Playing the Game of QAnon

In a chilling article, Reed Berkowitz analysis QAnon through the lens of game theory.

My response:

The author fails to recognize that society itself possesses these same characteristics.

Our minds are always looking for correlates: it is in fact designed into the cortex, which is a categorization system for sensory inputs. When a categorization is established, it sends axons out into the brain looking for other axions that are firing at the same time. When they meet, those correlations become higher-level categories.

Normally, our minds obtain rewards by finding correlates that allow us to reap resources from the outside world. The majority of America, however, is trapped in a reality of declining resources. The wealth earned by the Middle Class is being vacuumed up by the financial elite. Automation is undermining blue-collar work. Software distributes expertise, undermining local authorities. Lacking sources of wealth and meaning, middle America is collapsing.

Games become attractive only when players find that reality itself is unrewarding. Pointing out that QAnon is a game is no substitute for changing society so that it works for people. In fact, such change is the only way to prevent illusions from preying upon the forgotten.

Remember to Heal, Learn to Protect

At the Capital Mall memorial for the 400,000 dead of COVID, President Biden opined that remembrance is necessary to healing. This reflects the institution of Holocaust memorials, and the Vietnam Memorial wall. Great tragedies reflect a tearing apart in human nature, a locus in which dogmatism (Nazism, Colonialism, or Trumpism) tries to force society to conform to its views. To remember, as a psychic practice, is to confront lies with truth. Upon that foundation, we can then project the love that heals.

But healing is not enough.

We are on the “path of the knowledge of good and evil.” We cannot just paper over the past. Our burden is to understand it, and prevent its repetition.

Prior to the Sack of the Capitol on January 6th, Biden promised that he would “focus on the future.” That is an error. The perfidy of the last four years must be exposed, analyzed, and measures taken to guard against its repetition. While the Republican caucus – led by McConnell, Grassley, Nunes, Rosenstein, Graham, Sessions, and Trump – managed to squash full investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, the DoJ must be tasked with completing a full national security and financial review. The FEC (Federal Election Commission) must be reconstituted and tasked with a complete review of campaign finance during the Trump Administration. Every Cabinet officer must be tasked with exposing self-dealing by their outgoing predecessors. Congress, which is allowed to define the framework under which States conduct their elections, must expose bias in existing practices and ensure all voters are represented. And apportionment, manipulated by the GoP’s “Red Map” algorithm following the 2010 census, must be constrained by fairness algorithms that prevent gross bias in favor of any political party.

Much wrongdoing will be exposed, and it might be politically importune to pursue legal sanctions against the perpetrators. But without knowledge, we cannot learn, and the last four years will be repeated.

Biden’s desire for comity is laudable, and the olive branch should always be held out. But that olive branch should not be a used as a shield by the enemies of democracy to prevent exposure of their wrong-doing. At the very least, Biden must allow Kamala Harris, long known as a lion in the fight against corruption, to exercise her skills to maximum effect.

Facebook as a Regulated Monopoly

One of the central tenets of the Constitution is equal access to information. This flow was recognized as essential in the commissioning of the US Postal Service, which ensured the delivery of mail. With the advent of the telephone service, a later generation of political leaders recognized that every citizen required access to the system, regardless of their proximity to urban centers. AT&T was established as a regulated monopoly to ensure that urban subscribers subsidized service provision to rural subscribers.

AT&T’s last accomplishment before deregulation was completion of a portable billing service that allowed numbers to cross geographical boundaries. This was the foundation for diversification of telephone service into cellular and VOIP (voice over internet protocol) services. But the physical infrastructure of the phone system was also the foundation for the internet, empowering services like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram to provide content to all citizens.

Those service providers live in a regulatory gray zone. To support service creation, early ISPs were exempted from the standards imposed upon publishers of magazines and newspapers. Most importantly, in recent days, were exemptions from fact-checking of content. Classical publishers hired reporters and were exposed to liability claims when stories damaged the reputation or finances of those covered. In claiming that they were merely providing access to information without paying for content, ISPs were considered exempt. When Facebook and others established social media platforms, they registered themselves as ISPs, and also claimed those exemptions.

This is not to say that social media platforms do not provide financial incentives to content creators. Far from it. Popular “channels” receive a share of advertising revenues. Now the lines are becoming grey: classical publishers do buy content from “freelancers,” but still retain responsibility for insuring the accuracy of reporting. Could social media creators be seen as “freelancers?” If so, the social media platforms appear to be appropriately seen as “publishers.”

