DARPA Seeking CompLit Experts

Oh boy, I’ve got a lot to say about this:

After nine years of conflict, the U.S. military is still having trouble finding common ground with warzone locals. One way to fill that breach, Darpa figures, is through “interactive stories.”

Counterinsurgency, in many ways, is a series of negotiations — over economic development, over security, over political power. And “negotiation,” Darpa explains in a new request for information, “is best served by a culturally-specific narrative that explains why we hold a position, how it relates to other parties, and how it affects all parties both positively and negatively.”

[snip]

To come up with its storytelling tools, Darpa’s Information Processing Technologies Office is hoping to go beyond its usual cadre of neuroscientists, artificial intelligence specialists, and gadgeteers.  The agency also wants contributions from “art, literature, film, dance, games development, advertising and public relations, advertising, grass roots organizing, collective decision making or any other discipline for which the respondent can make an argument that the approach bears on this task.”

Click through for the bit about Wizard of Oz.

First, a story. As I was finishing my PhD–having done research on what amounted to interactive narratives–I was hanging around MI’s School of Information some. I saw a presentation from some IBM dude who worked at their Yorktown Heights research center. He was describing how IBM’s consulting wing had started working with their clients to use narrative to better manage corporate culture. It quickly became clear to me that they hadn’t ever considered one of the basic problems of the literary sphere–irony (or, more generally, language that was not transparent, that meant something different than its plain language meaning). This IBM dude was describing, for example, how significant they thought it was that one story-collection they had done had mentioned one of their clients’ VPs a large number of times. I asked, “were they being sincere? because some of those comments sound like they were being ironic?” Because IBM was assuming language was transparent (as it often is when you’re talking to computers), they had misread that what they thought was instilling strong corporate culture but was instead a corporate-funded way to trash their own VP.

I went to ask IBM dude about this after he finished. As it turned out, he had worked with my father when he worked at Yorktown Heights; my dad was a big hero to this IBM dude (I believe he meant his compliments sincerely). And IBM dude was thrilled when I told him I was a Watson scholar; IBM had paid a big chunk of my college tuition and employed me every summer in college (I also learned to swim at the IBM pool, that’s how thoroughly I was immersed in IBM culture). So for shits and giggles, I asked whether IBM would be able to hire someone like me–someone with expertise in the subtleties of human narrative. And he sort of soured and said, “oh, no, we’re really only able to hire social scientists.”

Lucky for me, I had gotten my fill of working at IBM every summer in college.

I took two things away from this exchange.

First, the exchange reinforced my strongly held belief that our society devalues the humanities to its significant cost. As you recall, before I went to grad school, I had done a lot of documentation consulting which put me in situations (like oil refineries and credit ratings agencies) where our inability to use language in a sophisticated manner might lead to massive disaster like explosions or metaphorical Wall Street explosions. We were charging companies pretty big money to do the kind of thing DARPA now wants done. And while we offered both capacity to crank out pallet-sized documents and some particularized expertise, the underlying problem was that we, this country, doesn’t really treat humanities with the same seriousness we treat, say, math. (Not that we treat math with the seriousness it deserves either). Largely, but not entirely, because of actions of the humanities academy, the humanities have either become the feeding ground for law, or a frivolous soft pursuit usually reserved for those who could look forward to a career without big worries about paying off college loans (admittedly, thanks to IBM, I was one of those people). As a result, when business (or the military) decides they need humanities-related skills, there is both a general inability to frame the problem and a shortage of people who can apply their humanities training to practical problems.

Which leads me to the inability to frame the problem. IBM couldn’t envision that speech is–often–not sincere, and so couldn’t develop their research to account for such a probability (and, as a result, some company was paying big money to empower its employees to ironically snark their VP).

Which leads me to DARPA’s description of what they’re trying to do:

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) is requesting information on areas of research into approaches to cross-cultural negotiation in the human terrain through narrative. The object of this research is one or more culturally-aware computer-based negotiation tools for use by parties with minimal common language skills.

Through negotiation we want others to understand our position, we want to understand theirs, and we want to come to a mutual accommodation of both. Yet understanding and accommodation are gained neither by imposing a choice nor by simply describing it. Instead negotiation is best served by a culturally-specific narrative that explains why we hold a position, how it relates to other parties, and how it affects all parties both positively and negatively. Further, negotiation is not simply achieving one’s goals but rather it is aligning all of the participant’s goals with each other so as to agree upon a set of shared goals.1 Across cultures and languages, this task is more than difficult because of possibly opposing but unknown goals, groups’ unacknowledged positions, and the unspoken stories that brought about the situation. DARPA is interested in exploring innovative approaches, which can help people cross a cultural divide, that are based upon interactive stories, the implications of decisions, and the choices and outcomes associated with alternative behaviors.

[snip]

The question of interest in such cases is what approaches and, if implemented, what tools might support human negotiators in navigating such issues, especially in non-verbal or minimum-language approaches.

