November 13, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


A Game Designer's Analysis Of QAnon (Rabbit Rabbit, Sep 30, 2020, Medium)

In one of the very first experience fictions (XF) I ever designed, the players had to explore a creepy basement looking for clues. The object they were looking for was barely hidden and the clue was easy. It was Scooby Doo easy. I definitely expected no trouble in this part of the game.

But there was trouble. I didn't know it then, but its name was APOPHENIA.

As the participants started searching for the hidden object, on the dirt floor, were little random scraps of wood.

How could that be a problem!?

It was a problem because three of the pieces made the shape of a perfect arrow pointing right at a blank wall. It was uncanny. It had to be a clue. The investigators stopped and stared at the wall and were determined to figure out what the clue meant and they were not going one step further until they did. The whole game was derailed. Then, it got worse. Since there obviously was no clue there, the group decided the clue they were looking for was IN the wall. The collection of ordinary tools they found conveniently laying around seemed to enforce their conclusion that this was the correct direction. The arrow was pointing to the clue and the tools were how they would get to it. How obvious could it be?

I stared in horror because it all fit so well. It was better and more obvious than the clue I had hidden. I could see it. It was all random chance but I could see the connections that had been made were all completely logical. I had a crude backup plan and I used it quickly before these well-meaning players started tearing apart the basement wall with crowbars looking for clues that did not exist.

These were normal people and their assumptions were normal and logical and completely wrong.

In most ARG-like games apophenia is the plague of designers and players, sometimes leading participants to wander further and further away from the plot and causing designers to scramble to get them back or (better yet) incorporate their ideas. In role-playing games, ARGs, video games, and really anything where the players have agency, apophenia is going to be an issue.

This happens because in real games there are actual solutions to actual puzzles and a real plot created by the designers. It's easy to get off track because there is a track. A great game runner (often called a puppet-master) can use one or two of these speculations to create an even better game, but only as much as the plot can be adjusted for in real time or planned out before-hand. It can create amazing moments in a game, but it's not easy. For instance, I wish I could have instantly entombed something into that wall in the basement because it would have worked so well, but I was out of luck!

If you are a designer, and have puzzles, and have a plot, then apophenia is a wild card you always have to be concerned about.

QAnon is a mirror reflection of this dynamic. Here apophenia is the point of everything. There are no scripted plots. There are no puzzles to solve created by game designers. There are no solutions.

QAnon grows on the wild misinterpretation of random data, presented in a suggestive fashion in a milieu designed to help the users come to the intended misunderstanding. Maybe "guided apophenia" is a better phrase.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Woodrow Wilson's segregation policies of 100 years ago decimated the Black middle class for decades (Guo Xu and Abhay Aneja, 11/13/20, Market Watch)

Soon after his inauguration in 1913, President Woodrow Wilson ushered in one of the most far-reaching discrimination policies of that century. Wilson discreetly authorized his Cabinet secretaries to implement a policy of racial segregation across the federal bureaucracy.

A Southerner by heritage, Wilson appointed several Southern Democrats to Cabinet offices, several of whom were sympathetic to the segregationist cause. Wilson's new postmaster general, for example, was "anxious to segregate white and negro employees in all Departments of Government."

Historical accounts suggest that Wilson's order was carried out most aggressively by the U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. Treasury Department, the latter responsible for revenue generation including taxes and customs duties. Based on the data we collected, the majority of Black civilians worked in these two federal departments before Wilson's arrival. [...]

Our research shows that the damage caused by working under discriminatory conditions persisted well beyond Wilson's presidency. The same Black civil servants victimized by discrimination in federal employment were also less likely to own a home in 1920, 1930 and 1940, almost three decades after Wilson was elected. Moreover, the school-age children of Black civil servants who served in the Wilson administration went on to have poorer-quality lives than their young white counterparts in terms of their overall earnings and quality of employment in adulthood.

This research can help to contribute to the understanding of the roots of economic disparities. A policy of racial discrimination -- even if implemented temporarily -- has lasting negative effects. A clearer understanding of historical discrimination can help to inform the design of policies aimed at remedying the painfully persistent racial inequities we observe today.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:05 PM


Trump Campaign Lawyer Comically Filed Election Lawsuit in Court That Had No Authority to Hear the Case (COLIN KALMBACHER, Nov 13th, 2020, Law & Crime)

One of President Donald Trump's numerous election lawsuits was filed in the wrong federal court. Like, the really wrong court. On Tuesday, a campaign lawyer filed a Michigan-focused federal lawsuit in the Washington, D.C.-based Court of Federal Claims-which has no authority to hear an electoral fraud themed lawsuit whatsoever.

