Protecting girls from body image problems will be a win for the robots.

Summary: After years of denials about the next industrial revolution (we’re told it’s a field of dreams; the jobs will appear if we need them), we’re unprepared to cope with it. Here’s an example of well-meaning activists seeking to help young women, but might instead make the problem worse — and help push models into unemployment. We’ll face many such complex problems in the next two decades.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

“The wave of the future is coming and there is no fighting it.”
— Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s The Wave of the Future, a Confession of Faith (1940).

Before and after of photoshopped model

Many experts say there’s an epidemic of body image problems among women, boosted by the thin women in advertisements. France, Italy, Spain and Israel have passed laws regulating use of too-thin models. Here’s a petition at Global Democracy to require disclosures for advertisements using airbrushed models.

We all now know that seeing thousands of “perfect” body types in the mass media is having negative affects on young girls and more. Airbrushing as a practice should be discouraged when it transforms otherwise permanent features on models. A “mandatory disclaimer” to state that a model has had her physical body manipulated on a computer is a very simple step in the right direction to addressing the harm that we’re causing.

To see the magnitude of this problem look at this video of a model before and after photoshopping (incredible!):

This brief documentary was produced for the Global Democracy petition campaign, describing how the modern advertising industry works. All those pretty pictures are photoshopped.

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What is Iran’s 9-point plan to destroy Israel?

Summary:  As Obama’s deal with Iran comes home for review it’s important to understand not just how we see Iran (inaccurately), but why. Here’s a case study of the news given us. It’s from a leading Israeli newspaper, but that’s where so much of our perspective on Iran originates. As you read it please remember that we can do better.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

War between Israel and Iran

Iran supreme leader touts 9-point plan to destroy Israel

Ayatollah Khamenei says West Bank should be armed like Gaza, and
Jewish population should return to countries it came from.

From the Times of Israel, 10 November 2014.

Quite horrific headlines from the Times of Israel. It’s the usual fare of course, showing us that Iran is the implacable irrational enemy. I wonder how many people read the article (it’s an oddity of the western press that the story’s text so often contradicts the headline, understandable when you remember that the headline must sell the papers). The opening:

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called over the weekend for the destruction of Israel, stating that the “barbaric” Jewish state “has no cure but to be annihilated.”

So what means does he recommend to destroy Israel? Nukes? Terrorism? Jihad?  The article refers us to a tweet.

Tweet  from Iran

Iran's 9 negotiating points

What are the horrific actions he recommends that justifies our bombing Iran as a follow-up to our cyberattacks, economic sanctions, and Israel’s assassinations of their scientists?

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Will China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank begin a new world order?

Summary: China has created the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and signed on enough nations to make it a significant global force, but opinions differ about its odds of success and long-term significance. Some people expect nothing; some expect the world to change. Here I review the various bets and pick a winner.   {1st of 2 posts today.}

AIIB

Contents

  1. The AIIB is perhaps important, & bad
  2. It’s big news. It’s the end of US rule.
  3. Skeptical voices, with good reason
  4. My conclusions
  5. For More Information

 

(1)  The mainstream view: the AIIB is perhaps important, but bad

For the mainstream view we turn to the Washington Post, where journalist Fareed Zakaria describes the situation and the consensus wisdom of its implications:

This summer, China spearheaded an agreement with Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa (known collectively as the “BRICS” countries) to create a financial organization that would challenge the International Monetary Fund. In October, Beijing launched a $50 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, explicitly as an alternative to the World Bank. And last week, Xi declared that China would spend $40 billion to revive the old “Silk Road” trading route to promote development in the region.

… But if China uses its growing clout to keep asking countries to choose between the existing arrangements or new ones, it might create conditions for a new kind of Cold War in Asia. It will certainly help to undermine and destroy the current international order, which has been a platform on which peace and prosperity have flourished in Asia for 7 decades.