[snip]

DARPA/IPTO welcomes white paper contributions from the fields of cognitive science, cultural anthropology, artificial intelligence, art, literature, film, dance, games development, advertising and public relations, advertising, grass roots organizing, collective decision making or any other discipline for which the respondent can make an argument that the approach bears on this task. Approaches must focus on the narrative aspects of negotiation and the construction or reuse of
stories. Technical areas for consideration include, but are not limited to: (1) case-based reasoning; (2) computational HSCB modeling in human terrain; (3) distributed social networks for mixed-initiative story construction and presentation; (4) psychological theories of narrative understanding and storytelling, and; (5) knowledge-based game rendering. We encourage very non-traditional approaches to this problem (e.g., a virtual tribal storyteller interacts with a human mime to produce a silent theater improvisation with audience participation). [my emphasis]

Now, I actually think DARPA’s onto something here about narrative. And given that DARPA is about research, not turnkey programs, I’m not bugged that they’re trying this.

But note the underlying assumption: “parties with minimal common language skills.”

DARPA is proposing building an entire narrative-driven negotiation system–presumably intended in the short term to help it convince Afghans to side with Americans over the Taliban. But it is assuming that we won’t go about learning Pashto before we build this narrative-driven system.

You see, the whole project seems to be an overly optimistic workaround to deal with this problem:

The Defense Department still “lacks a comprehensive strategic plan for addressing its language skills and regional proficiency capabilities,” John H. Pendleton, who wrote the GAO report, told a congressional panel.

[snip]

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, decreed last year that each platoon have at least one soldier who could speak basic Dari, one of the country’s two national languages.

But the troops’ training for the unusually difficult language, which is largely spoken only by Afghanistan’s professional classes (including police), not rural farmers and shopkeepers, lasts only two weeks, soldiers say.

“I doubt you can get much from two weeks,” a Special Operations Forces veteran commented on the Captains Journal military blog last month. “It takes about one year of intense training to speak a language“ and commanders can’t spare ground troops that long.

“If 2 weeks isn’t nearly enough,” added a blog read who indicated he or she was with the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Infantry, “then 1st BDE 101st isn’t on the chart.”

“We’ve been issued pocket references with various vocabulary and phrases broken down phonetically,” the soldier added. “There was a half-hearted attempt at a ‘30 Key Phrases’ program, but it was never enforced.”

Want to pacify a country with neither the native speakers to speak to the local language or the willingness to learn it? Build videogames to try to communicate without language!

We neither have the competence nor are we investing in getting the competence we need to carry out our COIN project. For better or worse, we have not done what the country did during the Cold War, which is establish a bunch of Area Studies centers to gain deep competency in the culture and social science of the areas we were seeking to influence and fund people to go learn these difficult languages. Not to mention, we’re kicking out those in the military who do speak these languages.

Instead, we’re asking kids that probably didn’t join the military because of their linguistic skills to learn Dari in two-week courses and we’re trying to invent some way to successfully establish common goals through the use of computerized, mimed narrative.

This, btw, is the ultimate root of my deep skepticism about COIN. We are a country that is institutionally disinterested in learning about other cultures. One of our biggest exports (in addition to arms) is narratives that deliberately flatten culture. We don’t put much stock in listening.

So no matter which COIN genius General is in charge, no matter how much money and time we throw at the problem, we’re still going to be fighting weaknesses in our own culture and education system.

And inventing nifty videogames along the way.

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154 replies
  1. BoxTurtle says:

    Another part of the problem is picking the right tool for the right job. You’ve got soldiers trying to do the job of diplomats. And overruling diplomats, especially when said diplomats suggest that drones and surges either aren’t working at all or doing more harm than good.

    But blaming the education system…I dunno. Officers go to a military academy, very different from Mi St or OSU. Most of the grunts are high school grads, very few degrees it seems like. Expecting a high school grad to have the background to pick up a language in two weeks is ambitious, at least.

    Not saying our education system doesn’t have weakness. But it takes around 200 quarter hours already to get a 4 year degree in a science or engineering field and nearly half of those credit hours are required courses outside those required for the major. I had a 190 hour plan for my degree and 80 of those hours HAD to be in things like history, literature, philosophy, language arts, etc. How many more hours outside the chosen field of study can we add to a degree program? If you factor in books, I spent more than half my money on classes outside my degree.

    Can’t remember one interview for a real job where any of the classes I took outside my major mattered.

    Boxturtle (Though I still enjoy archeaology)

    • emptywheel says:

      The shape of any discipline is largely set by two different things: high school curricula, and disciplinary self-conception within the academy.

      My complaint with the humanities within the academy is its unwillingness to insist on explaining its application to the real world (whichis why Juan Cole is such an oddity in the academy), and frankly (in lit) some really bizarre conceptions of their discipline’s own utility. One gripe I often had in grad school was that the school primarily employed English grad students as its Composition instructors, those instructors envisioned their role as teaching students to write a good English paper, and many of them insisted that certain things–like visual communication, even simple charts, had no place in their curriculum. As a result, the “English” forced onto science students has little application in their field, and they’re not given the chance to develop their own rhetorical/critical thinking skills in a field that they can apply on a day to day basis.

      One interesting thing about the DARPA description is a paragraph I snipped on education. It seemed to suggest that this narrative stuff would take the place of what–in former colonial situations–education served. Which is all the more interesting since that’s where the modern English department comes from. The entire purpose of splitting “Letters” into “Law” and “LIterature” was tied to the notion that teaching colonial subjects great English literature they’d be enlightened by it. (Though the practical logic was probably closer to just what DARPA is trying to do, providing common narratives that could form the basis for common–if imperially coded–understanding.)

