Richard Fernandez on current geopolitical mind-games:
Putin is daring [Obama] to over-extend; to tread upon the European ice, which he knows in his heart will cave in under Obama. Fighting an all out sanctions battle would force Obama to rely on the EU, which Putin calculates will abandon him. In the resulting debacle, not only would NATO be shattered, Obama would be too. [... ]
One reason why Putin has made a special effort to humiliate the president is that his profilers may have pegged Obama as suffering from narcissistic personality disorder. Putin the secret policeman must be thinking: how do you get a narcissist to melt down? Answer: by personally and publicly shaming him, thereby provoking a narcissistic rage.
That rage can take either of two forms: a reckless act or a withdrawal into a fantasy in which the narcissist remains invincible in some universe of his own.
Either would suit Putin.
Related from Fernandez here, and here. For those who can’t get enough of that ‘back to the 1930s‘ feeling there’s WRM (sensible but lost) and Paul Johnson (lost), but both picking up on the real rhythm. It’s a mess (and it’s going to get a lot worse).
In a five-year-old paper, Tyler Cowen and Michelle Dawson ask: What does the Turing Test really mean? They point out that Alan Turing, as a homosexual retrospectively diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, would have been thoroughly versed in the difficulties of ‘passing’ imitation games, long before the composition of his landmark 1950 essay on Computing Machinery and Intelligence. They argue: “Turing himself could not pass a test of imitation, namely the test of imitating people he met in mainstream British society, and for most of his life he was acutely aware that he was failing imitation tests in a variety of ways.”
The first section of Turing’s essay, entitled The Imitation Game, begins with the statement of purpose: “I propose to consider the question, ‘Can machines think?’” It opens, in other words, with a move in an imitation game — with the personal pronoun, which lays claim to having passed as human preliminarily, and with the positioning of ‘machines’ as an alien puzzle. It is a question asked from the assumed perspective of the human about the non-human. As a Turing Test tactic, this sentence would be hard to improve upon.
Adam Gurri on Diane Coyle’s new book GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History:
One thing I personally came away from Coyle’s book with is the feeling that NGDP targeting and similar notions are probably a bad bet. Depending on what particular recipe has been agreed upon for calculating GDP, policy can easily end up optimizing to very unproductive ends. For example, Coyle mentions how changes in the recipe ended up far overstating the financial sector’s component. The larger the component of GDP the financial sector makes up, the more likely the government is to bail out big firms to prevent a big collapse — after all, the further headline GDP falls quarter over quarter, the more incumbent politicians sweat about losing their seats.
This blog has already dismissed macroeconomic aggregates as politicized ‘garbage‘ — so I agree.
It’s hard to tell from this short review whether Gurri sees the search for “a better proxy for welfare” as worthwhile or hopelessly Quixotic. Regardless, with utilitarian distractions firmly side-lined, it would be intrinsically valuable to arrive at a realistic measure of economic performance (i.e. improvement in productive capability), to provide guidance for systemic auto-correction. It’s well worth recalling how radically inadequate GDP is for this function.
ADDED: Related conundrums raised in James K. Galbraith’s review of Piketty — measuring capital is difficult.
Back in Shanghai from Dunhuang today. It’s not an easy journey (taxi, overnight sleeper train, taxi, flight, taxi) so multi-dimensional disconnection and raggedness.
Lanzhou, the major gateway city to the West, didn’t win me over. It’s congested, and — upon superficial contact — almost wholly charmless. Given its extraordinary history and contemporary frontier-hub function, that’s a great disappointment. (Despite the grunge, a modest downtown apartment there still costs US$200,000.)
The taxi-ride from the train station to the airport is unusually long because the broken country made it hard to situate runways conveniently. The route we took on the way back took us past the rapidly-arising New Lanzhou City — which is huge. There’s some prospect of a few glitzy modern buildings, if the promotional posters are to be believed. Serried ranks of comparatively tasteful proletarian residential highrises make up the bulk of the New City so far.