One argument against this is that social media platforms do not package content as a publication. There is no “Facebook News” service. But a publication is simply a way of attracting attention to branded content. Social media services do attract such attention, by recommending “content you might like” that is headed by popular channels. Popular creators receive more attention, and thus crowd out less popular creators. As these “recommendations” come under the branding of the social media site, they are in effect publications customized for the individual user, but actually guiding the user into conformance with the views of others like them.

The concern is most heightened in regard to political content, which has always been a rough-and-tumble game. In the thirty years since the founding of the internet, it has become clear that many consumers expect to be entertained by their news. On the left, The Daily Show arose, but under that aegis of a classical media empire that monitored the accuracy of content. On the right, Rush Limbaugh and then Alex Jones did not honor such constraints. Their goal was to cater to the grievances of their listeners with outrage, and to maintain that fever pitch, their fantastical claims became wilder and wilder.

The most outrageous among these were the “PizzaGate” and “Sandy Hook Hoax” stories promulgated by Jones. As well as suffering the loss of their children, Sandy Hook parents have faced harassment and death threats, and PizzaGate drove a listener to an armed invasion of the property.

With Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, I agree that it is time to hold Facebook and YouTube responsible for financing such incendiary content. When creator earnings reach a level commensurate with freelance work, they should be responsible for validating the content, and subject to liability for failing to take action when victims signal that they are being harmed.

In that case of Facebook and YouTube, such moves may be a matter of “too little, too late.” They are effectively monopolies. At this point, it seems prudent to tax revenues to establish external review boards to police content. They must be regulated, as AT&T once was, by overseers to ensure that our information systems serve the public interest.

Republican Anarchy

The lack of an organized Republican response to the anarchy at the Federal Capital Building helped to bring this into focus.

While reading outside the CB&TL this morning, I overheard a Republican witnessing that he believed that “people should be free to do what they want.”

The GoP has invested money in demonizing the word “socialist,” and wields it as a tool to attack any program that attempts to protect people from the consequences of irresponsible choices by others.

For example, if your co-worker contracts COVID and continues to come to work, and you catch COVID, should you be responsible for your ICU bill? Or should they be forced to pay? Isn’t that why we have insurance, because often serious accidents can be traced to the choices made by others? For example, to drive drunk, or install slippery surfaces at entrances that are highly trafficked on rainy days, or employ unskilled labor to construct buildings, or to pay exorbitant executive salaries that destabilize corporate finances leading to collapse and loss of jobs.

It is time to call a spade a spade: most Republicans are not “conservative” in the sense that they believe in preserving institutions that serve the common welfare. Rather, they are anarchists. I would encourage Democratic policy-makers to wield that word in like a knife in policy debates. The endpoint of libertarian politics, as financed by the Koch brothers and implemented by Reagan, Rove, DeVos, and Trump, is anarchy. Resistance to common-sense social policy measures should be labelled as anarchist, and those such as Hawley, Cruz and McConnell should be tarred with that epithet.

Grievance’s Baby

Catie Edmunson at the NY Times reports on the GoP rallying against Josh Hawley, the 41-year-old senator from Missouri who – even in the aftermath of the murderous attack on the Capital grounds – insisted on disrupting the formal certification of the Biden/Harris administration.

This dance should be familiar to us. It is the same dance the cynical grandees, among them McConnell and Ryan, conducted with Donald. They are a little more practiced, but what they are doing is actually the source of the danger that we face as a nation.

Neither Donald nor Josh created the aggrieved Republican base. That base was created by decades of corporate welfare that hollowed out the American middle class, making us a debtor populace. The red states are, in fact, basically large company towns. The common man is forced to work at wages below subsistence while owners maximize profits. The cynical lie told by the GoP to these wage slaves, however, is that their predicament is the fault of government.

Read Nineteen Eighty-Four or A Brave New World. The public spaces are saturated with the lies of the ruling party. Visit a red state and notice that FOX News broadcasts from the screens in every space controlled by corporate interests. But where in the novels the propaganda raised fears against foreign enemies, on FOX News the specter is the enemy within.

Ronald Reagan instigated the war on government with his little quip “The nine most frightening words I know are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'” FOX News, founded by GoP political hatchetman Roger Ailes, made that message a staple of its programming. The aggrieved condition of the Republican base has been carefully cultivated and manipulated ever since. For example, after the AHA was established, GoP governors refused to expand Medicare or form insurance exchanges, forcing the rural poor to pay for private insurance when they should have received government support.

So the GoP’s dance with Donald and Josh is simply about retaining control of the electorate that they have created. Donald wrenched it from them by unmasking the lie, campaigning against the “swamp” of Washington lobbyists. The GoP grandees tolerated him, at some level, because they believed that greed and stupidity would allow them to focus his attention. McConnell succeeded, for example, in packing the Federal court system with corporatists.