The Economist gives a deeper analysis, but being The Economist we should assume it gets the details right but misses the big picture. Excerpt:

But the real, unstated tension stems from a deeper shift: China will use the new bank to expand its influence at the expense of America and Japan, Asia’s established powers. China’s decision to fund a new multilateral bank rather than give more to existing ones reflects its exasperation with the glacial pace of global economic governance reform. The same motivation lies behind the New Development Bank established by the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

… Reforms to give China a little more say at the International Monetary Fund have been delayed for years, and even if they go through America will still retain far more power. China is, understandably, impatient for change. It is therefore taking matters into its own hands.

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A guide to the players in the Middle East’s newest war – in Yemen

Summary:  US Middle East policy has been captured by our regional “allies”, Israel and the Saudi Princes — who work in a de facto alliance to control the region — against Iran — using the US as their puppet. Dancing to their tunes has stripped our geopolitical policies not just of coherence but even rationality. Our interventions after 9/11 were stupidity on an unusual scale. Now we’re repeating these mistakes in any even odder way. It’s unlikely to end well for us. As for the other players, it’s too soon to say who will benefit from these wars.  {2nd of 2 posts today}

“Hegel says somewhere that all great historic facts and personages occur twice, so to speak. He forgot to add: ‘Once as tragedy, and again as farce.’”
— Opening line to Karl Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1869).

War in the Middle East

Contents

  1. Listening to exiles gives bad results.
  2. The chaos of US policy in Yemen.
  3. The goals of the Saudi Princes.
  4. Uncovering the Hidden Agenda in Yemen.
  5. For More Information.

(1)  Listening to exiles gives bad results

Let’s start with Yemen’s exiled President, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, telling us in a NYT op-ed that “The Houthis Must Be Stopped“. It’s the usual pitch from an exiled leader, as deceptive as the assurances we received from Ahmed Chalabi before invading Iraq. Niccolò Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy (circa 1517) warns us about the risks of listening to such people. Unfortunately, we don’t learn from experience.

We see, then, how vain the faith and promises of men who are exiles from their own country.  As to their faith, we have to bear in mind that, whenever they can return to their own country by other means than your assistance, they will abandon you and look to the other means, regardless of their promises to you.

And as to their vain hopes and promises, such is their extreme desire to return to their homes that they naturally believe many things that are not true, and add many others on purpose; so that, with what they really believe and what they say they believe, they will fill you with hopes to that degree that if you attempt to act upon them you will incur a fruitless expense, or engage in an undertaking that will involve you in ruin.

… A prince therefore should be slow in undertaking any enterprise upon the representations of exiles, for he will generally gain nothing by it but shame and serious injury.

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Did Robert Heinlein in 1961 predict the fall of the Soviet Union? Lessons learned from this.

Summary: Our past can help us to better understand our present. The ills of the present didn’t just appear, and often can be seen more clearly in the past — such as as our penchant for believing fables. This post has it all: a great story about Robert Heinlein’s astonishing prescience, the Evil Empire, demographic collapse, gross errors by experts, a spectacular save at the end, and insights to help us tomorrow.  It’s another in a series about experts.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Writing about geopolitics = progress by making mistakes

Ask an expert

I find it difficult to guess about the future (track record here). But it’s often difficult to get the past correctly, which makes it almost impossible to accurately see the present.

For example, in 2009 I wrote about the failings of our experts, especially those at the intel agencies, during the Cold War. I cited science fiction writer Robert Heinlein as an example of a non-credentialed expert who got a big question right while they were wrong. I told a commonplace kind of story one sees these days, about how the official sources are wrong when the outsiders are right.

It’s the story so often told by many groups — the climate scientists are frauds people, the down with the Federal Reserve crowd, the anti-vaxers, and the pollutants are everywhere (soda bottles, cell phone towers) tribe — as well as people with whom I largely agree (e.g., the military reformers, the 4GW community, and the peace and justice movements).

It’s an extension of the “crowdsourcing” concept — the anti-establishment belief that wisdom is found on the fringes, in the hands of outsiders. Since 2009 I have found other examples of this. Under examination most proved to be false.

As part of an article about our new cold war (it’s only a slightly chilled dispute, the past repeating as farce) I intended to again cite this example of Heinlein’s wisdom. But my mistakes of the past 5 years (tracked here) taught me to dig deeper before writing. Doing so disproved my 2009 post, giving in exchange some useful insights.