      Of course, for most of the period of US ascendancy, we didn’t need literature departments because we had first Hollywood and then TV. But that doesn’t work so well in a place where significant portions of the community don’t have electricity, much less TVs.

      • emptywheel says:

        I should add that, since most of our Hollywood and TV narratives are premised on values that have little appeal for the Muslim world (partly bc of the real disinterest in spreading the American dream, in fact, rather than the desire for that dream globally, and partly bc the object of violence is so often people of color if not Muslims), our old narrative machine simply doesn’t have the efficacy it had during the Cold War.

      • bobschacht says:

        My complaint with the humanities within the academy is its unwillingness to insist on explaining its application to the real world (whichis why Juan Cole is such an oddity in the academy), and frankly (in lit) some really bizarre conceptions of their discipline’s own utility. One gripe I often had in grad school was that the school primarily employed English grad students as its Composition instructors, those instructors envisioned their role as teaching students to write a good English paper, and many of them insisted that certain things–like visual communication, even simple charts, had no place in their curriculum. As a result, the “English” forced onto science students has little application in their field, and they’re not given the chance to develop their own rhetorical/critical thinking skills in a field that they can apply on a day to day basis.

        EW,
        I snipped this paragraph to send to my niece, who is a junior at Swarthmore, and who thinks that she wants to be an engineer. She is smart enough to make the grade in physics, but has special gifts in English. She needs some humanities courses, but her curriculum is all planned out, with not much space for the humanities.

        Bob in AZ

    • bmaz says:

      200 quarter hours? How does that relate to semester hours? I think it was 128 semester hours required when I graduated back in the dark ages.

      • BoxTurtle says:

        Multiply quarter hours by 2/3 for a rough approximation.

        Boxturtle (It’s a lot more complicated if you’re transfering credits, however)

      • ondelette says:

        I have a language undergraduate degree. It was 80 semester hours in just that language and literature. 1 year of intensive (6 credits/semester course), 1 summer of very intensive (in-country with 2 hours of class and 6 hours of homework per day), 1 year in-country at university with full course load in the foreign language plus mandatory tutoring, 1 year of literature, linguistics, ancient literature and technical language training.

        Not at all collapsible to two weeks, although Dari is Indo-European and I was studing Chinese. I can and do translate for the local government and others from time to time. I have 2200 characters, which means that I still need a dictionary depending on the subject, but I can speak pretty fluently, and I can translate literary Chinese. No longer speak dialects, which I could do somewhat at graduation time. Oh, and about 6 years of other cultural training.

        The military runs one of the best language institutes in the world in Monterey. They turn out interpreters for chrissakes (interpreters are simultaneous translators, a feat that is much harder than normal translation or just speaking another language, even fluently or bilingually). What is in this article and the DARPA statements is just inexcusable. Not that cultural exchange is supposed to be a military function in the first place.

          • ondelette says:

            No, it’s inexcusable that after 10 years the language ability is that of new recruits with 2 weeks of training. That’s the obvious meaning, I thought.

    • bobschacht says:

      …it takes around 200 quarter hours already to get a 4 year degree in a science or engineering field and nearly half of those credit hours are required courses outside those required for the major. I had a 190 hour plan for my degree and 80 of those hours HAD to be in things like history, literature, philosophy, language arts, etc. How many more hours outside the chosen field of study can we add to a degree program? If you factor in books, I spent more than half my money on classes outside my degree.

      My niece just completed her junior year at Swarthmore, and I wish she’d take some humanities courses. She’s doing a combo major in physics and English, but she has no room for any humanities courses. She’s interested in engineering because it pays better, but her personality is really more suited to humanities.

      We don’t reward humanities majors enough.

      Bob in AZ

        • bobschacht says:

          Just got done with some family history field work in Iowa, and a family reunion in Wisconsin, and am now in Memphis next to Graceland, the shrine at which my wife worships. Later this week we’ll go to Nashville and see Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder at the Ryman. So, no, someone else was piloting that errant ROV. I have witnesses to being elsewhere. (*g*)

          Bob in AZ
          Temporarily in TN

            • bobschacht says:

              Well, she realizes that if Elvis was alive today, he’d be 80 years old!
              We toured Graceland today. Cool place; I’d have loved to know Elvis as a musician back in his 20’s, before he was corrupted by Las Vegas. We saw many of his suits of clothes, and the thing that surprised me the most is what a skinny guy he was, with shoulders not much bigger than mine. But he was an awesome talent.

              Getting back to the DARPA thread, it is an interesting thing who controls the mythology of Elvis now. The management of dead heroes has become a cottage industry all in itself. The Elvis mystique has become a model for Michaeol Jackson’s estate to emulate. Of course there is a small shrine to the Tupelo house that Elvis grew up in. But there’s not that much about those early years– The Country Music Hall of Fame in LA covered those years better in their photo exhibit that focused on 1956. The emphasis was on Elvis Presley, superstar. This is, of course, in keeping with the financial interests of the Presley commercial enterprises.

              Bob in AZ

  2. harpie says:

    This is a fabulous post, EW!

    We are a country that is institutionally disinterested in learning about other cultures. One of our biggest exports (in addition to arms) is narratives that deliberately flatten culture. We don’t put much stock in listening.
    So no matter which COIN genius General is in charge, no matter how much money and time we throw at the problem, we’re still going to be fighting weaknesses in our own culture and education system.

