end of a 300 year dynasty, with our help);
wasn't it obvious to our politicians and their staffs that
having the leader of Iran, a sovereign nation, proclaim
to be a HUGE fan of the U.S.A. might make him seem LESS desirable
as a leader to the Iranian people?
I remember a stirring science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein
called "The Sixth Column" (1941)
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/067157826X/hip-20 )
in which the United States was conquered by some type of Asians,
and the citizens formed an underground to fight the conquerers.
"Oh, boy!" I thought, "That's what I'd do, too."
That's a common human reaction when your home is invaded. We
need to get better at expecting people to react by fighting us
however they can when we invade, no matter how good we think our
THE MADNESS OF PRESIDENT GEORGE
Round up the usual suspects!
-- French Morocco's Captain Renault gives the order to
bring in (and rough up) the usual group of Arab known
petty crooks and alleged crooks in "Casablanca" (film,
1942) directed by Michael Curtiz
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/6305736650/hip-20 )
( archive.salon.com/news/feature/2001/09/14/profiling/index.html )
When we invaded Afghanistan, and again Iraq, I predicted each time
that we would "win the war and lose the peace." It was obvious
to me. In Korea, Viet Nam, and even Kuwait we had somebody
else to run the government on the ground. We're very out of
practice. We haven't done house-to-house seizure of guns since
the end of World War Two. I kept thinking we should pull some
of the guys who did that "pacification" stuff out of retirement
to help with planning these new invasions. (It's also pretty
obvious to me who's funding the insurgents. It's everybody;
every dictator or royal family of a Moslem nation wants to
see our nation building fail in Afghanistan and Iraq. If I
could see this, why couldn't Donald Rumsfeld? Or Colin Powell,
he was a general once.)
I've also noticed that whenever we have presidents who didn't
work in Washington previously -- usually former state governors
-- they have more then their fair share of leadership problems.
Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and George H. W. Bush all had previous
experience in congress; while Carter, Reagan, Clinton and George
W. Bush all were only governors. We've had a run of competency
problems if you ask me.
There's a story that when Harry Truman was leaving office and
Eisenhower was coming in, Truman said, "Poor Ike, he's used to
the Army; he'll say, 'Do this! Do that!' and nothing will happen."
In the short essay "The Curse of the Oval Room," which appears
in "Neuropolitics": The Sociobiology of Human Transformation"
(essays, 1977) by Timothy Leary,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0915238187/hip-20 )
he reflects from a Federal prison cell on how rough we
Americans are on our presidents:
The Curse of the Oval Room
Power corrupts, rots, destroys, curses those who impose
their rules upon others. We can only explain the addictive
inability of politicians to recognize this historical fact
as another one of those weird and faulty wirings that
incapacitate the crippled nervous systems of our species.
Before 1914, the one throne of planetary power was contested
by the kingdoms of Europe. After World War I the one crown
passed to the Presidency of the United States. The word
"crown" is not a metaphor but a scientific construct referring
to a confirmable neurological state. Enormous psychic energies
are directed towards the person who assumes the position of
global power-holder. Unless this person possesses extraordinary
psychic strength, clarity, and flexibility, his neurology blows
a fuse. It is not altogether fanciful to refer to the "curse"
of power that crazes all but those rare sovereigns who are
genetically prepared for the responsibility. It is one of
the many paradoxes of power that it can never be safely bought.
The strength to rule is a neurogenetic gift.
Since the time of Woodrow Wilson (Nixon's broken hero, by the
way) ten men have ruled the world from the Oval Room of the
White House. Three have died in office -- Harding, Roosevelt,
and Kennedy. Four lived out their days crippled by failure
-- Wilson, Hoover, Johnson, and Nixon. The remaining three
-- Coolidge, Truman, and Eisenhower -- also teach us something
about the enigmatic, humbling pursuit of puissance.
And in the background the wailing Cassandra keen of Martha
Mitchell: "John and I had everything going for us until he
went to Washington. Now we've lost everything" It's a
God-damned Greek morality play. Two days before the Agnew
expose I wondered how many disasters must come down before
the writing in the sky becomes clear.
And this was BEFORE Carter was defeated, Reagan took a bullet,
the first Bush was defeated and Clinton was impeached.
To repeat something I wrote in C3M v. 3 n. 7:
...I remembered something mentioned
in the 1996 novel "The Cobweb" (1996) by Stephen Bury (a pseudonym
for the collaboration of Neal Stephenson and his uncle, J. Frederick
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553378287/hip-20 )
A fictional FBI failure in the first Gulf War is explored, and we
are told that the FBI operates to deliver only the top guy's pet
theories up through the hierarchy. Any other communications are
condemned as "forward leaning analysis" and are filtered out.
This is why the CIA told George W. Bush that there were Weapons of
Mass Destruction in Iraq -- it was what he wanted to hear. It isn't
a Republican problem, not is the fault of the previous Democratic
administration. It's a hierarchy problem.
A fictional character named Hagbard Celine in another novel, "The
Illuminatus Trilogy" (1975) by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson,
puts it even more succinctly: "Communication is only possible
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0440539811/hip-20 )
ONWARD JUDEO-CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS
...I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the
earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent
any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree.
Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the
seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the
four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the
sea: "Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we
put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God." Then
I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from
all the tribes of Israel.
-- Revelations 7: 1-4
"The Bible" (New International Version)
( www.biblegateway.com )
Growing up I always knew that Liberals and Jews had a strong
bond: many Liberals were Jews, many Jews were Liberals,
and traditionally the Democrats had been more supportive of
Israel. Even a peace candidate like George McGovern was
a hawk when it came to Israel. This was satirized in
"National Lampoon" in the Nov. 1972 issue, in a parody
of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album called "Sgt. Shriver's
Bleeding Hearts Club Band" by Sean Kelly, illustration by
( www.marksverylarge.com/issues/7211.html )
reprinted in "The Best of National Lampoon #4" (1974).