Did Robert Heinlein foresee the fall of the Soviet Union?

In 1960 Robert and Virginia Heinlein visited Moscow. In 1966 he published this note about his trip in Worlds of Robert Heinlein, republished in 1980 as Expanded Universe. In 2009 I cited it as an example of genius by a non-expert. Let’s examine it more closely.

Cover of "Worlds of Robert Heinlein"

For many days we prowled Moskva — by car, by taxi, by subway, by bus, and on foot. Mrs. Heinlein, in her fluent Russian, got acquainted with many people — drivers, chambermaids, anyone. The Russians are delightful people, always happy to talk with visitors … She was able to ask personal questions by freely answering questions about us and showing warm interest in that person — not faked; she is a warm person. But buried in chitchat, she always learned these things:

  • How old are you?
  • Are you married?
  • How many children do you have?
  • How many brothers and sisters do you have?
  • How many nieces and nephews do you have?

Put baldly, that sounds as offensive as a quiz by a Kinsey reporter. But it was not put baldly — e.g., “Oh, how lucky you are! Gospodin Heinlein and I didn’t meet until the Great Patriotic War … and we have no children although we wanted them. But we have lots of nieces and nephews.” Etc, etc.  She often told more than she got but she accumulated the data she wanted, often without asking questions.

… Mrs. Heinlein is a close student of Russian history, history of the Russian Revolution, history of the Third International or Comintern, and so skilled in Marxist dialectical materialism that she can argue theory with a Russian party member and get him so mixed up that he’s biting his own tail.

So far, so good. He’s established some grounds for credibility.

{Virginia said…}  “They claim to have finished the War with about two hundred million and Moscow at four million. Now they are claiming twenty-five million more in the Union, and over a million increase in Moscow. It’s a lie. Unless they are breeding like flies everywhere outside Moscow, they have lost population since the War — not gained. I haven’t found even one family with more than 3 children. The average is less than 2. And they marry late. Robert, they aren’t even replacing themselves.”

…We stopped in many other cities — Alma Ata, Tashkent, Samarkand, Minsk, Vilno, Kiev, Riga, Leningrad, etc. — and she continued her gentle questioning but never found reason to change her opinion. Even out in the Muslim countries of Turkestan the birthrate was low, or the answers seemed to show it.

By the 1990’s Russia’s demographic collapse spread so that the total population began to decline, something rare in modern times except during wars. The Heinleins had discovered this in its early stages 2 decades before the CIA saw it! I was awed. Heinlein had more observations in this article.

One day we were seated on a park bench, back of the Kremlin and facing the Moskva River. I said, “How big does that guide book say this city is?”

“Over five million.”

“Hmmph! Look at that river. Look at the traffic on it. (One lonely scow) “Remember the Rhine? … Ginny, this dump isn’t anything like five million. More the size of Copenhagen, if that. Pittsburgh. New Orleans. San Francisco, possibly.  Yet they are trying to tell us that this dump is bigger than Philadelphia, bigger than Los Angeles, bigger than Chicago. Nonsense. … Three quarters of a million, not five million.”   {1960 population of San Francisco: 740 thousand}

She looked at that empty river. “Not quite as big as Copenhagen is my guess.”

The CIA estimate of Moscow’s population in 1960 was 6 million. Heinlein’s estimate of 750,000 was absurd. That’s almost an order of magnitude difference. Asserting that experts are grossly wrong is a red flag for wingnuttery.

How was it possible for the Russians to claim that Moscow was seven times as big as it actually was? How could I be right and the whole world wrong? The World Almanac gave the same figures the Russians did, all news services seemed to accept Russian population figures. How could a Big Lie that big not be noticed and denounced?

About a year later I had a chance to discuss it with an old shipmate, an admiral now retired but then holding a major command. I asked him how many people there were in Moscow. … He closed his eyes and kept quiet for several minutes. “750,000, not over that.” (Jackpot!)

I said, “Mister 007, have you made a special study of Russia? Or shouldn’t I ask?”