    I’m reminded of our response to the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban in spring 2001…9 years ago and six months before 9/11…and this article from the NYT:

    Taliban: War for War’s Sake; Barbara Crossette; 3/18/01

    But what is happening in Afghanistan could be more disturbing yet, in the message it sends a modern world yearning for a dialogue among civilizations.
    The question is: In the deepest, broadest sense, did the Taliban really have any idea what they were doing?
    The movement’s leaders are mostly young sons of illiterate peasants, raised on mine-strewn battlefields and stark refugee camps, and educated in rote sectarian blinders. Do they understand that this act, more than anything else, will be how the world remembers them?
    Even if they know how the world feels, said Frederick Starr, chairman of the Central Asia Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, ”we have revealed an astonishing superficiality in our knowledge of who these people are.

  3. bonjonno says:

    gonna take one helluva story/videogame to make up for a drone taking out a wedding party.

  4. klynn says:

    This, btw, is the ultimate root of my deep skepticism about COIN. We are a country that is institutionally disinterested in learning about other cultures. One of our biggest exports (in addition to arms) is narratives that deliberately flatten culture. We don’t put much stock in listening.

    So no matter which COIN genius General is in charge, no matter how much money and time we throw at the problem, we’re still going to be fighting weaknesses in our own culture and education system.

    And inventing nifty videogames along the way.

    Thank you. Simply, thank you. EW, my background is cross cultural mediation. I have not had a job in cross-cultural mediation in 10 years because of the point you just made. I could write a Seminal diary series on the points you make in this post.

    If the language skills are so limited, why not take the few language specialists and grassroots development workers to one small area and do a focused development? They could vid it and produce a movie showing development and better quality of life concerns that are not culturally offensive quality of life improvements. Use the vid in other areas and just move the team to a next locale once sustainability is reached in the first area?

    Anyway, language skills ARE the bottom line to success. Language, as you point out, is subtle culturally.

    I suspect, this opens doors to allow Christian Missions organizations, which are in the region, to apply for COIN funding. An example would be Wycliffe Bible Translators, masters at cross-cultural communication and education.

    Allow me to illustrate:

    Bob Creson, President of Wycliffe tweeted this on Twitter just in the last five hours…

    The power of education is the real gold in Afghanistan. “Don’t feel sorry for us, be there for us.” http://bit.ly/b4mwOp 5 hours ago

    His link is to this article at WaPo posted on June 16th.

  5. fatster says:

    Wonderfully thoughtful and incisive analysis (as usual), EW. You’ve hit on many points that resonate strongly for many of us, even though we come from a variety of different life, educational and occupational experiences. Shows how pervasive this is. Many thanks for getting it just right.

  6. Rayne says:

    The problem you’ve described here:

    My complaint with the humanities within the academy is its unwillingness to insist on explaining its application to the real world (whichis why Juan Cole is such an oddity in the academy), and frankly (in lit) some really bizarre conceptions of their discipline’s own utility. One gripe I often had in grad school was that the school primarily employed English grad students as its Composition instructors, those instructors envisioned their role as teaching students to write a good English paper, and many of them insisted that certain things–like visual communication, even simple charts, had no place in their curriculum. As a result, the “English” forced onto science students has little application in their field, and they’re not given the chance to develop their own rhetorical/critical thinking skills in a field that they can apply on a day to day basis.

    Also happens within science/technology, and it also happens at a very early age in education — in grade school. The damage is frequently done by 5th grade.

    Far too many students in K-12 are lost to science/technology, particularly girls, because science is not taught in a hands-on manner with practical application realized in coursework. No Child Left Behind has only exacerbated this situation by teaching to tests instead of teaching to comprehension and results. We don’t all learn in the same way, either; we are visual, or auditory, or tactile learners or some combination of the above. We learn better when we have a mix of learning experiences to reinforce what we learn — and yet when our kids lose a month of their school year every year to prep for a federally mandated test, they don’t have any time to augment coursework with reinforcement.

    It’s no wonder kids don’t emerge from our K-12 school system with strong grasp of their own humanities or even science/technology, let alone a second language. Parents have to fight for basics at this point let alone anything above baseline.

    • PJEvans says:

      I think some of it was the establishment discovering, in the late 60s, what happens when you actually teach kids to think.
      (A lot of us who benefited from that post-Sputnik education grew up and became DFHs, either literally or figuratively. They can’t come up with any way to get us back to their idea of what the hoi polloi should be.)

    • klynn says:

      And EW,

      Both of you would enjoy reading this speech from the Designing the Future: A Summit on Engineering Education Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts held in 2001.

      The topic of the speech is liberal arts and engineering and the history behind the two becoming estranged. Starting down at paragraph 5 might speed your reading.

      bonjonoo @ 3 You sum it up beautifully.

    • Gitcheegumee says:

      Rayne, did you have the SRA reading program when you were in grade school,or high school?

      I did, at the Catholic school I attended.

      Anybody here remember ,or have , those reading comprehension programs?

      I think there was also an SRA for Math and Science, too, if I’m not mistaken.

      • Rayne says:

        Yeah, I had SRA. I rather annoyed my teachers by chewing them up in a couple of weeks; students could use them at their own pace, and I read through multiple grade levels in days instead of years.

        I loved the boxes of neatly organized, color-coordinated SRA content. I remember thinking, Yay! I finished the turquoise ones!