What McConnell and others didn’t remember is that – duh – they are sitting members of government. Donald actually needs the government destroyed to avoid imprisonment for decades of criminal activity. This matches the expectations of the aggrieved Republican base.

So we don’t see outright rejection of the claims of election fraud except from those previously ostracized by the party, such as Mitt Romney. Rather, we see Lindsey Graham testifying that the courts have already ruled on claims of election fraud, and “while [he doesn’t] agree with them,” the Senate has no method to challenge those rulings.

They don’t confront the lies because the lies are the foundation of their control over the rural poor. They are now trying to pre-empt Josh’s attempt to seize Donald’s standard.

The problem is that the messaging is out of their control now. The rage of the rioters in Washington was not restricted to the Democratic leadership. It embraced Mike Pence as well. The GoP base wants to see government destroyed, and the grandees appear not to be smart enough to fear the baby they have created.

The alternative is to tell the truth. The corporate elite controls the free market. They have that game rigged against us. In fact, government is the only method that allows us to organize to prevent them from grinding us into poverty. Government needs to work for us, and the most important job of a political party is to educate the people for collaboration that preserves the common welfare.

On Fires and Fungus

I did not understand the position of public utilities regarding fire safety until I visited Headwaters Forest Reserve in Humboldt County.

Headwaters was the last private preserve held by Pacific Lumber that had not been completely clear-cut The north side of the reserve was harvested, but the central and southern sections include undisturbed old-growth forest. Headwaters was purchased by conservationists for $480 million dollars.

The southern groves are closed in the winter, leaving me with a five-mile prelude to communion with the ancient trees in the center of the Reserve. The first mile of the hike explains the history and botany of the Reserve. Harvesting began over 100 years ago. When a tree is harvested, it sprouts burls that grow into new trunks. As they grow, the open space around the stump becomes populated by rapidly growing deciduous pioneers.

The result is a dense thicket of kindling. When a tree falls naturally, that hazard is localized. Prior burns have culled the tinder around the ancient giants, whose lower limbs have also been consumed. Fire-resistant bark prevents spread to the upper limbs. When a forest is logged systematically, the hazard of the understory kindling becomes a death trap. The pioneers and burls act as wicks, carrying the flames up to the crowns of the older trees. As seen in California during recent years, the forest burns to the ground.

The public utilities are blamed for such disasters, but the true perpetrators are the logging companies that harvested and then went out of business, leaving behind a time bomb. Less direct than pumping hazardous waste into groundwater, but no less irresponsible.

Ten years ago, when I went to visit the State Redwood Preserve north of Eureka, I was alarmed to see the hills turning bare. Two types of fungus coated the trees, one of them an invader from Japan. Most of the stands resembled the mangrove forests coated with Spanish moss, but the true culprit may be sudden oak death, endemic to California. The draped branches cannot produce leaves, and the Japanese moss comes in to coat the weakened trunk.

I had seen some of the first fungus on the redwoods when I last visited Humboldt, so I choose to drive up this time overnight, hoping to avoid the depressing sight. Sadly, the initial stages of my hike proved that it was still active. Hoping that it had no penetrated deeply, I noticed that few of the redwoods were affected. Hit hard were the deciduous pioneers, a pattern proven the next day when I drove back to San Francisco in mid-afternoon. Where redwoods were attacked, the infestation seldom travelled to the upper limbs.

A light turned on in my head as I neared the parking lot. The fungus was clearing the understory. Then I noticed that lower branches on healthy trees were burdened by leaves dropped from above. The redwoods themselves suppressed understory growth by choking the lower layers. The fungus was doing that function as the forest recovered.

I did make it up to the old growth forest, and the density and feel was different from the slopes that had been harvested. It was worth the trip. But I also gained an insight into the ancestry of the politics of privilege that is destroyed our country. Tall trees drop choking leaves to protect from fire in the understory. Is this also how McConnel and his cronies see themselves? Just trying to keep the kindling from reaching into their mansions as the lower classes confront destruction in the conflagration that is COVID

Confluences

I have been struggling with MYSTERY this month. I am at the end of my financial rope, and will be unable to pay my bills in January. I had a plan for contracting work, but the field was buffeted by lawsuits in 2019, and the job posting have disappeared.. So I must admit to being in panic mode.

My intimates fail to recognize the complexity and durability of the forces that constrain me, instead treating me like I am a stubborn child who is afraid of women. Conversely, I look at them and say “You know, everything you have – down to your very lives – you have only because of my alignment with the spirit that called them into being. If you force me off the face of the planet, BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN.”

