Alamut


Implanting beliefs is easier than changing them
April 3, 2010, 12:37 pm
Filed under: Memes, Propaganda, Psychology, Social Hacking

Old, but nevertheless interesting news (right-click to enlarge):

So on one hand, it’s very hard to shift people’s beliefs on a particular topic, once they have them.

Yet, it is fairly easy to give them new beliefs, even if those beliefs conflict with what they have previously been told:

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued a flier to combat myths about the flu vaccine. It recited various commonly held views and labeled them either “true” or “false.” Among those identified as false were statements such as “The side effects are worse than the flu” and “Only older people need flu vaccine.”

When University of Michigan social psychologist Norbert Schwarz had volunteers read the CDC flier, however, he found that within 30 minutes, older people misremembered 28 percent of the false statements as true. Three days later, they remembered 40 percent of the myths as factual.

Younger people did better at first, but three days later they made as many errors as older people did after 30 minutes. Most troubling was that people of all ages now felt that the source of their false beliefs was the respected CDC.

The psychological insights yielded by the research, which has been confirmed in a number of peer-reviewed laboratory experiments, have broad implications for public policy. The conventional response to myths and urban legends is to counter bad information with accurate information. But the new psychological studies show that denials and clarifications, for all their intuitive appeal, can paradoxically contribute to the resiliency of popular myths.

(hat-tip to Yves at Naked Capitalism for the above image and link)

How does this play out politically and in the media?  The Stiftung Leo Strauss explains, with a little emphasis from me:

To make it less abstract, Movement action in 2009 — whether throwing tea bags in Fred Smith’s corporate foyer because they forgot to get a public dumping permit — or politically executing a deviationist is both inherently good and necessary. Anger is always the easiest emotional tool to manipulate. Its simple irrationality is the asset. Regardless if puzzling or risible to others. We are amazed that our American political ‘experts’ smirk and then get stupified when the Movement (via the Republican marionette) eschews ‘logical’ purposeful activity typical of a political pluralistic entity. They appear daily with polls showing this or that. Utterly missing the point that the action – rational or not – is first for the internal primary audience. How the Movement defines for itself coherence, clarity, hierarchy and communal belonging is the alpha and omega. The essential narcissism of that drama almost by necessity will be inherently irrational for those Outside. History shows this trajectory time and again across the globe.

Third, Democrats, liberals, independents, the wholly notional, non-existent American ‘Left’ [sic] no longer think in world historical patterns. History began yesterday. Books are hawked, not read. Or merely churned out, not considered. The overall American political community collectively assumes with vacant laziness that everyone plays the same game for the same stakes. Clinton today after everything still frames things so. Amazing.

Given the above one can see why and how a Movement so recently banished to the institutional political ‘grave’ still dominates Obama, liberals, the ‘Left [sic], MSNBC, etc. (As a simple content analysis statistical project, examine airtime ratios spent by non-Movement media rebutting Movement memes, defending themselves from spurious Movement press releases from a County Supervisor in Upper Lower Mississippi, etc., etc.)

Notice how much less time they devote to ‘objective factual stories’ or re MSNBC, advancing their own purposeful agenda? Pwned.

169% pwned indeed.



How the CIA influences public opinion
March 29, 2010, 7:19 pm
Filed under: CIA, Obama, Propaganda, War

A very interesting insight into how the CIA works has been provided via Wikileaks, for public consumption.  It also gives a good look into the general mindset that is prevalent at the Central Intelligence Agency.

For example, one of the main headers for this memo is entitled “Public Apathy Allows Leaders To Ignore Voters…”  Now, this isn’t exactly mindblowing, that leaders prefer an apathetic population, which allows them to act as they please, but confirmation that this is exploited by them is nice.

Another item of note is the scare quotes around “listening to the voters“.  Intelligence agencies, by their very nature, tend to have a degree of contempt for the democratic process, especially when this is exercised in areas of national security and foreign policy.  Something which this clearly demonstrates.

Other recommendations include how to specifically tailor the message to appeal to French and German audiences, as well as use Obama’s global popularity to help sell the mission more effectively.  It’s only a short memo, 4 pages long, but as a brief insight into the way intelligence agencies go about subverting democratic processes in our current situation, I recommend it.



Why isn’t Adam Curtis on my blogroll yet?
February 25, 2010, 3:51 am
Filed under: Economic Crisis, Linguistic Framing, Technocracy

Because he should be.  See what our shiny technocratic elites hath wrought:

Whether it is straight journalism, or columnists’ rants, or even imaginative responses like the play Enron, the problem is described either as a technical system that went wrong or as a set of strange inventions that were then corruptly used by bad and greedy people. And in doing this all the journalists, and the critics, and the playwrights earnestly try and explain to us the system in the terms, and the framework of “market-speak” created by the economists and the financiers.

