free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ... taking an imposing analytic toolkit out of the box, over the wall and into the street ... with callous disregard for accepted wisdom and standard English

reading tea leaves from original angles, we've led with uncannily prescient takes on the federal surplus, the dotcom crash, the "Energy Crisis", the Afghan campaign, the federal deficit.

More where those came from ... stay tuned.

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All "major" articles of older material have now been imported, some with updates worth perusing. We'll keep it all on the main page for a while, will add a few loose pieces of history, will trim the main page and index the archives for convenience later.


free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ...
... gateway to the next Progressive Era?
Some say it's nothing but a train wreck ... roll in the big cranes, clear the track, see what the crew was smoking. If I thought so, I'd not be writing this ... and if they thought so, they'd not be drumming so hard.

Many thanks to Tony Adragna and Will Vehrs, still shouting 'cross the Potomac at QuasiPundit. Early Camp Enron material can be found in QP's Dispatches department.
Thursday, December 05, 2002

--- Machiavelli's, Mayberry's, and Moron-Like Entities ---

In The Dilbert Principle, Scott Adams reminds us the universe of relevant information is expanding rapidly, while our minds are not. Thus every one of us is becoming ever more functionally, relativistically idiotic by the minute ... even as we sleep.

Part I: Henry the Palterer* and the Chamber of Secrets

December 1968. Daniel, a RAND Corporation defense theorist and Vietnam subject matter expert, is briefing Henry, a newly elected president's top national security appointee. [Henry will later help turn the City of Secrets upside down in an effort to destroy Daniel ... but that's another story.] Daniel speaks:
Henry ... you're about to receive a whole slew of special clearances, maybe fifteen or twenty ... higher than top secret.

... I have a pretty good sense of what the effects ... are on a person who didn't previously know they even existed ...

First, you'll be exhilarated ... almost as fast, you will feel like a fool for having studied, written, talked about these subjects, criticized and analyzed decisions ... having literally rubbed shoulders [with those] who did have access ...

Then ... you will forget there ever was a time when you didn't have it, and you'll be aware only ... that all those other people are fools.

... two or three years -- you'll eventually become aware ... it can lead you astray just as much as the New York Times ...

... meantime ... you'll be thinking ... 'What would this man be telling me if he knew what I know? ...' And that mental exercise is so torturous that after a while you give it up and just stop listening. ...

You will deal with a person ... only from the point of view of what you want him to believe ... since you'll have to lie carefully to him about what you know... you'll become something like a moron ... incapable of learning from most people ...

... I'd long thought of this kind of secret information as something like the potion Circe gave to the wanderers [who] became incapable of human speech and couldn't help one another to find their way home.
[Ellsberg, Secrets, Ch. 15]
Henry took to Circe's potion like a pig takes to mud. He practised the torturous arts of juggling secrets within secrets, lies within lies ... eclipsing all past masters. He dealt with people only from the standpoint of what he wanted them to know, and kept them from suspecting what he knew.

Ever more nimbly, he learned to traverse the fractal labyrinths of his own interior landscape ... compartments within compartments, false fronts, secret panels, hidden passages, coded tumblers, disappearing ink, mirror boxes and flash powder.

Somewhere in this palace of mirrors, behind nth-order reflections of shadows of smoke, ten million ghosts of men, women and children -- mostly children -- are waiting patiently for the instant the juggler loses his touch ... but that's another story.

[... thirty-four years pass as if in a dream ...]

December 2002. A Commission to investigate the 9/11 horrors is to be divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats, with a distinguished chairman -- Henry -- appointed by the President. George, who had steadfastly opposed any such quest, has abruptly reversed course, but announces (contrary to Congressional charter) that the panel's mission is to ponder what horrors might lie ahead, but to never look back.

Dr. K. -- Henry -- is still something like a moron, incapable of learning from most people. Then again, he's more like a wizard with moron rays at his fingertips, capable of suspending the passage of time and transforming whole academies into villages of idiots. The Secrets are safe ... for now.

[* palter: to speak or behave insincerely; see equivocate, tergiversate, evade, dodge, fudge, beat around the BUSH]

Part II: Opie-Dopie and the Traveling Mayberry's
Somewhere up towards the North Pole, a government functionary has made the PR imbecile's career-limiting move ... referring to George as a "moron". [Whaddya want? Even her boss is a Cretien.]
In terms of a once-authoritative diagnostic scale (now considered offensive), a moron can attain the adult mental development of a typical 7 to 12 year old ... potentially amenable to limited vocational training.
George is not a moron -- not literally. Morons don't graduate from Harvard Business School, or pilot jets, or even get elected POTUS. But "moron" can also be used descriptively in a relative sense. Among HBS students, or fighter pilots, or P'sOTUS, there are inevitably some as dim as they can be and still function. George is -- in his own reference set -- a Moron-Like Entity. A minor laughing stock among heads of state, except that this MLE named George has bigger bombs and a shorter fuse.

