Applied Semiotics

Maximizing slippage between signs and referents since 1998.

I keep wondering about poetry…

In the open-air prison which the world is becoming, it is no longer so important to know what depends on what, such is the extent to which everything is one. All phenomena rigidify, become insignias of the absolute rule of that which is

The more total society becomes, the greater the reification of the mind and the more paradoxical its effort to escape reification on its own. Even the most extreme consciousness of doom threatens to degenerate into idle chatter. Cultural criticism finds itself faced with the final stage of the dialectic of culture and barbarism. To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. And this corrodes even the knowledge of why it has become impossible to write poetry today. Absolute reification, which presupposed intellectual progress as one of its elements, is now preparing to absorb the mind entirely. Critical intelligence cannot be equal to this challenge as long as it confines itself to self-satisfied contemplation. 

Theodor Adorno, "Cultural Criticism and Society," Prisms, 34)

… and thinking about poetry in the face of universal surveillance and a society of spectacle where the surveilled are gleeful participants in their own reification. The bubbling of poetry from the mind, in the face of certain death, of the certain erasure of that self from the world, it can’t just be noise.

In the face of a “culture” that fills the deep structural slot in our minds but isn’t a culture at all, in the face of cynical market forces that have hijacked our food chain, in the face of a culture where those same market forces have so warped the basic human right to defend ourselves in thought and action that it’s turned fly-over country (my country!) into an armed camp of the obese and insane, in the face of all of this irreducible madness, poetry and mathematics remain the only unconquerable domain of the human heart. 

OK, you know if I start quoting Adorno, you know I’m feeling nuts.  I’m fucking batshit crazy today, old man of the mountain crazy… Yet I feel like I see things so clearly right now, in this moment. 

I feel hopeful. 

That could be the craziest thing of all. 

There are arks to be built. Fastnesses of the mind. Fortresses of the heart for the like minded. It is INSANE out there beyond the pale. 

Stick together. 

Read your favorite poem today

When the cities lie at the monster’s feet, there are still the mountains.



— 7 months ago

I wonder what overturning such a fundamental rhythm of the natural world has done to us in the last 100 years? For literally billions of years, all life on this planet occurred under diurnal cycles of day and night, moving in and out of phase with the moon. Then we changed it.

Just like the antifragile/paleo/whole foods movement is an attempt to return to un-fucked-with food, I wonder about an antifragility of light? what if we simply used the sun, and sometimes at night, fire as our light sources?

I will tell you as a global capitalist class jet-lag veteran, what light can do with you is more powerful than you can imagine until you begin tinkering with it. What have we done? Will we look back on this like lead paint and high-fructose corn syrup?


Tower of Light: When Electricity Was New, People Used It to Mimic the Moon

And so, for a brief and literally shining moment early in the days of human-harnessed electricity, the future of municipal lighting was glowing orbs suspended high above cities — towers, resembling oil derricks, capped with 4 to 6 arc lamps with a candlepower of 2,000 to 6,000 each. These manmade moons made the ultimate promise to the people below them: that they would never again be in the dark.

Read more. [Images: Library of Congress, Not Even Past, Wikimedia Commons]

— 1 year ago with 166 notes
Ground War: the new reality of activation and activism

From the brain center at the top of the campaign, to the block by block ground game, Obama won because the American people wanted to give him more time, and because his volunteer-powered apparatus has created a level of voter-activation that fundamentally altered the calculus of presidential politics.

I volunteered yesterday, and spent every hour till the closing of the polls driving canvassing teams to their sectors across our AO in Blacksburg. I’m used to be the strategist, framing up the big goals and dynamics for change, so it was really refreshing to be at the business end for a change, right up against the coal face. 