The Chinese West is weirdly comparable to the American West, but historically fragmented. It plays a similar role in the local movie industry, as an imaginative space of heroism, violence, and civilizational fragility. It’s vast, arid, and geographically sublime — recalling the (to me) stunning fact that China’s proportion of arable land is only fractionally larger than Australia’s. Arid mountains, deserts, and harsh scrubby plains stretch endlessly. Dangerous tribes with an exotic nobility populate the Western frontier myths. Foreigners tend to understand — perhaps even overestimate — the American fascination with the frontier, but China’s is nowhere near as thoroughly appreciated. (A fake ‘ancient Dunhuang’ has been created near the real one, catering to the huge appetite of the Chinese movie industry for historical ‘Westerns’.)
Photography is forbidden in the Dunhuang grottoes, and under the close supervision of the mandatory tour, this prohibition is strictly enforced. Photography is also forbidden in the adjacent Mogaoku Museum …
The spine of the museum consists of a row of (extremely impressive) cave reconstructions, sampled from among the 492 decorated caves at the site. (A two-hour tour of the site takes in perhaps 10.)
The following images are of reconstructions, not originals. The photographic quality is especially dire, given the unusual lighting conditions and cramped space. What I’m posting here is what I’ve got. (Click on images to expand.)
Henry Dampier on the Nerd Problem (extracted from among much additional goodness):
The population of San Francisco is just over 800,000. This has made it fairly easy for a significant portion of the people there to be displaced by a relatively small number of small, wealthy companies moving there. This combined with an anti-development attitude and a Communist-leaning local government has made it difficult for the city to absorb the gold rush influx.
The general anger is understandable. The way in which it’s being expressed by protesters would not be tolerated in a civilized country, but the US is not a civilized country. The protest problem is just a symptom of more significant issues within the political structure.
Nerds are the new Jews (and a disproportionate number of them are still the old Jews). It hurts to be stupid, and it’s obviously their fault.
The Mogao Caves are located in a harsh place. (Click on images to enlarge.)
The caves shown are in the northern cluster, whose exterior features have not been defaced by reinforced concrete. The southern group has been externally ruined by Zhou Enlai (although he seems to have meant well), but its interiors are the great treasures of the site, and some are open to the public, by guided tour. Some images of southern cave interiors (reconstructions) to follow.
Composition and publication are two different processes, but the distance between them is collapsing. Of the many ways new media trends might be defined, doing so in terms of such time compression, and process amalgamation, is far from the least accurate and predictive. The Internet accelerates writing in this specific way (perhaps among many others) — so that it approaches a near-instantaneous communicative realization, comparable to that of speech.
This can be elaborated variously. For instance, it might be re-articulated as an incremental suppression of privacy. The author of a book lives with his words in solitude, perhaps for years. An essayist, awaiting publication in a periodical, might wait for weeks, or even months. A blogger is consumed by self-hatred if his words remain private by the time he retires for the night, or early morning. A twitter-addict sustains a particle of semiotic privacy for mere seconds. (Speckle comes next.)
Our first Time Spiral Press product is up on Amazon. (Yet to update the TSP site in recognition, though — Dunhuang and all.)
We put it up in a Jing’an District bar, over a few cocktails, which somehow rubbed-in the revolutionary aspect. It was hard not to imagine Rimbaud and his Absinthe-sozzled crew producing some delirious poetry and sticking it up on Kindle before the end of the evening. Amazon is going to disintermediate publishing so hard. In my experience, this fate never befalls an industry before it has abused its position to such an incredible extent that its calamity is necessarily a matter of near-universal celebration. Broadcast media, publishers, academia — into the vortex of cyber-hell they go …
I’m back in the Chinese West, this time with the family (nuclear plus mother-in-law). As I write I’m on the train from Lanzhou to Dunhuang, fabulously renowned for its Buddhist caves. It’s re-bonding-with-the-tablet time, then, which is a mechanical challenge – mostly due to incredibly dysfunctional cursor control, which I know everyone is on tenterhooks to hear more about …
… so, 24-hours later, there’s not much in the way of gripping travel news to report. We’re heading to the Mogao Caves tomorrow, which should be worth talking about. Up to now it’s been desert and donkey-meat and the general weirdness of the Chinese West, but with a mind oozing uselessly like gritty mud, it doesn’t add up to anything remotely profound. Perhaps later.
The thing I want to introduce tentatively here, because it has to be re-introduced more thoroughly quite soon, is hyperstition, and in particular; hyperstitional method. I’m getting the strong sense that there are things it simply won’t be possible to do otherwise. (I’ll try to explain.)