Donald went to  McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak and hired Benny.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


World's Biggest Free-Trade Deal Set to Be Signed This Weekend (Philip Heijmans, Michelle Jamrisko, and Bryce Baschuk, November 11, 2020, Bloomberg)

Fifteen Asia-Pacific nations including China aim to clinch the world's largest free-trade agreement this weekend.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which includes countries stretching from Japan to Australia and New Zealand, aims to reduce tariffs, strengthen supply chains with common rules of origin, and codify new e-commerce rules. Its passage may disadvantage some U.S. companies and other multinationals outside the zone, particularly after President Donald Trump withdrew from talks on a separate Asia-Pacific trade deal formerly known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


SHORT CONVERSATIONS WITH POETS: CHRISTIAN WIMAN ( Ilya Kaminsky, 11/12/20, McSweeney's Quarterly)

Christian Wiman is a poet who doesn't just write about the spiritual struggles; he embodies them on the page. "Today I woke and believed in nothing," the speaker movingly says in his most recent book, Survival is a Style. Belief and disbelief in this book at times crowd into the same stanza, even the same line. The result is both heart-wrenching and beautiful: this impulse of negative theology is made apparent in the language itself. How? With a blaze of questions ("What did he learn when he learned of his own bad heart? / That scared and sacred are but a beat apart") wherein we see the vivid desire for peace found in the daily: "I want to hum just a little with my own emptiness / at 4 a.m. To have little bells above my door. / To have a door." Toward the end of this searing book, there is a kind of resolution: this isn't a crisis of faith, we realize, crisis is faith. Faith is in the very texture of Wiman's language, the very fusion of his marvelous music and imagery, and that texture is what makes his work memorable to any reader who finds it. [...]


If you ask me (as you do) what poetry can do to reawaken the language of faith, I am skeptical. But if you ask me (as you have) what poetry can do to counter the sense of being destroyed by time, I am quite sure that it can be salvific -- both in the moments of its happening and in what those moments teach about the unity of life and time. More and more, I think of faith as simply a being at ease with time. But you'll notice I began this answer with the verb torn.

And language? Certainly, I have never written a poem that began with an idea -- not a single one. Very occasionally, there is an image or metaphor that takes some deep hold on me, but most often there's a sound in my head that hasn't even found its way to words yet. A rhythm, an ache, a not-quite-cry and not-quite-song, something in the air and in me that wants (needs) the distinction (between the air and me) erased. I have no ambition whatsoever other than keeping this possibility alive and remaining alert to it when it comes.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Some Kind of Peace In A Chaotic Word: Ólafur Arnalds On His Most Intimate Album Yet (Jess Distill,  November 13, 2020, Reykjavik Grapevine)

Born from a desire to take himself back to his roots, 'Some Kind Of Peace' strips everything away from the lavish compositions and cinematic sounds that have become synonymous with Ólafur's name, to reveal something a little more raw and vulnerable.

"It's not that my music isn't always personal," he admits. "It's just that I tend to create these big ideas or concepts to put in front of me, and it's easy to hide behind them. I like to swing right in the other direction sometimes. I wanted to go back to before this was my job, before there was any pressure, and remember why I was making music."

Working mostly with friends who had been with him during that time, the relationship between Ólafur and his collaborators was as intimate as the music they created. "We had the opportunity to take a lot of time and really have a dialogue about what the music was about and what feelings we were trying to evoke. We would play it a few times and then listen back to it and ask 'How do we feel right now when we hear this?'" Ólafur says. "We went into that aspect of it in a lot of detail, just listening and talking. Because it was so personal to me, I put even more effort into the tiniest details of performance."

With every listen of 'Some Kind of Peace' something new becomes apparent: a string part you didn't notice before, or a sound effect barely audible in the background, more a feeling than a sound. As though Ólafur is revealing himself little bit by little bit, the listener learns something new every time they play the album. Soundbites from his life, voice clips from the recording process, or samples taken of people and music that inspire him litter the album.