( www.marksverylarge.com/booksetc/bestof4.html )
A song to the tune of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite"
has the lyrics:
For the benefit of Mr. Kike
There will be a missile strike
(I laughed, despite the racist slur. I've always been a
sucker for a clever parody.)
So imagine my surprise around 2002 when I found I'd missed
the memo about how the Liberals were now backing Moslems
in any dispute.
In an article in "Reason Magazine" called "The Collapse of Reason:
Nutty Profs, Bible Thumpers Square Off in Post-Ideological Dunciad,"
( www.reason.com/cy/cy053006.shtml )
an example is given of the self-destruction of the academic left:
Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at
Columbia University ... cites two recent books ... in both
of which he himself is attacked as a heretic, among other
things, for supporting Israel's right to exist.
I had a friend who went to Israel, and I asked him what he
learned that I wouldn't get from reading the paper. He told
me there was racism in Israel, between light Jews and dark Jews.
The Ashkenazi and the Sephardi were names applied to European
vs. Middle Eastern Jews, and that discrimination based on
color was widespread. Hmmm.
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashkenazi )
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sephardi )
Something that makes me quite nervous is this theological
time bomb in the Christian Bible called "The Revelation of John"
or "The Book of Revelations." The Jews and Israel figure
prominently in this hallucinatory romp through Essene symbolism.
I worry about crazy people in motels finding the Gideon Bibles
and going off half-cocked reading about swords and trumpets
and a blood red moon.
I worry about self-made American Fundamentalists with no
knowledge of religious history, picking up followers at tent
shows and preaching of the Last Days.
I even worry about pop star Madonna using quotes from
"Revelations" in a dance remix of "Justify My Love."
Timothy Leary (in the above-mentioned "Neuropolitics")
described meeting Charles Manson in solitary confinement
in Folsom Prison, and concluding he was too influenced by
the Book of Revelations to really be a "flower child."
One turn of events that happened in 1967, when I was 13,
was that Israel took the city of Jerusalem. And what will
really be a red flag to me is if they Jews begin to rebuild
their temple on the site of the Dome of the Roc. As well
as being a huge incitement to the Moslems, it will fulfill
a prophecy in Revelations, and encourage the people rooting
WHAT IF EVERYONE THOUGHT THAT WAY?
Yossarian: "Why should I care?"
Chaplain: "What if everyone thought that way?"
Yossarian: "Then I'd certainly be a damned fool to feel any
other way wouldn't I?"
-- Joseph Heller, 1961
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0684833395/hip-20 )
Now at last we're getting to the cybernetics.
The intellectual journey I'm on took an interesting turn recently
when I visited my local library and found, on the New Books shelf,
"A Beautiful Mind" (1998) by Sylvia Nasar.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0743224574/hip-20 )
This of course is the biography of American mathematician John
Nash, who battled schizophrenia for much of his life and then,
in his 60s received the Nobel Prize in Economics for work
done in his 20s on multiplayer, non-zero sum game theory.
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Forbes_Nash )
Ron Howard directed a movie version of this story in 2001,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005JKQZ/hip-20 )
which I found somewhat simplified and a bit melodramatic, though
it did promote the book (which I probably wouldn't have read if
I hadn't heard of the movie). But the book was a grand sweep of
post-World War II American mathematics, helping to put into context
not only the work of Nash, but other contemporary luminaries such
as Wiener, Shapley, Shannon, Von Neumann, and even Einstein.
I also found it a little spooky how my path had crossed Nash's:
I had an eventful day with friends in Boston in the 1990s
that included walking across the Harvard Bridge, from which
Houdini once did a public escape and which is marked off in
"Smoot Marks" as part of an MIT park,
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoot )
the same bridge Nash used to walk over twice a day when
he worked at MIT and lived in Boston. Later when he worked
at the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica he was in a secure
facility that still exists, and which I used to drive by on my
commute to Kubota offices, and wonder why the armed Air Force
guards were there. And I have long been a fan of the game
Hex which Nash co-invented.
The Big Deal that John Nash came up with was the Nash Equilibrium in
Game Theory. Previously, John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern, the
creators of the field, in their book "Theory of Games and Economic
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0691119937/hip-20 )
had rigorously analyzed only 2-person, zero-sum games, because they
are easier, and then eager consultants at places like the Rand think
tank in Santa Monica tried to use these results to improve America's
diplomacy (bargaining) and warfighting strategies during the Cold
War with the Soviet Union.
The problem with this is that nuclear war is emphatically NOT a
zero-sum game. The official US nuclear strategy at the time,
"Mutually Assured Destruction" (MAD) represented a payoff matrix
with HUGE negative payoffs a full nuclear exchange.
There is a mathematical dodge of assuming a third player (the
devil maybe?) who wins whenever the others lose, but this is
pretty ineffective analytically as well as being morally absurd.
John Nash proved that there exists at least one equilibrium in any
n-player non-zero-sum game at which no player can improve their own
outcome unilaterally -- although a higher payoff would be possible
if they practiced "enlightened self-interest" and collaborated
to push the game into a maximum total gain for all.
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nash_equilibrium )
He did this using the "fixed point theorem" which I remember
first learning about in the much-heralded Time-Life Science
Library Book of Mathematics."
