May 2010

Notes on the May 2010 UK elections

by Limbic on May 7, 2010

Delighted to see George Galloway lose in Poplar & Limehouse.

Surprised to see the LibDems do so badly. Just goes to show that far left parties are simply not mainstream in Britain, and immigration hurt them. It was gratifying to see LibDem grandee Simon Hughes on the BBC this morning trying to explain why the party did so badly (after he scoffed at exit polls suggesting this result). I think that his attitude (and that of his party) on immigration, which has has been nutty for nearly a decade, was a lead factor in their fall.

The absurdity of the Scots and welsh having regional assemblies, but their MPs voting on English matters, will only be aggravated by this result. The Tories completely dominated England, but only got a a single seat in Scotland and a handful in Wales.  This will create huge tension and lead to more calls for some sort of English assembly.

I would actually like to see the LibDems form a coalition with labour. The government will collapse within a year and guarantee a Tory majority at the next election.


Notes on Cognitive Ballistics

by Limbic on May 2, 2010

Anthony Judge’s site is a marvel. It is packed with superb essays.

In this essay “Cognitive Ballistics vs. Derivative Correlation in Memetic Warfare: Suicide bombing as a weapon of mass distraction?”, Judge argues that suicide bombing is a rather unoriginal and unimaginative form of terrorist attack.

A memetic attack on the Western financial system, particularly one that exploits seeded weaknesses like the Gaussian copula function, is a far more effective attack and give the recent collapse of the system, may indeed of been subjected to just this sort of attack, perhaps by Islamists or the Chinese.

The focus here is on the destruction of the financial system as an example of memetic warfare in a global knowledge society. It builds on the understanding of structural violence as developed by Johan Galtung (Violence, Peace, and Peace Research, Journal of Peace Research, 1969) who distinguishes between physical violence and structural violence. Physical violence is for the amateur, using weapons in order to dominate. For Galtung, structural violence is the tool of the professional employing exploitation and social injustice to achieve domination. In this sense the question is whether the collapse of the financial system was brought about by professionals who had tricked those complicit in the globalization process into acting like amateurs in its defence.

…Given the success with which the western-inspired financial bubble of “globalization” was so disastrously exploded, this is an exploration of the possibility that ensuring the strategic focus on suicide bombing as the epitome of terrorism has been the mistaken pursuit of a decoy. Such a possibility would be consistent with the recognized lack of imagination, and the quality of groupthink, associated with the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

…It is within this context that the innovative formula of David X. Li with regard to the Gaussian copula function is of interest. It is admirably described by Felix Salmon (Recipe for Disaster: the formula that killed Wall Street, Wired, 17.03, March 2009) — or on the title page of the issue as The Secret Formula that Destroyed Wall Street. As Li had indicated in 2005 “Very few people understand the essence of the model” (Mark Whitehouse, Slices of Risk, The Wall Street Journal, 12 September 2005)..

Li’s original paper (On Default Correlation: A Copula Function Approach, Journal of Fixed Income 9, 2000, pp. 43-54) was the first appearance of the Gaussian copula models for the pricing of collateralized debt obligations (CDO’s). This quickly became a tool for financial institutions to correlate associations between multiple securities — allowing CDOs to be accurately priced for a wide range of investments that were previously too complex to price, such as mortgages. In this respect they were at the core of the subprime crisis.

In the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008–2009 the model has been seen as fundamentally flawed, notably as recognized by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable, 2007): “People got very excited about the Gaussian copula because of its mathematical elegance, but the thing never worked. Co-association between securities is not measurable using correlation,”. He argues that ” Anything that relies on correlation is charlatanism”.

Clearly a group of sufficient intelligence — presumably accessible to, or inspired by, al-Qaida — might well have been able to ensure the design of what would appear to be a “silver bullet” for the financial markets. As the commentary shows, it only needs to work most of the time and people of lesser competence will believe that it works all the time. Presumably there will be plenty of models on offer for the Summit to consider that one or other will be relevant some of the time as a “silver bullet”.

Judge speculates as to who could have been responsible for the memtic virus that disabled the global financial system, he discusses Al-Qaeda, Neocons, China and others.

Each of these possibilities involves the “infiltration” of a cognitive virus — a memetic virus — into the central processor of the financial system, but at a higher order of complexity rendering it virtually undetectable. Whether it is to be framed as a “virus” or as a “corrective process”, clearly depends on the preferred comprehension of the global framework.

These is tons more to think about in this essay. well worth a read.


Orwell’s Eternal Vigilance

by Limbic on May 2, 2010

Finally catching up with some reading and blogging. This is nearly a year old but its a fine essay from Keith Gessen on one of my favourite writers, George Orwell.

Eternal Vigilance by Keith Gessen (The New Statesman)

What is particularly frustrating about [Orwell’s] contradictions is that at each successive moment Orwell presents them in his great style, his wonderful sharp-edged plain-spoken style, which makes you feel that there is no way on earth you could possibly disagree with him, unless you’re part of the pansy left, or a sandal-wearer and fruit-juice drinker, or maybe just a crank.

…He was more insightful about the distant dangers of communist thought-control, in the Soviet Union, than the more pressing thought-control of western consumerism.

…He insists on several occasions that “all art is propaganda” – the expression of a particular world-view.

…“Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper,” Orwell recalled, “but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie. I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed . . . This kind of thing is frightening to me, because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. After all, the chances are that those lies, or at any rate similar lies, will pass into history.”

This insight reverberates through Orwell’s work for the rest of his life. The answer to lies is to tell the truth. But how? How do you even know what the truth is, and how do you create a style in which to tell it? Orwell’s answer is laid out in “Politics and the English Language”: You avoid ready phrases, you purge your language of dead metaphors, you do not claim to know what you do not know. Far from being a relaxed prose (which is how it seems), Orwell’s is a supremely vigilant one.

In Orwell’s clear, strong voice we hear a warning. Because we, too, live in a time when truth is disappearing from the world, and doing so in just the way Orwell worried it would: through language. We move through the world by naming things in it, and we explain the world through sentences and stories. The lesson of these essays is clear: Look around you.

Describe what you see as an ordinary observer – for you are one, you know – would see them. Take things seriously.

And tell the truth. Tell the truth.