A Talking Dinosaur, for Adults

…not just any adults, but national leaders.  The Global Climate Conference was visited by Frankie the Talking Dinosaur, who warned the attendees (and viewers around the world) about the danger of extinction.

Reminded me of Neal Stephenson’s interesting little book, In the Beginning was the Command Line, in particular, a passage in which he describes something he saw at Disney World–a hypothetical stone-by-stone reconstruction of a ruin in the jungles of India. It is supposed to have been built by a local rajah in the sixteenth century, but since fallen into disrepair.

The place looks more like what I have just described than any actual building you might find in India. All the stones in the broken walls are weathered as if monsoon rains had been trickling down them for centuries, the paint on the gorgeous murals is flaked and faded just so, and Bengal tigers loll among stumps of broken columns. Where modern repairs have been made to the ancient structure, they’ve been done, not as Disney’s engineers would do them, but as thrifty Indian janitors would–with hunks of bamboo and rust-spotted hunks of rebar.

In one place, you walk along a stone wall and view some panels of art that tell a story.

…a broad jagged crack runs across a panel or two, but the story is still readable: first, primordial chaos leads to a flourishing of many animal species. Next, we see the Tree of Life surrounded by diverse animals…an obvious allusion (or, in showbiz lingo, a tie-in) to the gigantic Tree of Life that dominates the center of Disney’s Animal Kingdom…But it’s rendered in historically correct style and could probably fool anyone who didn’t have a PhD in Indian art history.

The next panel shows a mustachioed H. sapiens chopping down the Tree of Life with a scimitar, and the animals fleeing every which way. The one after that shows the misguided human getting walloped by a tidal wave, part of a latter-day Deluge presumably brought on by his stupidity.

The final panel, then, portrays the Sapling of Life beginning to grow back, but now man has ditched the edged weapon and joined the other animals in standing around to adore and praise it.

Clearly, this exhibit communicates a specific worldview, and it strongly implies that this worldview is consistent with traditional Indian religion and culture. Most viewers will assume the connection without doing further research as to its correctness or lack thereof.

Stephenson argues that the sensorial, image-based type of communication…of which this exhibit provides one example…has very different characteristics from explicit, text-based communication.  For one thing, the sensorial interface is less open to challenge than the textual interface.  It doesn’t argue–doesn’t present you with a chain of facts and logic that let you sit back and say, “Hey, wait a minute–I’m not so sure about that.” It just sucks you into its own point of view.

Tunnels of Oppression, which became popular on university campuses some years ago and are apparently now very popular, represent additional examples of persuasion via sensorial communication. So did the Obama administration’s propaganda video game featuring space aliens, global warming, and gender issues.  And so does this dinosaur video.

I’ll grant that the dinosaur is very smart marketing; someone might well hire the person or group who did it to put together a good marketing campaign for a product or service. But it’s not science and not serious policy thinking, and no responsible person would put together a presentation of this kind for a board of directors considering a major corporate decision point.  Or a country, or a world.

I reviewed Stephenson’s book here.

Biden’s Bogus Chinese Bogeyman: America Should Kowtow Now

The focus has shifted from the typical initial totally perverse justifications for the current unprecedented (historic) spending plans, e.g., to “stimulate GDP” (a measure of spending) and “create jobs” (work is what we do to consume, not an end in itself) to meeting and defeating the threat posed by China’s expanding economic and military might. This is precisely the policy the Chinese would have demanded of their Manchurian candidate in return for their billion dollar Air Force 2 Hunter Biden “investment.”

America’s real casus belli (Thucydides provided three in 400 BC, fear, honor and interest) is part fear but mostly economic interest. China after a seven century hiatus is once again a rising imperial power following a traditional mercantilist approach of accumulating wealth through trade, simultaneously accumulating and investing in gold and a global belt and road trading system while restoring lost honor.

Why War?