George is apparently near average intelligence (or at least he was at the front end of two dissolute decades). He is also apparently learning disabled. [Mother's emphatic and very specific insistence that George is NOT dyslexic suggests a concerted diagnostic effort.]

Like many LD kids, George acquires exceptional coping skills ... faking comprehension by speaking in lofty generalities, and simulating depth by markedly EMphasizing the rare polySYllable ... wrapping vague pronouncements in non-falsifiable claims (claiming to have looked into men's eyes and seen their souls). The wily LD'er may hone skills of social interaction to win approval for inferior work, and get others to shoulder his assignments.

So George is Tom Sawyer, and here we all are today ... white-washing the old fence while he dreams of high adventure.

Leaders and LD'ers alike rely on effective social manipulative. Genuine leaders -- LD or not -- combine the art of getting people to follow them with the art of sniffing out better paths to better destinations. Their followers tend to make progress. Mere social-coping charismatics may succeed only in running their gangs into destructive clashes with rival gangs. Their followers tend to take casualties.

But President Opie isn't the only MLE in our show of shows. Poll internals consistently demonstrate that a decisive fraction of the electorate can't figure out whether 'yes' means yes or 'yes' means no -- even in simple one-line questions. And we don't really care. Most of us coast along assuming if the issue was really important, somebody (else) would have done something about it already ... which turns out to be almost true enough, almost often enough.

In the space between our Dear LD'er and them that don't know the difference between ignorance and apathy (and don't care), we find the MLE's of journalism. George has shown he can make major media newshounds roll over, play dead, or attack on cue by treating them like dogs ... calling them across the lawn with distinctive one or two-syllable nicknames, relying on simple consistent command gestures, vocal inflections and facial expressions of approval or disapproval.
Did humans domesticate dogs by incrementally manipulating wolves? Or did wolves turn themselves into dogs by incrementally "learning" to manipulate humans? There's a lively debate afoot on this co-evolutionary topic, directly relevant to White House and Pentagon press briefings.
News-slingers can fake their part of the show, too -- and escape the backbreaking burden of actual information-bearing -- by learning a few gimmicks of their own. Mainstream news is pitched to the verbal comprehension of a typical 12 year old ... and the emotive/narrative comprehension typical of a 7 year old (black hat, white hat, "bang, you're dead!").

In this context, witness the DiIulio gambit. Truth -- the "Mayberry Machiavelli" thesis -- was proffered, then retracted ... sort of. In the ordinary course of business, Truth from the mouth of a Opie-whacker would receive zero notice, and Truth shared by a disgruntled Opie-backer would receive scarcely more notice. The goodhearted gullible Opie, in particular, would never hear the alarm John D was trying to raise.

But DiIulio -- though he may self-delude on occasion -- is no moron. He stumbled on a way to give the Truth longer legs ... by adding drama, or at least melodrama, appealing to journalism's inner 7-year-old.
Ron: Bang! You're dead!

Karl: Am not!

Ron: Are too!

Ari: Bang! Bang! YOU'RE dead!

Ron: Am not!

Ari: Are too!

Ron: Nyah, nyah, this is bulletproof!

Ari: Is not!

Ron: Is too!

John: Is not!

Ron: Hey, you said bulletproof!

John: Did not!

Matt: Did so! Look here!!!

John: Made ya look!

Karl, Ari, Ron, Matt: Hey, which side are you on?

John: Opie!

Opie: Hey, guys, what's all the ruckus?
So, with sufficient reverberation in the echo chamber, George may hear John's alarm after all.

Just before this tempest blew up, Matthew Yglesias posted an astute observation re low turnover in the upper ranks of GWB's posse:
Bush is ... not very curious about things ... he'll probably take his trusted advisors' advice about what to do with his less-trusted advisors. ... It's in the interests of advisors Bush trusts to keep non-trusted advisors around since it diminishes the amount of competition they have ... the circle of trusted advisors may get smaller and smaller as time goes on ...
Oh, well, how does the saying go? "People get the government they deserve." OK, And hit it, Traveling Wilbury's!
Sometimes you think you're crazy
But you know you're only mad
Sometimes your better off not knowing
How much you've been had
More turkey, anybody?