        • Gitcheegumee says:

          I was pretty proficient in the program,too.

          I always thought it was responsible for my becoming the ass’t librarian ,there,later on in high school.

  7. JohnLopresti says:

    What was called the IBM personal computer had an instruction manual which seemed written by one of the most over-educated (committees) imaginable in the 80s. With the advent of the Macintosh personal computer, IBM product concept people probably began to ponder how Mac design enabled people who otherwise would have been computer dinosaurs to figure out how to produce literate results without reading the Mac owner*s manual; in fact, it became a social status enhancer to own a Mac manual whose cellophane wrapper remained sealed.

    That said, IBM was undergoing a sea-change in internal policy in the eighties; but I believe throughout that decade IBM*s humanlanguage-based corporate communications cultcha remained pretty much inordinately polysyllabic, profoundly dense, nearly so much so as to be impervious to the inquisitive comp-lit mind.

    I think Darpa does interesting things. I hope they opt to skip the direction a competitor took: Bell Labs; which got sold to French nationalized telco Alcatel.

      • JohnLopresti says:

        The shift was noticeable in the 80s; I am glad to have perceived that reteleologification, both in person in meetings with IBM folks, and, apparently, in the post*s narrative.

        Historically on a topic elsewhere in the thread, I believe there was threat of a treason charge against a member of the peacecorpsInAfghanistan in the 60s. There are many interesting sidelights; a generic standard mention of the changes that outreach organization was undergoing in the 60s is there. Searles has a funny story online. Anecdotally, I read on capnCrunch*s site that he continues working with Darpa (orthography as function of Verdana onscreen appearance solely).

        • emptywheel says:

          Well, to give you some idea of the source of the “heroism,” my dad was at IBM until 1984, when he hit a glass ceiling that tech experts hit.

          I managed to get the scholarship bc my mom (who was one of their earliest woman tech people, though she moved away from the design world when they made her quit as soon as her pregnancy w/my oldest brother showed) stayed at IBM until 1993.

          • TalkingStick says:

            Great analysis of this interesting information.

            FYI At one the national American Psychiatric Assoc. meetings in the seventies IBM and AT&T were discussed as having ideal employer/employee environments and some of these practices were discussed and applauded by the panel. My reaction, and that of others, was that they want to make the US into Disney Land. The ruthlessness of the great bloodbaths of firings of middle management that began not long after proved the lack of genuine interest in employees.

            The sociopath who has no conscience and no empathy must rely on finding ways to manipulate and focuses on the impact his words will have and not on the welfare of the other.

            The way to communicate and negotiate successfully is to be there to serve the other party. One must understand the other party first then the “narrative” can build. This was Mortenson’s success.

            I have no doubt that the DARPA program has sociopathic roots one can hope however that if they are forced to listen and read beyond IT they may become transformed by the process.

          • JohnLopresti says:

            I know a language grad who IBM referred to Xerox Parc in 1969. There was somewhat of a revolution inside IBM to bring the desktop standalone to market by 1980. In 1984 IBM still was using lobbying in WA DC to resist **graymarket** MSDOS platforms* import. I think Msft had a secret deal with the Mac outfit for noncompetition during Mac*s first ten years doing windows. Even in the mid90s the dominant telcos considered a resume bluechip if it included an executive title at IBM. IBM*s direct marketing model was somewhat of an impediment in newly nimble markets. It was somewhat bizarre to watch, as Intel kept its focus on micron physics and drove the CPU competition away.

            So, I appreciate the hero part of the story, and the burdens heros support.

    • Synoia says:

      There was no culture shift in the ’80s at IBM, It took its near failure, the ousting of Akers and arrival of Gerstner to change the culture.

      And the culture is now I’m By Myself.

      IBM lost its leadership in every market segment where is competed, because it was a victim of it’s success, it’s strategy became:

      1. Preserve the revenue stream
      2. We don’t eat our own children

      It was impossible to get anything new through IBM’s business processes. The IBM PC was a complete anomaly, because it was not perceived to impinge on any other product’s revenue.

      However the industry was not motivated by IBM’s needs and just out performed IBM in research, development, sales, marketing and customer needs.

      • liberalarts says:

        I was at IBM for six years. A colleague had a sign on his door, IBM I Been Mislead. The bitterness of the long timers was overwhelming. But another man summed it up pretty well when he said, We used to have two people for every one job. Now we have one person for every two jobs. IBM needed rework but Gerstner gutted the place. I think he threw out the baby with the bathwater, but the market sure loved him.

  8. shaw53 says:

    “We are a country that is institutionally disinterested in learning about other cultures. ”

    Commenters seem to agree that this is the theme of your essay. The historical basis for this attitude beginins w/the religious crazies who populated the east coast in the mid 1600’s. And institutionalized slavery for the next 200 years.

    We as a culture evolved into a manifest destiny ideology, based on a sense of WASP superiority whereas the country’s success was more based on lots of “free” land and resources to use and steal.

    In the same way, the silver spoon rich feel superior, entiltled, that they “earned” their wealth. It’s actually an inferiority complex acted out in a disdain for the humanities, where an opposite truth might be found. Especially in the study of other cultures, language, psychology.