Foreign policy, totally ignored during the 2020 Presidential election, is now front and center, with the Biden Administration, which initially kowtowed, now beating the war drums louder than did the Trump Administration. War is a continuation of politics by other means, and the politics among nations generally reflects their imperial interests. America’s Founding Fathers may have been libertarian theoreticians, but their complaints against the King related to the right to exploit America’s vacant land and resources. England may be “an island of coal surrounded by fish,” but the Admiralty of the Navy Winston Churchill recognized that England’s control of the seas required conversion to oil and that required control of the Middle East. The landscape had barely begun to recover from the Great War “to end all wars” when the same parties rearmed for the rematch.

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Pwosesis Ayiti A

No reward for resistance; no assistance, no applause.

— Neil Peart, “Lock and Key


For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.

— Paul of Tarsus, Epistle to the Romans

La merde a frappé le ventilateur; my earlier post became abruptly more topical on Wednesday the 7th, when we woke to the news of the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. This follow-up will consider the implications of developments since late June and will specifically respond to commenters on Dilèm Aksyon Kolektif nan Matisan. Most of the structure of this post will follow the Deming process-workbench model, because history is, to a great extent, a series of contingent events, and because I am a giant process nerd.

Follow along, kids, as I summon the shade of W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993) to analyze the biggest mess I’ve ever been in!

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Dilèm Aksyon Kolektif nan Matisan

Generatim discite cultus

(Learn the culture proper to each after its kind)

— Virgil, Georgics II

Stephen Biddle, Nonstate Warfare: the Military Methods of Guerrillas, Warlords, and Militias (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021)

one-to-many entity-relationship symbol superposed over map of Martissant, Haiti

By way of making this more than a merely armchair review, I will be discussing the developing situation of state failure in Haiti, which is providing a personally harrowing example of the phenomena theorized and studied in this book. NB: additional situation reports like the one I quote from below will appear at this OCHA webpage.

I. Increasingly Scale-Free Military Activity in the 21st Century

In this follow-up to 2004’s Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle (also from Princeton), Stephen Biddle continues to elucidate the many ramifications of the one-to-many relationship which came to dominate the battlefield between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I. Over that century and in the decades that followed, individual-service weapons increased in rate of fire from a (very) few rounds per minute to ~10 rounds per second, in effective range from ~100 to >300 meters, and in accuracy from (optimistically) 10 to 1.5 milliradians. Say 2½ orders of magnitude improvement in RoF, half an order of magnitude in range, and one order of magnitude in accuracy; multiplying these together to create a sort of index of effectiveness, I get an overall change of 4 orders of magnitude, with stark implications for battlefield environments.

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Tiananmen OSINT

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” — Benjamin Franklin

[Readers are directed to the end of this post for an explanation of my timing and motivation.

UPDATE 6/5, 11 AM CDT: videos embedded!]

I. Anniversary Reconnoiter

At around nine in the morning local time on the thirtieth anniversary of the “June Fourth Incident,” I began a reconnoiter of Tiananmen Square in central Beijing to observe security measures and, if possible, witness any attempt at commemorating the massacre. I accompanied Dr. Andrew R. Cline, professor of media, journalism, and film at Missouri State University in Springfield. We were part of group of eleven people—four students, two faculty, and five others including me—comprising a “Study Away” program from MSU which had spent the previous twelve days in China, flying into Beijing and taking high-speed trains to Xi’an and Xining, then on via the Qinghai–Tibet railway to Lhasa before flying back to Beijing. Of all days, Tuesday 4 June 2019 was designated a free day for the group: no itinerary—and no guide. The remaining nine group members, as it turned out, had other ideas about what to do that day.

Andy’s motivation was broadly journalistic, garnished with a specific interest in whether any actual Marxists would show up. I went along out of a feeling that I had something of a reputation to uphold, and quickly decided during our approach that I would evaluate the security measures and write up a more quantitative report, although I will also pass along some thoughts about the organizational behaviors involved.

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