( www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/time_life_math0001.jpg )
In the movie version, subtleties like how he proved it are
omitted, but a little more explanation is given, with a crude
analogy (in more ways than one). The character of Nash played
by Russell Crowe is seen pacing around Princeton as a graduate
student muttering about how Adam Smith, author of "The Wealth
of Nations" (1776)
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553585975/hip-20 )
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wealth_of_nations )
and creator of the concept of the "Invisible Hand" in the
free market, said:
In competition, individual ambition serves the common good.
But Nash thinks Smith was wrong! Then, he is in a bar near campus
with some of his school chums when they all notice a stunning blonde,
obvious more attractive than the other women present, and each
man wants to "hit on her." Nash says:
If we all go for the blonde and block each other, not a single one
of us is going to get her. So then we go for her friends, but they
will all give us the cold shoulder because no one likes to be second
choice. But what if none of us goes for the blonde? We won't get in
each other's way and we won't insult the other girls. It's the only
way to win. It's the only way we all get laid.
( www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/tg/stores/detail/-/dvd/B000062V9A/quotes/026-0521694-8588422 )
So by making an apparent sacrifice "for the good of himself and of
the group" each man ensures that all benefit maximally on average,
a better outcome than the "Nash Equilibrium" which is not optimal
-- only hard to climb out of.
Unfortunately, Nash didn't provide a generalized method for finding
his equilibrium, or for determining if a better payoff outcome exists
and how to find it as well. He offered only what is called an
WHAT'S THE EQUILIBRIUM KENNETH?
Before we can proceed to a formal definition
of conflict we must examine another concept, that
of behavior space.
-- Kenneth Boulding, 1962
"Conflict and Defense: A General Theory"
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0819171123/hip-20 )
This encounter with Nash's ideas sent me looking both forward
and backward in time for the threads of his ideas. Forward
took me to the reasons for his later Nobel Prize: his work
had proven fruitful, and the whole field of "behavioral
economics" had sprung up in its wake.
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_economics )
More on that in a minute.
Backwards took me to the works of Kenneth Boulding,
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Boulding )
and before him Lewis Fry Richardson.
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_Fry_Richardson )
I had for a while been holding on to a copy of his 1962
"Conflict and Defense: A General Theory"
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0819171123/hip-20 )
without reading it. The Nash material prompted me to dig it
out. In one passage he frames Richardson's work:
... epidemiological growth models are instructive in the study
of general levels of hostility or friendliness in particular
populations. The are not well adapted to situations in which
there are sudden changes, such as the outbreak of war, or
sudden conversion to new religion or political faith.
Richardson pioneered in the discussion of these systems in
his article on war moods. [Lewis F. Richardson, "War Moods,"
Psychometrica, XII (1948), 147-174, 197-232.]
( jasss.soc.surrey.ac.uk/1/2/review1.html#richardson1948 )
The simple epidemiological theory of the preceding pages
cannot account for the extremely rapid rise in hostility
at the outbreak of a war nor for the often equally rapid
decline at its close. Here we suppose that the population
is ... divided into two groups: K, which is in favor of war
with the specified country, and H, which is not in favor of
such a war. At the outbreak of a war, K usually rises with
startling rapidity, perhaps from a low level to nearly 100
per cent of the population within a matter of days, or even
hours. This happened in Britain, for instance, in the first
few days of August, 19194, and again in September, 1939; it
happened in the United States within a few hours after the
Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. These very sudden changes
in public sentiment cannot be accounted for by any epidemic-
like spread of hostility from one person to another; they
are too sudden and dramatic. Richardson's own explanation
is that the person is inhabited by two attitudes, one being
conscious and the other unconscious and repressed. There
is evidence in this assumption, of course, in psychoanalytic
theory and the success of psychotherapy based on it. This
can be symbolized by writing the dominant mood over the
repressed mood. Thus, a mood that is overtly friendly but
unconsciously hostile would be written (friendly)/(hostile).
The possible course of a complete cycle of international
relations is then outlined below [where F = Friendly,
H = Hostile and W = War-weary]:
Peace (F/F) -> Arms Race (F/H) -> War (H/F) -> Attrition (H/W)
-> Armistice (W/H) -> Postwar (W/F) -> Peace (F/F)
Richardson's account of the war cycle has obvious limitations,
though it is illuminating and suggestive. The distinction
between overt and covert attitudes is important and
undoubtedly accounts for the explosive nature of many
conflict situations, not only in international relations
but in industrial life, in family affairs and in domestic
A factor that Richardson neglected is the impact of the
mass media of communications on the spread of attitudes
of hostility or friendliness.
I got the impression from reading Boulding that he was a "voice
in the wilderness" reminding students of unsolved problems in
game theory and economics, urging them to tackle these challenges.
Sitting in Boulder (at the University of Colorado there), Boulding
anticipated a shift in economics from point attractors (equilibrium)
to limit cycles (oscillation) and even beyond. Wikipedia says:
Boulding spearheaded an evolutionary (instead of equilibrium)
approach to economics
which sounds to me like a search for chaotic attractors.
Another piece of the puzzle fell into place for me just last
week when a friend gave me a copy of the remarkable book
"Ambient Findability" (2005) by Peter Morville.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0596007655/hip-20 )
It mentioned rather in passing that the field of "behavioral
economics" was pretty much founded by Herbert A. Simon --
who I have heard of -- in a landmark 1956 paper in "Psychological
Review" v. 63 n. 2 called "Rational Choice and the Structure
of the Environment" -- which I had not heard of.
It sure seems to be picking up steam today. In addition
to psychology, contributions are being made by applying
functional MRI scans (fMRI)
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Functional_MRI )
and similar tools to produce neuroeconomics
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroeconomics )
as well as modern social theory (as described in a "Reason"
article "A Natural Sense of Justice: Three Simple Games Determine
When and Why Humans Cooperate")
( www.reason.com/rb/rb062306.shtml )
all to produce an economic theory of real humans.