"How do you place a voice in voiceless music? How do you tell a story in instrumental music?" he asks. "I just have to add storytelling elements to it. It can be voices or the way something sounds. That's how I add my own voice, so to speak, without actually singing, and tell my personal story through the album."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Maricopa County Was the Epicenter of the Anti-Immigrant Movement. It Just Handed Arizona to Biden. (Fernanda Echavarri, 11/13/20, MoJo)

For years, the news out of Maricopa County, Arizona, was bleak. It was the site of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio's infamous Tent City jail, the epicenter of anti-immigrant and anti-Latinx laws like SB 1070, and the staging ground for vigilante groups like the Minutemen. But after a week of daily vote count updates showed that Joe Biden would defeat Donald Trump there--and at the same time hold onto his statewide lead--it's now clear that Latinx activists and Democratic politicians have scored one of their biggest wins in years in Arizona's largest and most influential county.

As of Thursday, Biden had a roughly 12,000-vote lead in Arizona, thanks in large part to his 45,000-vote advantage in Maricopa County. These margins can largely be attributed to the work of the Latinx organizers I first wrote about in September, who ran countless voter registration events, information campaigns, and GOTV efforts to push for candidates and propositions that support their communities. Leading up to Election Day, a collective of local groups knocked on more than 1 million doors and made almost 8 million phone calls focused on Latino, Black, and Native American voters. The result was high turnout from those communities, with more than 70 percent of Latinos--who make up about a quarter of the total electorate in Arizona--supporting Biden. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Outgoing Syria Envoy Admits Hiding US Troop Numbers (KATIE BO WILLIAMS, NOVEMBER 12, 2020, Defense One)

"We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there," Jeffrey said in an interview. The actual number of troops in northeast Syria is "a lot more than" the two hundred troops Trump agreed to leave there in 2019.

Trump's abruptly-announced withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria remains perhaps the single-most controversial foreign policy move during his first years in office, and for Jeffrey, "the most controversial thing in my fifty years in government." The order, first handed down in December 2018, led to the resignation of former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. It catapulted Jeffrey, then Trump's special envoy for Syria, into the role of special envoy in the counter-ISIS fight when it sparked the protest resignation of his predecessor, Brett McGurk.

For Jeffrey, the incident was far less cut-and-dry -- but it is ultimately a success story that ended with U.S. troops still operating in Syria, denying Russian and Syrian territorial gains and preventing ISIS remnants from reconstituting. 

In 2018 and again in October of 2019, when Trump repeated the withdrawal order, the president boasted that ISIS was "defeated." But each time, the president was convinced to leave a residual force in Syria and the fight continued. 

"What Syria withdrawal? There was never a Syria withdrawal," Jeffrey said. "When the situation in northeast Syria had been fairly stable after we defeated ISIS, [Trump] was inclined to pull out. In each case, we then decided to come up with five better arguments for why we needed to stay. And we succeeded both times. That's the story."

He's praising himself.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


True Liberalism Wants to Slay Thomas Hobbes's Monster (Deirdre McCloskey and Art Carden, November 13, 2020, Lit Hub)

In 2005 a coalition of groups organized a campaign to "Make Poverty History." The very idea--making poverty history--startles, considering the grind that was once the life of virtually everyone on the planet, a few nobles and priests excepted. To be quantitative about it, the beginning of scientific wisdom about economic history is to realize that in the year 1800 worldwide, the miserable average of production and consumption per person was about $3 day.

Even in the newly prosperous United States, Holland, and Britain, it was a mere $6. Gak. Those are the figures in terms of roughly present-day prices, understand: no tricks with money involved. Try living in your neighborhood on $3 or $6 a day. And realize by contrast that in the United States it's now about $130 a day, and $33 as a world average, doubling in every long generation.

The poorest have been the biggest beneficiaries. Contrary to what you hear, further, since the mid-20th century, inequality in the world has fallen dramatically. The wretched of the earth are coming to a dignified level of income, and more. Wow.

Our task is to convey the gak and to explain the wow--and to show that the change from gak to wow came from liberty.