    Not surprising that Chomsky’s “field” is linguistics! Deep observation and listening to other people diminishes the reactionary, ignorant attitude of the undereducated, whether they eat with a silver spoon or plastic spoon.

    • Hmmm says:

      I think you are very close to the mark here. To take it a step further, and probably state it too flatly: Insofar as deeply understanding the other side tends to lead to significant empathy and identification with them, and accommodation (or at least moderation of one’s own position), that’s a bug and not a feature when the context you’re operating within is implementing empire. Because empire’s aim is imposition, not accommodation. This initiative could, perhaps, be seen as potentially pushing that deep understanding role off to the neato videogame. Because cultivating actual understanding would undermine the non-negotiable objective.

      • shaw53 says:

        Bingo…. cultivating actual understanding derails the imperial mission but there must be the appearance of that cultivation. In the world of the insecure control freak, appearances are everything. Including Christian Compassion which was well demonstrated during the Inquisition and which continues currently as enhanced interrogation.

        I consider the entire Pentagon to be a culturally embedded sociopathic control freak.

  9. Minnesotachuck says:

    This is one of the all-time great EW posts, and that’s saying a hell of a lot. First of all we should all get off our butts and kneel down beside our computers facing either Armonk or Yorktown Heights and give thanks to IBM for investing in the US of A by popping for a good portion of Marcy’s education.

  10. Rayne says:

    A major fault with our efforts in Afghanistan — and frankly, anywhere else — is our utter lack of consciousness about the nature of memetics (replicable, transferrable human knowledge). We’re pretty good at understanding genetics, like how they work, how they’re spread, how they compete with other genes for success. And yet we do not grasp that a software counterpart to this hardware also works in a similar fashion, where genes represent the hardware and memes represent the software.

    In Afghanistan we fail to understand their memetics, and how their memetics have been diluted in one place or strengthened in others. We don’t grasp how to insert a change into the memetics which will take and work cooperatively with our memetics while preserving the bulk of theirs.

    More importantly, we’ve failed catastrophically to understand how al Qaeda has acted as a memetic insurgency. Their memes have spread successfully because while trying to excise the physical al Qaeda we’ve actually reinforced the social software which is al Qaeda. Every drone dropped on a wedding party inserts their memes.

    IBM thought it could harness memetics? It could’t even master this in marketing its products against other players in the same space.

    Ditto DARPA. The resources it’s using to develop a program originate from the same entities which cannot master their own market spaces.

    [Just an aside: I note WIRED’s underlying attitude toward DARPA in their use of Darpa instead of DARPA. Interesting.]

  11. Ishmael says:

    Fascinating post EW – although I’m reading this post as perhaps part of the problem – diverted from a comp-lit track to law school (where narrative shaping is replaced with “there is a reason that the priests speak Latin” ethos) and now in government, where the emphasis among the policy wonks I work with is to “tell the right story” to the political masters (eg spin).

    Back in the day, I did work on the role of creole languages, particularly the issue of whether modern English could be said to have developed from a Middle English creole of AngloSaxon and Old French, – starting as a pidgin with limited vocabulary and grammar, heavy on nouns and short on rules, usually to facilitate commerce. Good times! :)

    I share your skepticism about COIN successfully adopting narrative approaches – but outside the military context, perhaps the Peace Corps of the 1960s and other international development efforts have encountered the same difficulties – they may have something to share with the military on these challenges.

      • Ishmael says:

        At the time I worked on this, it wasn’t even clear if Middle English was a creole – some scholars took it for granted and were more interested in the process (ie dominant Norman social status, along with a heavily Latinized written tradition with the monasteries), and others saw it not as a creole (commerce based) but as an organic semantic development, with Scandinavian influences as well as AS, Norman and Latin. I see modern English, perhaps due to more widespread literacy, as having followed the second track in modern days, although English is the modern lanuage of commerce as French used to be the languae of diplomacy.

        • shaw53 says:

          Isn’t English dominant more because it’s a bastard language easily adapted to new input, rather than a commerce-based history?

          Also one of the finest languages for poetry, for the same reason, poetry being the language of metaphor and metaphor being the language of the unconscious, which we all share in common?

          I had a French poet acquaintance who was jealous of native English language poets.

          • Rayne says:

            Ah. Now that’s a meaty comment, especially combined with Ishmael’s at (22). A key reason Latin “died” as a contemporary language is its exclusivity, which also prevented it from being adapted. Or rather, it had already become heavily adapted by local users in the form of Romance languages while segregated by other cultural reinforcement from its original form, to the point where one form remained alive and the other no longer had utility for the majority of the people.

            Pick a software language or product — any of them — and ask why some are successful and some are not, and why the levels of business success among some IT companies mirrors the uptake/decline of their software. You’ll see correlations. Languages which are responsive to the needs of the users remain alive.

            In the case of French, I think of certain proprietary software-based products which reject any outside influence. The language remains alive because it possesses a level of ubiquity (many people speak it around the world), and because it has a lock on a sizable “market.”

          • Ishmael says:

            Well, that’s the debate, the extent to which English is a “bastard language”, of which a creole is an example, or the result of other linguistic influences. English is a very noun based language, which makes it easy to incorporate other nouns very easily, and is much less inflected than other European languages, which also aids importation of words and makes it easier to learn to speak (and imposes far fewer limitations on the poets than French). These are elements which aid commercial communication (hence the creole theory), but language has many influences – the extent to which modern Engish, for example, is a “killer” of other languages.