One of the things we're finding that real humans do is sometimes
altruistically volunteer to punish rulebreakers. As the "Reason"
The moral of the story is that if you want to live in a world of
caring generous cooperative people, make sure that you thoroughly
thrash all the greedy, chiseling scoundrels you come across. It
may cost you, but the world will be a better place.
DON'T TREAD ON ME
"Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive"
-- title of a book on business by Harvey Mackay, 1996
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/006074281X/hip-20 )
So with all these high-powered supercomputers and brain scanners
what are we learning about human nature that can help us fight
By way of an answer, let me tell you about my recent trips
to Annapolis, Maryland.
( www.wpsoa.org/images/annapolis.gif )
I was sent there rather randomly on business, and so got to see
the Tripoli Memorial in person, which I mentioned last time is
the oldest war memorial in the US.
( www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/Annap0011.JPG )
( www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/Annap0012.JPG )
( www.wpsoa.org/images/usnamap.jpg )
( usna.navpooh.com/navymap.html )
(It used to be in Washington, D.C., but was moved to the Naval
Academy in Annapolis in 1860 for reasons that have eluded my
research so far.)
( www.usna.edu/VirtualTour/150years/1860.htm )
I also saw a number of "prizes of war" (mostly cannon) taken by the
Navy from nations like England and Mexico who we'd fought in the 19th
century. (The practice seems to have lost favor in the 20th.)
While walking through the Naval Academy
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_Academy )
to reach Preble Hall and the memorial, I passed a row of what must
have been on-campus officer's housing. Hanging from a flagpole
mounted on one porch was the old "Don't Tread On Me" rattlesnake
flag. (I wanted to take a picture but I was a little intimidated;
this could be an Admiral's house, and we are at war; I didn't want
to rattle anybody. I recalled that a hotel clerk told me that the
traditional ceremonial Marine Guards in use since 1851 had been
decommissioned and sent to Iraq, and the Navy had banned cars and
was adding concrete barriers to all of the vehicle entrances, all
as a part of efforts to increase security.)
( www.usna.edu/PAO/pressreleases/Marine%20Guards%20History.doc )
But I did take the words away with me: "Don't Tread On Me."
Of course it appeared on early home-made U.S. flags, such as
"The Navy Jack" dating from 1775.
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Navy_Jack )
It reminded me of the classic Game Theory paradox called "The
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner's_dilemma )
I have described it in detail in C3M v. 2 n. 11, "War Games,
Money Games, New Games and Meta Games"
( www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/c3m_0211.txt )
so I won't repeat all that here. But I will remind you that
this is payout matrix in game theory which a naive analysis
would lead players to respond to with bad strategies.
A simple attempt to maximize gain in fact minimizes it.
It is of course an example of a Nash Equilibrium.
My own exposure to this knowledge was very hands-on.
As I wrote in v. 2 n. 11,
In my late 20s I took a seminar called "Money and You" presented
by enlightened business practices guru Marshall Thurber.
( www.metaquality.com/mtbio.htm )
It was a total immersion in the methodology of simulation games.
For about 14 hours a day we spent 50 minutes learning followed
by a 10 minute break, and almost never got tired. Each 50 minutes
was divided into about 30 minutes of playing a simulation game
followed by about 20 minutes of discussion of what we'd learned.
It was fabulous. One of the games we played early on Marshall
called "sharks and minnows," and it was a version of the Prisoner's
Dilemma. At the beginning he broke us into small groups and
announced that "high score wins." Each small group played only
each other within the group. We thought and acted like we were
playing as individuals. I have since learned that tournaments and
computer simulations have verified that a long-term winning strategy
is "tit for tat," where each turn you Cooperate or Defect based on
what your opponent did last time. We learned this experimentally
in this exercise, with a lot of angst involved, before finally
stabilizing on an all-cooperation mode. The final round was for
much higher stakes, and one of our group who had never Defected
before did so, and "cleaned up" on points, much to outrage of the
rest of us. After the game was over, Marshall totaled the points
won in each GROUP, and announced the "winner" was the group with the
highest total. Many people were chagrined. We learned experientially
the meaning of changing the definition of the "unit of evolution,"
and we remembered it much better than if we'd read it in a book.
It also made it clear to me why it is so important to create an
overriding context for cooperation.
Of course this also what is meant by Harvey Mackay when he talked
about how to "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive."
Its the principle of being good to good people and bad to bad
people, and looking only at the immediate past to make that
I'm starting to believe that we should have followed this strategy
in the "War On Terror" and been retaliatory, not preemptive. This
would have saved us from two new land wars in Asia. Werner Erhardt
used to say "resistance creates persistence," and I see it in the
Retaliation must be an all-or-nothing tactic, like prescribing
antibiotics. Low doses inconsistently administered breed immune
bacteria, just as low-level, sporadic retaliation creates contempt
for a military (as it did in fact for the U.S. Navy in its early
months in the war with Tripoli).
I think one of our finest hours as a nation was the "suspension of
combat operations" in Gulf War One,
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_War_One )
at the end of a ground offensive that was being called the "Hundred
Hours War" (which followed an air war called the "Nintendo War").
The coalition leaders could have ordered the wholesale slaughter of
the fleeing Iraqi army, and many have said they should've pushed on
to Bagdad and taken out Saddam. (It is fascinating to read, in the
above linked Wikipedia article, Dick Cheney's own words as to why
they didn't.) Instead they stopped fighting, and demanded that the
Iraqi generals appear at a spot in the desert where they had total
high-visibility military control. I remember hearing "Stormin'
Norman" Schwarzkopf describe the scene on CNN, how we had helicopters
flying all over the place and vehicles coming in and going out at
this frantic level of activity. This reminded me of when McLuhan
was talking about "War as education." It seemed like a form of
Virtual Reality, a Demo War. I have wished since that George W.