There was a busload, literally a busload, of volunteers down from Beckley, West Virginia. There was a four man group of leftist political operatives from the UK who had come over to learn the Obama way-of-war, sort of like fighters in the Spanish Civil War. The whole crew and their bus was parked in a residential neighborhood just off Tom’s Creek road.  They had heart and walking shoes, but no cars. I supplied the local knowledge, hot coffee, and a 2012 Toyota Tacoma crew cab. The Obama machine provided our target lists. These were three-ring binders with not just lists of names, but maps of the sector’s footprint, along with start and finish points for the most efficient foot route to each target residence. 

The target lists were handraisers that clearly met some sort of risk model, folks that were registered to vote and Obama-intenders, but that there was concern that they wouldn’t make it to the polls. No ride. No idea where the polling place was. Maybe just a bit natural human inertia. I don’t know what rich pool of data they had used to create this thing, but my intuitive sense as I knocked doors was that it was accurate. We were overwhelmingly reaching out to students with heavy course loads and jobs. We gave them polling information, reminded them of Virginia’s insane Voter ID law, and looped them into the impressive transportation resources that the campaign had assembled. We left stickers on unanswered doors - reminding them that today was the day, but implicitly reminding them that as well that we were counting on them, that they were not forgotten, that their vote was needed, valued, and important. 

Yet there was more than just knocking on doors. When people would answer that they had voted for Obama and Kaine, this was tabulated by the campaign staffer back at our canvass sector OP. That yes, no, maybe data was piped back up to the mothership in Chicago and then we were sent back out. We weren’t just getting out a message. That’s old school. We were gathering data. Mountains of it.  We were conducting the world’s biggest exit poll of the race-winners, the margin of the expanded electoral universe. Once I got my head wrapped around that, that I was a vital soldier in fight and that there were thousands and thousands of us working across the country, feeding intel back into the machine, going out on runs to get souls to the poll… it was a heady feeling. I was part of history, part of a team. It was happening minute-by-minute. My team had the plan, the muscle, the momentum. Winning has a spooky power. The essence of winning and losing is the key to history.  We were winning.

I can’t emphasize just how impressive the intelligence operation was. The targeting, gathering, analysis, and then re-deployment of assets in the field. I couldn’t help but think of the fusion cell concept that finally broke the back of the AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq) and the global operation against AQ in the Afpak area. Its the old John Boyd OODA loop: Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. The same learning/action look that wins dogfights, wins in market, wins in counter-insurgency, and apparently now wins elections.

The fusion cell concept of Find, Fix, Finish, Exploit, Analyze, Disseminate, or F3EAD (“Feed”) can be very, very clearly seen in the OFA (Obama For America) ground game.

FIND -Use primary and syndicated research to generate a model of “bubble voters.” Use geotargeting resources like Nielson Claritas PRIZM NE and GIS to get street level information on the bubble

FIX - Ground Game! Reach out with phones and door knockers (kickers?). Find them where they live and make contact.

FINISH - Convert to “sale.” Get them to declare that they have voted, or what stage they are in inside the voting conversion funnel. If we need transport to get people to the polls, that asset is brought on scene. 

EXPLOIT - Take that data back to the analytics officer at our OP. They tabulate and upload it to the command level.

ANALYZE - The numbers are crunched and state and national level strategy decisions are made. 

DISSEMINATE - Data and plans for action are sent back out to the ground game.

If your team can do this, the way that OFA did this, you are hell on wheels. You are one scary, high-speed, adaptive threat. The idea that “speed kills,” time as the primary dimension of conflict isn’t a new one. McKinsey and Associates has argued that time is where competitive advantage happens. Sure, temporary asymmetries emerge in competition, and if successfully leveraged, they become structural and positional advantage. However, in a service universe where supply is elastic, asymmetries tend to be short-lived. However, operational excellence is hard to duplicate. It relies on a relatively inelastic asset - the identification and recruitment of human talent. There was talent and drive at every level of the OFA organization that developed a scary fusion of speed and efficacy. As Sun Tzu says, the sloppy blow struck quickly wins. So much more so the precision blow struck more quickly than your opponent. 