    • bmaz says:

      Ishmael! Thought we had lost you; good to see you again. It would be an interesting discussion some sleepy weekend to have a bull session among the many here as to what study of “the law”, at least as perpetrated by law schools as we commonly know them – and then the practice of law – does to an otherwise creative and apt mind. Nothing good would be my first volley….

      • JohnLopresti says:

        DahliaLithwick in a 2002 depiction of lawschool living, proclaimed **misery is over-rated**. There is another quote of hers somewhere, I am searching.

      • Ishmael says:

        Much like finance I would say – for many reasons, like prestige and (sometimes) high incomes, the law attracts too much of our society’s brainpower. And on balance, while I think that the legal way of approaching problems enhances some types of critical reasoning, it also tends to stunt creativity and destroy your ability to write persuasively and well. WHen I am cynical I believe that it tends to reward the ability to obscure and confuse as opposed to creative thinking. The common law system is a great paradox – it is all about incremental progress of values applied to human relations, developed over time, but at the same time it’s most sacred value is respect for precedent and stare decisis.

        • bmaz says:

          And on balance, while I think that the legal way of approaching problems enhances some types of critical reasoning, it also tends to stunt creativity and destroy your ability to write persuasively and well. WHen I am cynical I believe that it tends to reward the ability to obscure and confuse as opposed to creative thinking. The common law system is a great paradox – it is all about incremental progress of values applied to human relations, developed over time, but at the same time it’s most sacred value is respect for precedent and stare decisis.

          Agreed with all that. Although I think a great many lawyers may not be too imbued with the critical reasoning so much as just the cutthroat “how can I parse and twist to win” type of skills. The traditional legal education and products thereof seem to be something different than what is being produced and evidenced today. But maybe I am wrong to focus on the law in that manner, you are spot on about finance realm as well. Indeed, I guess this is where my little expressed view of the world above meets head on the subject and philosophy of EW’s post. Really maybe it is a cultural/educational shift that is striking across the board.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            I think the genus of lawyers has two species, with many subspecies. One uses the law to set limits on governments, people and the trains of cause and effect they set in motion, which are meant to be precise or flexible as the real world requires.

            The other is like the cuckoo, in that it uses the law to subvert those limits to gratify itself (and occasionally its clients) at the expense of its host, which exhausts itself trying to meet the needs of something it mistakes for one of its own.

          • emptywheel says:

            Two points.

            One, I really do think back to the time when Law and Lit split. I do think Lit is stunted and inapplicable to our society. Law is all too applicable, but in a very limited realm, one in which many of the participants are yoked to big corporate interests early on because of school loans.

            So we’ve lost the study of what used to be called Letters (or, in more limited terms, Rhetoric). That’s the pity, because you then split the sophisticated use of language into either highly utilitarian or entirely non-utilitarian fields (though, again, when nation-states were making Lit departments in the 19th century, they have very crass utilitarian interests for them, not least establishing narratives with which to colonize).

            On finance note that one of the things that has been happening since the 1980s is the increasing move of humanities people into Finance for their analytical ability. It’s something Michael Lewis has talked about.

  12. shaw53 says:

    There’s a remarkable sense in closed groups of groupthink. Thinking outside the group kinda means leaving the group. Sounds a little lonely to me.

    The military thinking of using the humanities to ingratiate themselves onto those whom they are also bombing? uhhh… lemme think about that

    If a dude in the MIC decided to become a compassionate humanitarian and help other peoples he would have to renounce his association the MIC itself.

    When I was a CO (not Commanding Officer) during Nam they wanted me to be a medic. What, patch ’em up and send ’em back in? I don’t think so. VA hospital, OK.

  13. shaw53 says:

    What I love about Marcy is her dogged nailing down of all the little facts so I can find temporary relief from the deluge of disinformation.

    Most observers seem to form an opinion first then make the facts fit the fiction. (sorry)

    In psychology, as in other humanitarian studies, observation/analysis/discussion trumps firm conclusion.

    We are discussing psychology here, right, as in PsyOps?

  14. Mary says:

    This is a super post, EW, with lots of interesting discussion right off the bat. I only have a couple of cups of coffee worth of time, but I’ll look forward to re-reading this evening to see what accumulates.

    I hope everyone will get a chance to read through on the things people are linking, bc I think they add a lot as well.

    Klynn, your link to the Parker piece (via the tweet link) made me think of two things in particular. The first is that whenever right wing conservative movemetn types are faced with strains of their own ideology in a different cultural setting, their response is topush for more conservatism to solve the problems push for liberal arts education. From your link, “The key, it seems, lies in educating the rising generation of Afghans — in the liberal arts as well as in the technologies needed to advance this new economic potential.”