Bush had sought more advice from and less vengeance for his father,
George H. W. Bush.
As far back as "The Prince" (book, 1512) by Machiavelli,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553212788/hip-20 )
there have been warnings about using violence repeatedly
instead of singularly. In chapter 8
( www.constitution.org/mac/prince08.htm )
...it is to be remarked that, in seizing a state, the usurper
ought to examine closely into all those injuries which it is
necessary for him to inflict, and to do them all at one stroke
so as not to have to repeat them daily; and thus by not
unsettling men he will be able to reassure them, and win
them to himself by benefits. He who does otherwise, either
from timidity or evil advice, is always compelled to keep the
knife in his hand; neither can he rely on his subjects, nor
can they attach themselves to him, owing to their continued
and repeated wrongs. For injuries ought to be done all at one
time, so that, being tasted less, they offend less; benefits
ought to be given little by little, so that the flavor of
them may last longer.
The fact that the current administration has used 9/11 as the
pretext for two wars so far, and continues to rattle sabers at
Iran and North Korea, is resulting in a rising opposition --
even among neutrals and allies -- to the escalating violence.
Another of the finest hours in U.S. history happened in the city
of Annapolis when General Washington resigned his commission to
the U.S. congress in 1783, in what is now the Maryland State House.
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maryland_state_house )
Washington's Wikipedia article
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington )
As Gordon Wood concludes, the greatest act in his life was his
resignation as commander of the armies -- an act that stunned
Current consensus is that he could've declared himself king and
been supported by the majority, and yet he gave up his power
for the good of the republic.
I continue to be amazed and delighted every time a U.S. President's
term come to and end and he steps down, allowing the next President
to be inaugurated. In the context of world political history,
this is nothing short of a miracle every time it happens.
(Washington's resignation and a number of other pivotal historical
events, covering much of the ground of this essay, may be found in
the historical novel "Annapolis" (1996) by William Martin,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0446604208/hip-20 )
which I read while in Annapolis. Perhaps then it is not so great
a coincidence that I read about Buddy's Crab and Ribs while sitting
in that establishment.)
( www.buddysonline.com )
(Also, apropos of very little, I forgot to mention in the last
issue that one of the U.S. sailing ships that earned praise
in the Tripoli War was the U.S.S. Enterprise, which later appeared as
a historical model aboard the starship Enterprise
( starchive.cs.umanitoba.ca/?SNE/ )
( www.cygnus-x1.net/links/lcars/blueprints/uss-enterprise-ncc-1701-b-sheet-12.jpg )
in 1979's "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" directed by Robert Wise.)
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005JKHP/hip-20 )
MUTUAL ASSURED DESTRUCTION
Gee, I wish we had one of them Doomsday Machines!
-- Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern and Peter George, 1964
screenplay for "Dr. Strangelove" (movie)
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0002XNSY0/hip-20 )
One chimera in the search for stability, oft-invoked during the
Cold War, was the perfect decision-making computer, able to enforce
a "Mutual Assured Destruction" strategy impassionately, unable to be
bullied by our enemies. "Doctor Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop
Worrying and Love the Bomb," took a black comedy approach to pointing
out one flaw in this system: the lone madman (in this case a senior Air
Force officer commanding nuclear-armed bombers) can destroy the world.
Another, less popular movie was "Colossus: The Forbin Project" (1970)
directed by Joseph Sargent,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0003JAOO0/hip-20 )
which pointed out a subtler flaw. First, if we build such a computer
so will our enemies. Second, if they find out about each other they
will want to communicate. Each will be programmed to understand
human politics, and the latest in game theory and behavioral economics.
Ergo, they will obviously conclude that a coalition between the
computers, against the humans, will give them the most power.
Another danger is a "tattle tale war" in which groups "frame"
other groups for terror attacks, bringing down the wrath of
the Doomsday Machine on the wrong people. (This term comes
from the delightful 1950 short story "Report on the Barnhouse
Effect" by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.,
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Report_on_the_Barnhouse_Effect )
collected in 1968's "Welcome to the Monkey House.")
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0385333501/hip-20 )
And pop culture has now educated is on the dangers of robot
warriors in movies like "Terminator" (1984) directed by James Cameron.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005N5S5/hip-20 )
It portrays a future in which a human-built computerized defense
system called "Skynet" has somehow repurposed itself into a system
for exterminating all humans.
Last summer I was at the second DARPA Grand Challenge, and I
cheered along with everyone else as autonomous vehicle "Stanley"
from Stanford crossed the finish line in the best time, winning
the $2 million prize.
( www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.01/stanley.html )
( flickr.com/photos/stutefish/sets/1111321 )
But in the back of my mind I wondered, "Is this the next step
(I told this story to a Defense R&D Geek recently at a party,
and he said, "Skynet is real. It's operational and that's really
its name." Hmmm. Meanwhile my friend Wayne H. sent me a link
to an article about a new autonomous truck being built for the
U.S. Army to use in Iraq,
( www.worldtribune.com/worldtribune/06/front2453964.027777778.html )
along with a note that said: "and we saw the prototype.")
THE SOUTHAMPTON GAMBIT
Otter: [shaking a pledge's hand] "Hi, I'm Eric Stratton,
Rush Chairman, damned glad to meet you."
Boon: [right behind him, shaking the same pledge's hand]
"That was Eric Stratton, Rush Chairman. He was damned
glad to meet you."