“Not at all. [This command] gives me all the trouble I need without worrying about Russia. I simply worked it as a logistics problem, War College style. That city just doesn’t have the transportation facilities to be any bigger than that. Get much over three quarters of a million and they’d starve. Until they double their tracks and increase their yards they can’t risk a bigger population. You don’t do that over night. They can pick up some slack with the river, but it doesn’t go where they need it most.”

Look, both the Pentagon and the State Department know exactly how big Moscow is, and the Kremlin knows that they know. We were highflying ‘em with the U-2 for four years; you can bet Moscow was carefully photographed many times. Our present Eye-in-the-Sky satellites are so sharp-eyed that they can come close to reading the license plate on your car …

I have one very wild theory. Our State Department may see no advantage in calling them liars on this point. Through several administrations we have been extremely careful not to hurt their feelings.

This should have loudly rang the FAKE alarm for me, since it has so many of the classic elements of urban legends: an anonymous authority figure, an assertion that the author has the hidden truth not visible to lesser beings, and a conspiracy theory about the government hiding truths for mysterious reasons. But I wanted to believe him, and so my critical sense slept.

David Hume

Conclusions

A generation of Boomers grew up with Robert Heinlein as a voice of authority about the world. But this is an odd story in many ways.

Millions still believe Heinlein’s insights from his fiction — such as “an armed society is a polite society” (Beyond This Horizon, 1942), but this assertion about the Soviet Union’s weakness never caught on. Also, after WWII Heinlein was a far-Right conservative. Yet Heinlein’s story contradicts the Right’s belief about the USSR’s growing power, powerfully asserted even in the 1977 by the right-wing Team B (although largely wrong, its members went on to great career success).

Heinlein reminds us that political delusions passed by trusted people are always with us. They are easier to see in the past, which can help us to see them in the present. There are so many of them today, from both Right and Left. I doubt we can regain control of the Republic until we regain our sense of skepticism, even about those we trust.

Also: this post was added to the “Smackdowns” page.

Some thoughts about Heinlein

Here are comments about Heinlein much like my own, from Walter Jon Williams’ “Revisiting the Classics“:

Heinlein had the gift of a perfect avuncular voice: if you were a bright kid of thirteen and curious about the world, he was the kindly uncle who would help you find out how things worked. And as a 13-year-old I read Heinlein and I believed everything Uncle Bob told me: I believed we should bring back flogging (Starship Troopers), practice Upton Sinclair’s version of socialism (Beyond This Horizon), and practice Free Love (Stranger in a Strange Land).  (Of course, when you come down to it, what 13-year-old male doesn’t want to practice Free Love?)

That Heinlein’s various visions of the future were contradictory did not occur to me. I also was unable to distinguish between the ideas that Heinlein meant seriously and the ideas he was just throwing out for their own sake.

When I re-read the book in college, I had the feeling that my kindly uncle was something of a blowhard. Now that I’m older, I’m finding the avuncular voice just the least bit condescending.

Comment by MDHughes:

Stranger’s weird now because it’s not so weird; at the time it must’ve been pure fantasy, and today it passes for current events minus Mars (and we’ll be there soon enough). The sexuality and politics seem plausible … The religious lunatics and stormtroopers are half our political system.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.  See the other posts about Robert Heinlein and the other posts about experts, especially these:

  1. Today’s debate: a passionate defense of credentialism. State your view!
  2. Experts now run the world using their theories. What if they fail, and we lose confidence in them?
  3. Do we face a future without confidence in experts?
  4. Our confidence in science is crumbling. Why? How can we fix this?
  5. 2015 might bring an end to the great age of experts’ experiments on us.
  6. Tips to find the experts that help you see the world more clearly.
  7. Will our geopolitical “experts “lead us to ruin?

 

 

“Iron Man 3″: a cynical plot drowned out by the clang clang action

Summary:  Today Locke Peterseim reviews Iron Man 3. It’s “still slick and mostly entertaining, but with a cold heart that feels hung out over the chasm between Black’s cynical, subversive attitude and Marvel’s bright, shiny franchise-building.”  It’s a myth told by people who don’t like it, which requires a higher level of story-telling skill than Marvel’s agents bring to the game.