There were huge strategic fuck-ups by the Romney campaign. Unforced errors. Self-inflicted losses of position. Demographic reality, and the varieties of the primary process in two-party, polarized America. But the operations research side of the conflict was the clincher. Without it, Romney won. With it, he didn’t stand a chance. 

It was an honor, as both a student, operator, and citizen, to be a part of it.  I want to thank everyone who came to Virginia to help -our friends from West Virginia, my fellow travelers from the UK, the brain trust at OFA HQ. The coalition never wavered, never despaired. We thought less about what the other guys were doing to us, and thought a lot more about what we were going to do to them, and for the Union. 

A great day. 

— 1 year ago
"When you believe in magic, you can never be wrong. You can only be misinterpreted. You can never be defeated. You can only be undone by divine might of nature itself. And you never have to apologize. It wasn’t you. It was magic."
— 1 year ago with 98 notes →

I discovered this website very late in the game, following it here from Deadspin. Why was a sports blog talking about the 2012 Presidential election? Because recently Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight and the New York Times had come under attack by the pundits of the Right. They were attacking Silver as biased, and a bad statistician. 

Before he modeled elections, Silver modeled baseball. Apparently he modeled it so well that it set the new standard. The predictive accuracy of this model irritated a lot of lazy sports journalists and some of the teams that came out on the losing end of what the model had to say. They wanted to talk about heart, guts, the ineffable.

Now the Right is doing the same to Silver. They don’t like what his model has to say. Remember, when you live in a universe of epistemic closure and you are are confronted with something that doesn’t jive with your world-view - - attack! Attack the messenger, and be sure to attack the science. Attack the very notion of expertise.

Some of the right has cherry picked the blog, run by Sam Wang as a weapon for attacking Silver: 

Basically, I think he does messy analysis that throws out information, adds unnecessary factors, with effects such as blurring the odds as well as time resolution.

What is remarkable is that anyone could read that critique and find it valid, only to throw out Mr. Wang’s conclusions - over 98% chance of an Obama victory, or over 99% by his Bayesian model! Epistemic closure doesn’t get much stronger than this.

 I find it amazing, if in hindsight predicable, that the “social construct” criticism of science - that Science with a capital S does not describe a universal reality - is now the default position of the right. What was once the playground of post-structuralist leftist woo-woos everywhere is now used by the Right to deny reality. 

In a future where the successful horizontal synthesis of information is going to be critical to our survival, our capacity for cognitive dissonance is probably the greatest threat to the species. We must see clearly, operate from reality.

How do we go forward? We need to bring back the Enlightenment. The idea of a comprehensible universe that can be understood with human tools. 

On November 6th, the reality wizards of the Right will face their biggest test, when they lose and lose badly. Please enjoy, and Nate Silver, and all quant people everywhere. Thanks for your contributions to the project.

Median EV estimator

— 1 year ago
Personal History: THE FOURTH STATE OF MATTER : The New Yorker

Personal History: THE FOURTH STATE OF MATTER : The New Yorker

— 1 year ago

The future is super high touch service that happens to sell you product along the way. Everything else will be Amazon.

(Source: jayparkinsonmd)

— 2 years ago with 79 notes
Tea with the Economist: Nouriel Roubini on systemic risks | The Economist →

Some very insightful stuff here. You can already see deflation at work in the drop offs in commodity futures like oil and crops - where big harvests have combined with dropping consumer spending.

This seems to point towards another QE - to ramp out of this stall and to shrink the deficit through a fiscal response. But the fact that the banks are sitting $1 T USD seems to point against further QE creating any kind of movement. 

How do we change things on the demand side? There’s still growth… demand has to ramp sometime.

— 2 years ago
Matt Damon explains non-market motivations to a Libertarian idiot →

You know, I’m sympathetic to a great deal of Libertarian sentiment, but there is a point at which the real life complexities of human motivations and actions bump up against the reductionist thinking of classical economics. There are a lot of reasons people do things, not just money. Captial is not, in fact, a universal fungible marker  of value. There are other economies at work in the world.

— 2 years ago