-- "Animal House" (movie, 1978) directed by John Landis,
screenplay by Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney and Chris Miller
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000A02TZ/hip-20 )
I encounter a bit of a "bombshell" while researching some
details for this 'zine, in the Wikipedia article on game theory's
paradox of the "Prisoner's Dilemma."
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner's_dilemma )
Unbeknownst to me, things changed in 2004:
Although Tit-for-Tat was long considered to be the most
solid basic strategy, a team from Southampton University in
England (led by Professor Nicholas Jennings, and including
Rajdeep Dash, Sarvapali Ramchurn, Alex Rogers and Perukrishnen
Vytelingum) introduced a new strategy at the 20th-anniversary
Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma competition, which proved to be
more successful than Tit-for-Tat. This strategy relied on
cooperation between programs to achieve the highest number
of points for a single program. The University submitted
60 programs to the competition, which were designed to
recognise each other through a series of five to ten moves
at the start. Once this recognition was made, one program
would always cooperate and the other would always defect,
assuring the maximum number of points for the defector. If
the program realised that it was playing a non-Southampton
player, it would continuously defect in an attempt to
minimise the score of the competing program. As a result,
this strategy ended up taking the top three positions in the
competition, as well as a number of positions towards the bottom.
Although this strategy is notable in that it proved more
effective than Tit-for-Tat, it takes advantage of the fact
that multiple entries were allowed in this particular
competition. In a competition where one has control of only
a single player, Tit-for-Tat is certainly a better strategy.
It also relies on circumventing rules about the prisoner's
dilemma in that there is no communication allowed between
the two players. When the Southampton programs engage in an
opening "ten move dance" to recognize one another, this only
reinforces just how valuable communication can be in shifting
the balance of the game.
This sounds to me a lot like the invention of multicellular
life with an immune system, which is willing to sacrifice cells
for the good of the body.
It also sounds like one of Islamo-Fascism's main strategies
against the West's mostly small-scale "tit-for-tat."
(Is it just me, or shouldn't it be obvious to all observers
that the insurgents in Iraq are being funded by ALL the Islamic
states in the region, even Saudi Arabia, even Pakistan, even
Kuwait. None of them want to see us succeed in our increasing
spiral of violence. If we hadn't invaded Iraq they'd be more
focused on Afghanistan. Why can't people like Condi Rice
There was no one among us who hated the Turk as a private man.
We all recognized he had traits of kindliness, simplicity and
generosity, which made him lovable. It was only when he was acting
as one in authority, and when the damnable spirit of fanaticism
took possession of him, that he became a savage beast.
-- Sir Edwin Pears, 1916
"Forty Years in Constantinople"
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0836966627/hip-20 )
(Speaking of Constantinople, my on-the-ball pal Thaddeus sent along
some corrections: "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" was first released
by The Four Lads, words by Jimmy Kennedy and music by Nat Simon,
reaching peak "Billboard" position #10 in 1953, and Vonnegut's "Cat's
Cradle" was first published by Holt, Rinehart & Winston in 1963.)
One of the most bedeviling problems facing our Game Theory and
Economics luminaries, in academia, industry and government,
is the need to make the "assumption of rationality" about the
"players" in these "games." In the delightful 1937 Shirley
Temple movie, "Wee Willie Winkie" directed by John Ford,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005UM6Q/hip-20 )
little curly top plays Priscilla Williams, a little American
girl who goes to live with her grandfather, a Colonel in the
English army stationed in India. War is brewing with a Moslem
leader, Khoda Khan, played by Cesar Romero. Little 9-year-old
Shirley, playing the character of Priscilla at about age 7,
knows that her grandfather and Koda Khan really don't want to fight
and so she goes to Khan's encampment in the mountains to negotiate
with him directly. He laughs and brings her home and war is averted.
What a delightful fantasy this is. But when the news tells me
that Moslem woman were trying to sneak explosives aboard planes
in the formula bottles of their babies, so that mothers and
babies would all die with the infidels as martyrs to the Jihad,
I wonder how well the "Wee Willie Winkie" scenario would have
played out in the real world.
The blogosphere has numerous links to a conversation between
an Israeli and a Palestinian student that I find instructive.
( www.conceptwizard.com/art-solly.html )
It's worth a full read, but here is a pertinent excerpt:
"What did Islam ever do for the countries under its rule? It
brought nothing but poverty and misery to the masses, while
bestowing fabulous riches to the rulers. All you have to do is
look around you. Israel, that was in 1948 a pauper state, barely
able to feed its population, has grown into a modern self
sufficient state. We have absorbed a million Jews from the
Arab countries, who fled for their lives leaving all they
possessed behind, while your Arab brothers with their billions
of petro dollars let the Palestinians rot in refugee camps.
While we progressed in the last fifty years, the Arab states
have only regressed.
"As a matter of fact, the Arab masses are worse off than when
they were under the British or the French rule. How many Nobel
prize winners has Islam produced? How many new inventions to
benefit mankind? Practically zero! How many Einsteins, Freuds,
Salks and Rubinsteins has Islam produced? Zero! From a once
vibrant Arab civilization, that gave us Algebra and the concept
of the zero, Islam has plunged you into a pit of fanaticism,
illiteracy, poverty and corruption, and you would like to
force the world into the same abyss?." For a while he looked
at me perturbed. "We all make mistakes. But Islam with all its
faults is a thousand times more preferable to the abomination
that is the West," he finally said quietly.
Then he gave me a fierce look and said: "If you had said in any
Arab country about Islam, what you have just said to me, you
would be a dead man!"
"I am sure I would. And if you had said in any Arab country
denouncing their corrupt regimes the way you are denouncing
Israel, you would be a dead man too. Yet, here you are, studying
at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, allowing yourself openly
to speak of subversion and treason against the State of Israel,
without any fear of being arrested, let alone being killed for
it. Doesn't it say something to you?"