Iron Man poster

Iron Man Three:
Kiss Kiss Clang Clang

By Locke Peterseim.
From the film blog of Open Letters Monthly.
9 May 2013

Reposted with his generous permission.

I’d guess most everyone who helped give Iron Man Three the #2  box-office opening of all time (after its stable mate The Avengers last year) came away from it feeling suitably entertained by the First Summer Film of the Year. But so much of that feeling, including the public’s attendance and “A” CinemaScore, can’t help but feel obligatory, even somewhat hollow.

As I’ve said many times before, for the general movie-going public the first weekend of May (which Marvel Studios has owned for most of the past decade) is Opening Day, when, like supporters of a sports team, fans are filled with soaring, somewhat delusional hope for the upcoming season. Because it carries with it more than just cinematic promise, but also the heralding of warmer weather and higher spirits, we want so much to like the First Summer Film that not only do we forgive it most of its flaws, but to criticize it can feel like an early abandonment of the Promise of Summer itself.

Co-written by Shane Black and Drew Pearce and directed by the erstwhile action-movie wunderkind Black, Iron Man Three isn’t badly constructed or executed. Like all superhero movies, it’s full of plot stuff. Tony Stark is suffering PTSD from the epic, cosmic events of The Avengers just as a new threat arises from an international terrorist who calls himself The Mandarin.

Sir Ben Kingsley has a ball with an accent that sounds like Tom Brokaw, Hugo Weaving, and John Huston performing as a spoken-word trio, but in the wake of Ledger’s Joker and Hardy’s Bane, I think we’re all getting a little weary of the oh-so-quickly-played out “Super Villains with Weird Speech Patterns” trope. Still, as is so often the case, Kingsley’s Mandarin gets away with the best and most delightfully surprising parts of the film.

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Love in the new world, after the gender wars

Summary:  It’s vital to understand not just what’s happening in the gender wars but why. Here Allan Bloom explains the beliefs and goals of the social reformers leading the restructuring of American society. They’re quite frank in writings amongst themselves, but speak to the rest of us in more gentler and comforting terms.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Snow White fights sexism

Excerpt from Allan Bloom’s Love and Friendship (1993):
“The Fall of Eros”

The new program to reform society

Now there is a new illiberal tendency that strangely both contradicts and supports liberal tolerance and easygoingness: the imperial project of reform promoted by radical feminism. It wants to enter the bedroom and much more the psyche in order to alter male sexual taste and behavior. It is not so much acts but the meaning of those acts and the disposition of those who perform them that now count.

The new discussion of male sexuality — for it is almost exclusively males who are the subjects of this — produces a distinctly unlovely vision of erotic relations. Male lust, male treatment of women as objects — in general, machismo — are the themes of this new sexual education. It is an education directed not to the sublime or sublimation, but to control. The object is not the relatedness of male and female, but liberation from male oppression, or nature’s oppression, in order to provide women with power or choice, the great word of the movement, choice to make oneself whatever one wants to be, free from the patriarchal structures that are said to have kept even what appeared to be the freest women imprisoned.

Male and female are no longer to be reciprocal terms, and the male habit of supposedly forcing women into such reciprocity is what must go. Of course, rape was always forbidden, and there was a codicil to the liberal formula that limited the right to do anything in your own bedroom to “consenting adults.” But now we are alleged to have a much higher consciousness of what rape and consent mean. What used to be understood as modes of courtship are now seen as modes of male intimidation and playing on the weaknesses and anxieties of women.

The education of male sexual desire in the past was intended to make men into gentlemen, a term reciprocal to lady, a person whose chastity was priceless and needed protection. The new feminist women make no claim to chastity and even ridicule it. It is an affront to raise the question of chastity as a part of the criminality of rape. Whether it be a prostitute or Mother Teresa is unimportant, although not all juries have yet been persuaded of this. Rape is considered bad no longer because it assaults a weak and defenseless person’s modesty, which is necessary to her exclusive attachment to the man she loves. Rape is now bad because it deprives women of power.

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