The high point of this came last week when lead items on TV news were devoted to the letters written  by two opposing groups of economists. It was the height of absurdity as economists from the opposing camps came on News-24 to announce pompously that “this is far more important than politics”. As David Blanchflower (ex-member of the Monetary Policy Committee) pointed out in a really good piece in the New Statesman – HERE – they have absolutely no basis for any of their claims. The reason is that they have no idea what is going to happen to the economy in the next 12 months.

But more than that – perhaps the economists are the problem? That they themselves cannot see the full dimensions of the project of which they have been a part.

But still we listen to them, and still our journalists use their language and assumptions.

Which means that despite the disasters we are still trapped in the economists’ world.

But the moment you pull back and look at that world from a wider perspective strange things start to emerge.

Having spent the last two months reading more than a few delightful essays about the cult of the expert and failings of technical management, this is of course relevant to my interests.  And yours too, most likely, if you are reading it here.



The case against Obama
January 19, 2010, 6:19 pm
Filed under: Economic Crisis, Factsheet, Mercenaries, Obama, Surveillance, War

A short list

  • The bailout and (lack of) reform (link)
  • Refusing to investigate any of the Bush era crimes, including the Iraq War falsification of intelligence, torture or the surveillance state (link, link, link)
  • Backing the renewal of PATRIOT Act provisions (link)
  • Asserting the power to order extraordinary rendition, ie; kidnapping (link)
  • Asserting the power to hold detainees indefinitely, without charge, as well as seeking to hold people indefinitely on the basis they may commit acts of terrorism in the future (link)
  • Military show trials will continue in cases where civilian trials would lose (due to the lower threshold for proof) (link)
  • Detainees at Bagram Air Base and Balad Air Base are still being denied any and all basic rights (link)
  • Failure to close Guantamo (though, given the above abuses, it would make little difference) and worsening of abuse there (link)
  • Private mercenaries have been deployed to Somalia, and US Special Forces to Yemen, meaning the USA is now seen by many Muslims as waging war in five Islamic countries (link, link, link)
  • Failure to withdraw in any meaningful sense from Iraq (50-60,000 troops are intended to continue serving in the country until 2011, when they are legally required to withdraw) (link)
  • Pointless surge in Afghanistan (link, link)
  • Increased use of Predator airstrikes in Pakistan, weapons with a 95% chance of killing a civilian instead of a terrorist (link)
  • Blackwater are now an integral part of “special operations” taking place in Pakistan (link)
  • Complete inability to put real pressure on Israel to stop building in the occupied territories (link)
  • Massively expanding the drug war in Colombia, much to the excitement of President Uribe (link)
  • Obama has cosied up with Islam Karimov’s regime in Uzbekistan, the one that drops dissidents into vats of boiling water and uses child slave labour (link)
  • Private contractors in Afghanistan have increased 40% under Obama, despite the obviousness of their flaws being exposed in Iraq (link)
  • The hideous agreement pushed by Obama at Copehagen (link)


“Straight trees are cut first and honest people are screwed first.”
January 7, 2010, 11:19 pm
Filed under: Articles by others

Nick P explains once again, for those who might not have still got it, that the United States of America is pretty much doomed.  Go read, now.

Now, you might question why I, as a non-American, care.  Firstly, because I have many friends in the States, many of whom are not exactly the conforming type, and I’d rather not see them stuck in a cage for cheap laughs among the jackboot crowd.  And secondly, because the UK has a terrible tendency to ape the USA and the worst of its excesses (or even pre-empt them, in the case of Thatcher).

The fact is, this year, the Conservatives will thrash Labour in the General Election, and become the next Government.  And what a government it will be.  While Cameron himself has done a good job of portraying himself to be a fluffy and harmless “liberal conservative”, behind him are a whole gaggle of Thatcherites, neoconservatives and associated crazies who are going to drive this country off a cliff.

Whether its climate change denialist nuttery, their spending cuts which might throw us into a deeper recession, cozying up with European fascists and proto-fascists, promotion of religious nonsense in education, providing aid and comfort to American wingnuts or just straight out insanity, the Tories are not good news.  The price for being rid of Brown, whose greatest strength was his incompetence (I’d rather an incompetent ruler than a competent, but ruthless one) is this shower of inbred, Etonian piss.

Furthermore, with the BNP and UKIP agitating from the far-right, and threatening to steal votes if the Tories do not adopt part of their rhetoric and policy packages, there will be pressure on them to move into ever more extreme directions.  And not only do these two parties exert a subtle influence on Tory policies, but so does the American right, as any look at the Telegraph blogs section or the Spectator will show.  As the liberal Republicans flee or are undercut by ultra-conservatives, pushing their party along the route to fully blown fascism, the Tories drink deep from this infested and corrupt meme pool.