Having run up credit card debt, I am out nearly $5000 per annum in interest payments, which I cannot cover. Once the credit cards are frozen, I am out of luck.

This is leading me to sidestep MYSTERY. There are other pathways to lunar energy, and I have decided to tap into them before disaster befalls me in January.

There is a tree named Luna in Humboldt County that I got involved with in 1985 or so. The history is a little disjointed, but Pacific Northwest Lumber, practitioner of sustainable logging, was devoured by a Texan resource stripper name Maxxam. Maxxam set out to clear-cut PNLs holdings in twenty years. The response by the eco-warriors was a campaign of tree-sitting and spiking to slow down the harvesting.

Luna was the 1000-year-old matriarch of a stand that was targeted for clear-cutting. In 1997, Julia Butterfly Hill spent two years on the tree, until PNL agreed to leave Luna standing. A year later, a poacher attacked Luna overnight, cutting a three-foot-deep scar half-way around her circumference. Tree doctors and PNL rallied to her aid, installed a steel collar.

In considering a trip to Humboldt, I had a dream that Luna was dying, and I resolved to visit her to do what I could to strengthen her spirit. Today, as I was out walking and trying to figure out how to keep myself going until the pandemic ends, I realized that she was a living expression of yin/yang balance.

I will be heading up overnight on the 20th. The solstice, of course, is the 21st. The waxing half-moon – another metaphor for yin/yang balance will – be in the sky.

All through the month of January, Jupiter and Saturn will be close enough in the sky to be seen simultaneously through most telescopes. This brings back another memory: ten or so years ago, sitting on the couch in my empty apartment, I had the sense of a man entering my mind. He hunted around until he found Jupiter (head of the Greco/Roman pantheon) and then Saturn (head of the preceding pantheon of Titans). Seeking to subdue them, he pushed them together until they joined, and then began laughing maniacally. One of many such “WTF” moments over the last twenty years.

As well as visiting Luna, I hope to find a broad stump to dance on for a couple of hours. I will run some Christmas music on my sport phones and let it rip.

My WordPress subscription for the site will renew sometime over the next month. I guess that the site will roll over to a free format if I fail the payment. I have done the best I can.

Today I spent ninety minutes with Rob Bell, one of his “So I Have Something to Say” coaching sessions. I won’t go in to details. He told me that when COVID is over, people will be ready to hear what I have to say.

You know, that is the only meaningful encouragement I have received in twenty years.

Maybe I should figure out how to hang on until then.

Beaten from the Inside Out

In Revelation 11, Christ hands John the little scroll, humanity’s portion of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, with the words “It will be sweet in your mouth, but make your stomach bitter.”

This is how sin defeats us. It adorns itself in pleasant expectations, then eats us from the inside out.

Having surrendered myself in the service of love, I expect nothing. But every now and then Sin sends an emissary in human form. I extend my compassion, and it gains a toehold.

When the blasted waste of my father’s brilliance was evident in the collapse of the company founded by my brother, the investor that consumed it sought to turn me to the realization of his dreams. The setting was an insurance information systems conference in Reno. He invited me out to dinner, sharing that his years in the open-cry pit of the NYSE had oriented him to an experience of personal energy that he wanted to share with people through online gambling. Confident in my capacity to create value, I redirected the conversation. As we walked back to the elevators, he offered to stake me at the blackjack tables, saying that he wanted me to know the feeling that comes with winning.

I demurred, and headed back up to my room. That night, I had terrible cramping in my gut, and voided everything that I had eaten. Headaches followed, and I tossed in my bed, unable to sleep. As is my habit, I asked “Where is this coming from?” Absorbing the casino with my mind, I perceived a blue field of energy that was trying to consume me. Returning to the bathroom, a woman’s voice advised, “Let your body do its work.” Squeezing the last contents out of my stomach, the demon was purged.

Recognizing the power of the thoughts carried in my prefrontal cortex, the resistance attacks me through my sinuses. When I become dispirited, I do not maintain my schedule of sinus rinses. My upper sinuses become blocked and the bacteria turn septic.

This was my condition on Thanksgiving. I woke with a headache early in the morning and began the unpleasant drainage, starting with an essential oil rinse. The septic fluid upsets my gut, and violent purges are expected.

But this occasion was worse. A deep part of me was committed to full expulsion. The vomiting continued until only a few tablespoon of yellow paste were produced. Below the appendix, powerful spasms in the colon and abdomen forced everything toward the rectum.