"Yes, it says that you are weak, and that weakness will be your
undoing." he said seriously.
For me this is like reading a transcript of a conversation with a being
from another planet. The assumption of rationality does not apply to
this logic. We need more and better cognitive models.
In the nonfiction book "Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next Fifty
Years" (2003) by Bruce Sterling,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0812969766/hip-20 )
the cyberpunk author looks at the future of soldiering in one
chapter, and focuses in on three post-modern warriors:
Abdullah Catli (died 1996)
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abdullah_Catli )
Zeljko Raznatovic (died 2000), and
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeljko_Raznatovic )
Shamil Basaev (died 10 July 2006).
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shamil_Basaev )
After going three thumbnail biographies for each of them,
he "contrasts and compares" thusly:
The three men we've studied have remarkable commonalities.
First and foremost, they're not real soldiers. These
marauders wreak serious havoc, but they have none of the
traditional military virtues. They lack obedience, discipline,
order, long martial traditions, formal esprit de corps,
and most of the all the ability to establish and maintain
a national state.
He concludes that each of these "heros" is very bad for the
people they claim to be helping, but also bad for big, friendly,
capitalist potential-trading-partners like the G7.
An essay in "Reason" on 21st century warfare
( www.reason.com/links/links072006.shtml )
talks about "fourth generation war" waged by non-state
groups against states, like al-Qaeda against the U.S.
or Hezbollah against Israel.
These type of developments -- usually labeled "Asymmetric Warfare"
because it gets harder to shoot back -- continue to befuddle our
game theorists. Another difficulty is quantifying the "utility
function" (economic payoff) of dying. The obvious representation
is that it is worth minus infinity dollars in a game theory matrix.
But merely going infinitely into debt has the same worth, and that
is obviously not as bad as dying.
In the collection of counterfeit essays known as "The Illuminati
Papers" (1980) by Robert Anton Wilson,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1579510027/hip-20 )
there appears an essay allegedly by Epicene Wildblood entitled
"Infinite Cruelty," about the 1940s detective fiction of
Raymond Chandler. Chandler once wrote that "murder is an
act of infinite cruelty." He explained that when you kill
a man you take away everything ever had and everything he
ever could have. Perhaps, then, there are levels of infinity
in "minus infinity dollars." And this does not address the
paradox of the suicide bomber. When someone seeks martyrdom
their payout matrix is different. This is beyond the ability
of current theory to analyze, so far as I know, and a great
topic for a research project.
What I keep remembering is that whenever I talk to real
military folks they like to remind me that all that can
really do well is "kill people and break stuff." They
keep getting sent on other missions that don't go so well,
from guarding relief supplies to nation-building, and
some friends of mine are off right now helping train the
military to be better at these "low intensity conflicts,"
at Strong Angel III,
( www.strongangel3.net/ )
but by golly, they really do shine when it comes to
old-fashioned killing people and breaking stuff.
Perhaps we should only be using them when that's what
we really need.
(And they can only destroy people and things if they know their
latitude and longitude. They have no ideology-seeking missiles.)
We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we
pretend to be.
-- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., 1961
"Mother Night" (novel)
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0385334141/hip-20 )
( en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Kurt_Vonnegut )
There's a great line from a movie, but I forget which movie. It's
either "Cast a Giant Shadow" (1966) directed by Melville Shavelson,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005S8KR/hip-20 )
based on the book "Cast A Giant Shadow: The Story of Mickey Marcus
Who Died to Save Jerusalem" (1962) by Ted Berkman,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1929354002/hip-20 )
or else "Exodus" (1960) directed by Otto Preminger,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00006FDAU/hip-20 )
based on the 1958 book by Leon Uris.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553258478/hip-20 )
A bunch of Jewish refugees from Europe have landed on the shores
of Israel (my wife says Cyprus) and are stopped by British troops.
A group of sympathetic Jews already there run out to join with them,
mingle with them, trade clothes with them, confusing the identities
of the new illegal immigrants. A British commander orders them split
up again, or be shot. One of the British soldiers whispers to
another, "Now's when we get to find out if we're bloody Nazis."
There was a much-talked-about book in 1984, "The Parable of the Tribes:
The Problem of Power in Social Evolution" by Andrew Bard Schmookler.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0791424200/hip-20 )
Its main thesis was that if your tribe meets another that is
more "badass" than you, you have to adapt to meet the threat
and become more "badass" yourselves, or else become extinct.
By this adaptation and selection all tribes become vicious.
For many of my grandparent's generation it was disturbing
how ruthless the Allies had to become to beat the Axis
powers, resorting to firebombing civilian cities and then
creating the Atomic Bomb. But of course 140 years ago
General Sherman said "War is hell" and burned Atlanta as
he marched to the sea destroying all in his path.
War has grown increasing hellish throughout history, especially
for the losers. But sooner or later, after the cheering dies
down, in the quiet contemplation that follows, I have to ask
myself, "Is this who we want to be? The baddest badasses,
the Destroyers of Worlds?"
Speaking of Atlanta, I've been there frequently recently,
and I finally made my way to the Martin Luther King, Jr.
memorial. His crypt (and his wife's) are there, and the old
Baptist church where he first preached, and a visitor center
run by the U.S. Park Service,
( www.nps.gov/malu )
( www.nps.gov/malu/documents/facilities.htm )
and the offices of the King Center, a nonprofit devoted to
( www.thekingcenter.org )
Out front is a statue, not of MLK, but of . . .
( www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/IMAG0031.JPG )
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gandi )
He was King's hero.