In foreign policy too, the Tories will follow America’s lead, as Nick P pointed out.  Once upon a time, the Tories were too proud of their imperialist past to submit too readily to American desires in foreign affairs, but a combination of neoconservative kool-aid and their own intellectual weakness means they will now follow the drum-beats of the National Review and Weekly Standard.

Basically, as America goes into a tailspin, it’ll likely knock over the UK on the way down.  And that wont be good for anyone living here.



Banksters and Gangsters: Japan’s Yakuza recession
January 3, 2010, 5:58 pm
Filed under: Drugs, Economic Crisis, Organised Crime, Social Engineering

A while ago, I was reading Government of the Shadows: Parapolitics and Criminal Sovereignty, when I came across this curious passage within it:

The role that the yakuza played in the speculative bubble of the 1980s is now known. Through their control of drug trafficking, prostitution and employment in the building sector and public works, as well as their interests in the very lucrative business of pachinko – electric billiard games which generate one and a half times the turnover of the Japanese automobile sector, some 6 per cent of the GDP – organised crime has invaded the real estate co-operatives (jusen), the leading brokerages and the shareholders’ meetings of certain large companies.

Their access to credit enables them to launder their illicit profits in speculative businesses, where they tend to prefer high-risk operations. When the speculative bubble burst at the beginning of the 1990s, stock and real estate prices dropped, and bad debts swamped the banks and other financial institutions. The former director of Japan’s National Police Agency, Raisuke Miyawaki, estimates that 10 per cent of these debts are yakuza-related and an additional 30 per cent have probable links with other organised crime, which would put non-recoverable debt attributable to gangsters at somewhere between $75 billion and $300 billion, that is, 6.5 per cent of GDP.

After having speculated on the upside, the yakuza then speculated on the downside, trying to buy up real estate assets at fire sale prices and by blocking, through targeted operations, the liquidation of the liabilities of certain firms that resort to their illegal services in order to escape their obligations.

However, this doesn’t explain exactly how central the Yakuza role in fuelling the speculation was, and I was unaware of this myself until I got a copy of Misha Glenny’s fantastic McMafia this Christmas:

“The corporations wanted to buy land in clusters, big plots,” continued Miyawaki [the Anti-Organised Crime Tsar], “but things didin’t always go that smoothly.  A lot of people didn’t want to sell, and so the companies and banks turned to muscle – the yakuza.

First, the yakuza would offer financial incentives for tenants to leave their apartments, while negotiating with the owner to buy the land.  And if either the tenant or the owner refused to budge, then the yakuza would issue verbal threats or a physical warning.  (One of the most common and tasteless entailed spreading human faeces in and around the desired property).  Those who remained stubborn then ran the gauntlet of yakuza intimidation.  In its mild form, this might involve the notorious sound trucks (audible to this day in Tokyo), which would park outside a property and blast frentic political rhetoric from the huge loudspeakers, rendering life impossible for the targets.  The final stage of intimidation was of course physical assault and murder.

[…]

The banks, the corporations, the politicians (who were soon in the thick of it) were making tens of billions in speculative deals.  At first, the jamboree seemed to confirm that a superior form of capitalism had evolved from Japan’s perculiar culture.  With the price of land doubling each month, nobody seemed to notice the wholesale removal of thousands of unwilling, disenfranchised residents from their apartments and houses.  This could only happen because the core institutions of the Japanese state and economy were content to work hand-in-glove with organised crime at the expense of ordinary citizens.

And yet, in spite of this, people were still surprised when organised crime, in the form of drug cartels, helped keep financial institutions afloat during the worst of the current economic crisis.



I’m in ur drones, watching ur live feedz
December 20, 2009, 10:29 pm
Filed under: Efficiency, War

Cost of a Predator Drone: $4,500,000 million

Cost of “Skygrabber” program, which could up until earlier this year, hack into the Predator drone live feed: $25.95

Seeing the US military’s killer robots rendered useless by Islamist script-kiddies:  Priceless

There is actually a serious point here, all snark aside.  The cost of offensive warfare is sky-rocketing, while at the same time, the cost of defensive warfare is dropping.  For example, the drones mentioned are actually considered a cheap option by the United States, and this is certainly the case when compared to, say, an F-15 (especially if you include the cost of training and looking after the pilot).  Meanwhile, insurgencies that are keeping the USA bogged down in two countries are being fought with Kalashnikovs, RPGs, car-bombs, cell phones and off-the-shelf software and computers.

And what do all these things have in common?  As Nolan’s Joker would say, they’re cheap.  Furthermore, because they are cheap, such groups can raise the money through methods like drug trafficking, instead of relying on vastly more expensive methods to gain the sums needed to support larger armed forces.

At what point does the cost of warfare become more than can possibly be gained from it?  The suggestion is that the United States has already begun to reach this point.  And when a broken, inefficient system goes up against more efficient, faster acting systems…well, it doesn’t really need to be elaborated on, does it?