And the images, in this case? Entering through virtuous intentions of our forefathers, having occupied the institutions we inherited: Mnuchin, the profiteer of suffering; Trump, the catalyst of chaos; and Miller, the tormentor of the weak.

You are beaten, boys. Time for you to go.

No End in Sight

If you are holding out hope for a permanent COVID-19 vaccine, please read this. We already know that the body does not develop permanent resistance to coronavirus. This means that we will need to get a vaccination every nine months or so. Unless something innovative happens in vaccine development, “herd immunity” will never develop, and our social adaptations may last for years.

Therapeutics also require some major advancements. Remdesivir, the highly touted antiviral, has not been shown effective in reducing mortality – it only reduces hospital stays for those that will recover. Some effective therapeutics require a drip feed – they cannot be administered by injection.

Box Score: Money 2, Value 1

Coming of age in the Reagan era, I failed to understand what I was witnessing. America abandoned manufacturing for services and ended up in a time warp.

As a corporate-level software consultant, my father Karl saw elements of this up close. Invited as a fellow traveler by the president of Wiley & Sons (the journal publisher), Karl sat in on the annual shareholder meeting. A careful investment plan charted growth in assets and employment. During the discussion, the CFO queried, “And what is the annualized rate of return on your plan?” With the follow-on to the response, “I can take that same money and make three times as much in the stock market.”

In that era, the stock market still reflected an investment in other people’s ingenuity. This year, as we approached the election, one Trumpie threatened, “Well, if Biden wins, you can be sure the stock market is going to tank!” The inescapable corollary is that the stock market is no longer an economic bell-weather but an instrument of political influence.

That influence is maintained through the ties between the Federal Reserve and the large banks. We are in the mind-numbing reality that the people that take care of our money no longer profit from making it grow, they profit by making it move. That may seem impossible, but the volume of real estate, trade, and government debt is so enormous that simply the placement fees run into the tens of billions of dollars annually.

The bind for the public is that the money center banks hold no interest in seeing the debt reduced. In fact, the Dow weathered recent financial crises because the Federal Reserve issued borrowing authority that the banks loaned to corporations to buy back stock. The value of stock is now linked to corporate debt.

And in the chaos only the financial system has a guaranteed benefit.

Was this intentional? Hardly, but it was inevitable. This is trumpeted by the liberal economists, but they misdiagnose the problem. I hope with this post to steer them in the right direction.

The liberal economists blame “capitalism.” Capitalism, coined by Adam Smith, is a recent innovation, seeing an effective implementation only in the industrialization of the Western world in the late 1800’s. Capitalism was actually a liberalizing social contract. It held that money and labor could collaborate to improve productivity. Higher productivity meant more money for investors and lower costs for labor. It was a win-win scenario.

Capitalism disproved the precepts of Malthus, who held that population growth would always overwhelm the benefits of productivity gains. In part, however, Malthus was proven right because political power was held by the moneyed noble class. Market control was awarded by royal writ, and once secured ensured resistance to innovation that might lead to diversification of supply. Stability of prices was also important to the nobility and their retinues, often sustained by stipends.

The crack in this hermetic system was warfare, and it was to finance their conflicts that the nobility turned to the banking system, leading to the coupling of political and financial interests that suppressed the development of liberal societies.

So the “Box Score” reads as it is because capitalism is now revealed as a brief interlude in the narrow marriage of politics and finance. It was an interlude during which finance married itself to the production of value and the growth of liberal societies.

Regardless of the outcome, the 2020 election proves at least one thing: that Donald Trump is a symptom, rather than a cause. The disease that created him is a return to the festering myopia of political and financial calculations freed from a concern for value or sustainability. Trump is used as a tool by that system to distract attention from the wizards behind the curtain. He is a live facsimile of the special effects in the Wizard of Oz.

How does this manifest in practical terms? Consider real estate. I was told recently that I had to get in the market, because prices would only go up. Looking over the finance package, I noted with surprise that is allocated 50% of my income to real estate costs, rather than the 30% typical of my youth. So the reason that real estate prices are going up is because the Federal Reserve, through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, is issuing loans that allocate more of our income to the payment of interest. The increase in home prices has nothing to do with value – it follows from a systematic manipulation of political and financial levers to ensure that we are indebted.

But the fault is not with capitalism. Capitalism was a God-send. The fault is with something I would call “monetarism” – the pursuit of wealth in the absence of any concern for value.

The economic historian should recognize this plague. What should give pause to the rest of us is the proof, in the results of the 2020 election, that the disease is worse that an out-of-control pandemic that has the potential to kill millions of Americans.

I hope that our democracy survives while our liberalizing politicians adapt to that lesson.