The view in 1651 of the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes was that without an all-powerful king there must have been once upon a time a "war of all against all." We doubt he was correct about the king or about the once upon a time, in light of modern scholarship in history and anthropology. But his famous vision of the poverty of a society without some sort of discipline, whether a coercive visible hand or a voluntary invisible hand, can serve to characterize the world that the campaign to Make Poverty History wants to escape:

In such condition [as he imagined, "the state of nature," with no discipline] there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain [think: no incentive if the fruit will anyway be stolen]: and consequently no culture of the earth, no navigation [think: no caravels of Prince Henry the Navigator exploring the coast of Africa], nor use of commodities that may be imported by sea [think: no pepper from the East]; no commodious building [think: no Amsterdam city hall on the Dam]; no instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force [think: no coaches on the king's highway]; no knowledge of the face of the earth [think: "Don't know much about geography"]; no account of time [no clocks, no history: "Don't know much about the Middle Ages"]; no arts; no letters, no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

Double gak. Not nice. People on their own, Hobbes supposed, are cruel and selfish and above all unable to organize themselves voluntarily. To tame them, they need a "leviathan," as he called it in the title of his 1651 work--that is, a great beast of a government.

Only a top-down king, like his beloved if recently beheaded master, Charles I of England, or Charles's son hiding out in France, the future Charles II, would protect peace and civilization. (His is rather similar, we note, to the argument on the left nowadays that a leviathan government, much more powerful than anything Charles I could have imagined, is necessary to protect peace and civilization and the poor.) The choice, he said, was between utter misery without a masterful king or a moderated misery (even) with him.

Many people nowadays, whether on the left or the right of politics, still credit Hobbes's argument for top-down government. They believe, writes the liberal economist Donald Boudreaux, "that we human beings left undirected by a sovereign power are either inert blobs, capable of achieving nothing (thus say the Dems and Labour, and old John Dewey), or unintelligent and brutal barbarians destined only to rob, rape, plunder, and kill each other (thus say the GOP and the Tories, and old Thomas Hobbes) until and unless a sovereign power restrains us and directs economic energies onto more productive avenues.

The people who believe such things are properly called statists, such as in recent politics Elizabeth Warren on the left of the conventional spectrum and Donald Trump on the right. The left or right, or middle, wants very much to coerce the blockheads and the barbarians to get organized. Both the progressives and the conservatives, in other words, view ordinary people as children, ignorant or unruly, unable to take care of themselves, and dangerous to others, to be tightly governed. Terrible twos.

We modern liberals don't. We want to persuade you to join us in liberalism in the old and honorable sense--or, if you insist on the word, to join us in a generous version of libertarianism (a 1950s coinage we would like to retire). You don't really favor pushing people around with a prison-industrial complex, or with regulations preventing people from braiding hair for a living, or with collateral damage from drone strikes, or with a separation of toddlers from their mothers at the southern US border, do you?

We bet not. As one version of the Golden Rule puts it, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. With an open mind and a generous heart, dear reader, we believe you will tilt toward a humane true liberalism. Welcome, then, to a society held together by sweet talk among free adults, rather than by the leviathan's coercion applied to slaves and children.

Their dating is obviously several centuries late--given the royal charters in England--but you trace the acceleration to these latter centuries.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Reaching UK net zero target cheaper than we thought, says climate adviser (Fiona Harvey, 12 Nov 2020, The Guardian)

Reaching net zero carbon emissions in the UK is likely to be much easier and cheaper than previously thought, and can be designed in such a way as to quickly improve the lives of millions of people, a senior adviser to the government has said.

Chris Stark, the chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change, the UK's independent statutory adviser, said costs had come down rapidly in recent years, and past estimates that moving to a low-carbon economy would cut trillions from GDP were wrong.

"Overall, the cost is surprisingly low - it's cheaper than even we thought last year when we made our assessments. Net zero is relatively low-cost across the economy," he said. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Obama: 'Americans spooked by black man in White House' led to Trump presidency (New Arab, 13 November, 2020)

In an excerpt from "A Promised Land," which goes on sale on Tuesday, Obama, America's first Black president, addresses the "birther" lie peddled by Trump that Obama was not born in the United States, according to CNN.

"It was as if my very presence in the White House had triggered a deep-seated panic, a sense that the natural order had been disrupted," Obama writes.

"Which is exactly what Donald Trump understood when he started peddling assertions that I had not been born in the United States and was thus an illegitimate president.

"For millions of Americans spooked by a Black man in the White House, he promised an elixir for their racial anxiety," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Federal Judge Allows E. Jean Carroll's Lawsuit Against Trump to Move Ahead Next Month (DANIEL VILLARREAL, 11/12/20, Newsweek)

On Thursday, a federal judge allowed a defamation lawsuit filed against President Donald Trump by writer E. Jean Carroll to proceed despite attempts by the Trump Administration to have it dismissed.

A telephone conference for the case is scheduled to be held on December 11, according to The Hill.