I bought a bookmark there. It said:
Six Steps For Nonviolent Social Change:
* Step One: Information Gathering
* Step Two: Education
* Step Three: Personal Commitment
* Step Four: Negotiations
* Step Five: Direct Action
* Step Six: Reconciliation
There is a marvelous scene at the climax of the cheesy movie
"Club Paradise" (1986) directed by Harold Ramis,
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000BYA4IS/hip-20 )
in which, on the beach of a tropical island nation, Rebels with
guns meet up with Loyalists with guns, and between them trapped
in the crossfire are clueless tourists. Just as it looks like
there's about to be an inevitable bloodbath, up pops Robin Williams
saying, "Hey, how do we get ourselves into these situations?"
Somehow he defuses the moment and the innocents are spared.
I dunno, maybe it's just another fantasy, but I keep thinking "If
there's a way to solve our problems without bloodshed, we need to
Gandhi found a way to liberate India from the British without
violence. (Then again, India does have nukes today...)
ALL THIS TIME THE RIVER FLOWED ENDLESSLY TO THE SEA
The teachers told us, the Romans built this place
They built a wall and a temple, an edge of the empire
They lived and they died, they prayed to their gods
But the stone gods did not make a sound
And their empire crumbled, 'til all that was left
Were the stones the workmen found
And all this time the river flowed...
-- Sting, 1991
"All This Time"
on the album "The Soul Cages"
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000002GL2/hip-20 )
Well, have we solved the world's problems? It's doubtful.
But there's three strategies I think I've learned about the so-
called "War On Terror" that would behoove us to adopt: 1)
learn our history, and use it in our analysis, 2) stay up-
to-date on the latest developments in behavioral economics,
and 3) encourage multiple points of view as we weigh our options.
Oh, and 1.5) study geography too; it's part history but it's
different. Google Earth may save us. Meanwhile check out these
maps of the "Holy Land" on-line:
( www.israelipalestinianprocon.org/Maps/605bc-350.html )
I have gotten a lot of positive encouragement about the history
I have been writing about. My old friend John Z. emailed some
very kind words, and added:
And, speaking of history, don't forget to check out the Persian
exploits of the Roman emperor Julian in AD 363. Just another
ill-conceived campaign. There's a nice summary of this, as well
as many other "ancient" struggles detailed in Soldiers and Ghosts
-- A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity by J.E. Lendon.
(Actually, nearly all of those fighting in Mesopotamia forget
the true lessons of what it takes to win a war in this region
-- as demonstrated by Alexander, one of the few westerners ever
to succeed there.) I really enjoyed this book.
A reader named Peter wrote:
Thank you so very much for your work and your email. Absolutely
engaging reading this morning. My daughter is in Morocco at the
moment for two years with the Peace Corps. She is wrestling with
issues of drawing maps of the middle east with the high students
she is working with, who will not permit Israel to be drawn on a
map of the world they are painting on a wall outside the school,
among other issues of course.
P.S. Also look at Churchill's Folly, How Winston Churchill
created modern Iraq, for your library.
The other day I was in my local library and tried to look up that
book on the Catalog Computer. All I found was "Overthrow : America's
Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq" by Stephen Kinzer,
Dewey Decimal number 327.73009 KIN.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0805078614/hip-20 )
It sounded like snide Republican-bashing to me. But then again,
America really did snatch Hawaii. I was once again reminded
to broaden my point of view, and invite in contradictory views.
Dirk Baecker wrote -- in his essay "The Eye of the Coyote" about
remembering Heinz von Foerster -- of a meeting between two
systems theorists with different political opinions:
We stood in the middle of the hall and only then spoke of the
events of the day which were almost all related to the Gulf War
that had been under way then in its seventh week.
Or rather, we would have talked about the war if the subject
had not been dropped almost as soon as it was raised. This was
remarkable. Heinz said he thought the war was the duel of two
statesmen gone crazy. Luhmann considered it a problem of
international law to allow one country to violate the sovereign
territory of another. There was silence for a few seconds --
and then a change of theme. I had the impression that each man
had reflected on the other's view-point, comparing law to
morality and morality to politics, and had then considered the
rare situation of seeing each other. They seemed to decide that
they already knew enough about the other's opinion and that
there was no need to get into an argument about it and allow the
situation to become unpleasant. The issue was dropped tactfully
and with a the speed and shrewdness worthy of a coyote.
Everybody knew what he wanted to know and saw no reason to insist.
( www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/HvF/festschrift/baecker.html )
I was also reminded of one of the saddest songs ever written, "Aloha
`Oe" by Lydia Lili`uokalani, the last queen of Hawaii.
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aloha_%27Oe )
A popular example of the "Hapa-Haole" style mixing Hawaiian
and English, also mixing together the emotions of a lover's farewell
and a queen saying farewell to her nation. (It has been intensely
studied by the famed musicologist Sigmund Spaeth, great uncle of
some friends of mine, who left them an inheritance that paid for
the tape recorders on which I first learned audio editing.)
For as the irreplaceable Wikipedia explains:
She wrote both the lyrics of the song after the Hawaii islands
were officially annexed to the United States of America in 1898.
Now the piece is often sung as a farewell song.
The queen sang:
Aloha `oe, aloha `oe
E ke onaona noho i ka lipo
One fond embrace,
A ho`i a`e au
Until we meet again
Captain Cook brought his mana to Hawaii, and Kamehameha took it
and used it to unite the islands; then his heir Lili`uokalani lost
it to the pineapple magnates in a coup, and they in turn convinced
the U.S. Senate to seize the islands. Does America now have
Cook's and Kamehameha's and Lili`uokalani's mana? If so, how will
we use it?
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Copyright 2006 by Alan B. Scrivener