    Second, when she hit on the celebration of Laura Bush and the American University as saviors, it made me remember this piece by Ann Jones that has stuck with me since I read it (here it is referencing the pre-2006 era, but not a lot seems to have changed with the Changling):

    The Bush administration often deliberately misrepresents its aid program for domestic consumption. Last year, for example, when the President sent his wife to Kabul for a few hours of photo ops, the New York Times reported that her mission was “to promise long-term commitment from the United States to education for women and children.” Speaking in Kabul, Mrs. Bush pledged that the United States would give an additional $17.7 million to support education in Afghanistan. As it happened, that grant had previously been announced — and it was not for Afghan public education (or women and children) at all, but to establish a brand-new, private, for-profit American University of Afghanistan catering to the Afghan and international elite. (How a private university comes to be supported by public taxpayer dollars and the Army Corps of Engineers is another peculiarity of Bush aid.)
    Ashraf Ghani, the former finance minister of Afghanistan and president of Kabul University, complained, “You cannot support private education and ignore public education.” But typically, having set up a government in Afghanistan, the U.S. stiffs it, preferring to channel aid money to private American contractors. Increasingly privatized, U.S. aid becomes just one more

    In the intro to this piece, there’s a quote from her book (which I have kept meaning to buy, but never have, and now I am re-reminded) that makes some of the points of this post and DARPA’s issues

    Jones herself spent the better part of four years working with small, humanitarian NGOs in Kabul, investigating the conditions of women in Afghan prisons (abysmal), teaching English to Afghan schoolteachers (“Once, after I explained what blind date meant, a woman said, ‘Like my wedding.'”)

    You also linked to 3 Cups of Tea, and one of the many things that stayed with me after that book (not a literary masterpiece, but a really interesting story) was the description of 9/11 being relayed to the author, in the mountainous Pashtun area, by men who had so little information input and access – certainly not Mikey Hayden’s array of voyeurs.

    One thing that has emerged now as the “narrative” of our torture programs, since it has become clear that they did not reveal and were not implemented to reveal terrorist attacks, was that they were still *necessary* because we “learned about al-Qaeda” through them. Not operational plans, but, ya know, how they thought, how they were organized, who liked tighty whiteys, etc.

    And yet, there in the mountains, men who didn’t work with al-Qaeda and who were hosting an American who had helped them build a school – a school for girls – knew absolutely and immediately that the attack had to have been originated from Bin Laden. These were men who didn’t need to be tortured to offer up information on Bin Laden and when you think a bit more about the narratives, how could we ever have any hope of success in Afghanistan if the only way for us to begin to learn about the al-Qaeda narrative was to torture?

    As a negotiation mechanism, though, it fits right into the DARPA guidelines; hire a mime, simulate torture. bingbingbing – winwinwin

    Really, if they want a non-language based interaction, you experts may come up with something for them, but it seems to me that they will never trump the no-language-necessary images of Abu Ghraib.

    Rambling on, though, I think the fact that we don’t even have an internal narrative is going to be fatal to efforts to engage in selling a nearrative externally. Especially (going to the first comment) when the sales pitch is coming from someone(s) who is living a very different narrative than the one they are charged with selling.

    The very same, and very big, disconnects that were coming through in the book salon with Junger come through in the Rolling Stones piece on McChrystal and come through any and every time Afghanistan takes center stage (and I think it is another reason it doesn’t take center stage much). Junger starts off with arguing that since we killed lots of French in WWII its fine to kill lots of Afghans in our current little problem over there, in order to “drive out” the Taliban like we “drove out” the German army. OTOH, when you push him on that (we drove the Germany army to somewhere, and then were able to deal with it on an institutional level, whereas our avowed goal with the Taliban isn’t to drive them back within a national boundary but to exterminate them, which involves extermination of ideology, etc.) he says that the reason we are in Afghanistan isn’t to drive the Taliban like a German army, it’s to rebuild infrastructure and economy to pre-Soviet invasion levels (recontstruction).

    McChrystal’s narrative of “coin” *we are here to help the Afghans and protect them and make friends* in the RS article gets contrasted with the narrative of the soldiers who are watching their buddies be killed and who are living under covert and open attack – their language and narrative, in outbursts that they later try to walk back a bit for the journo – is to bomb the whole effing place to bits, to kill them all – its the language of the soldiers from My Lai to Haditha (talking about the native population in their area as “all bad guys” including women and children).

    We don’t have, and have never had, a cohesive narrative on Afghan that survives any baseline honesty. So how do we sell narratives? The narrative we sold our 20somethings going to the military, from 9/11 foreward, was a narrative of “they” attacked us and “we” need to go kick “their” butt, we need to, as Mattis said, go have “us” some fun killing “those” guys. Then, without differentiation capacities, we are co-extensively selling the story that “we” are there to help “those” guys.

    They don’t have an internal narrative that doesn’t require sybillic analytic skills (luckily possessed by few) so how do they sell a narrative, even if they could begin to understand all the narratives on the other side of the table?

    I guess a last thing I’ll toss out before I go is the “mutual accomodation” issues. To try to do this with no language skills and with 21 yos who have been living through sniper attacks, etc. – it is not a match made in heaven. You are not talking, in the end, about win-wins, the easy sales pitches. You are talking about keeping the battlefields – real and metaphorical – less bloodied. It’s not a great analogy, but the perspective I’d bring comes from my brief stint years back working on troubled loan workouts.

    No offense to the litigators here or to business owners, but they almost never were accomplished successfully with the “gladiators” handling the negotiations. Often, they were even difficult to accomplish when the vested interests – the reps from the lead bank(s) and or bank officers who had authorized and not monitored etc. and the operational officers or primary owners of the troubled entity – were too prominently at the table. You had to buffer to accomplish and you had to get everyone backed off of their piece of ground and you had to be able to switch hats really fast; so that “your” guys in your backroom believed in you as an advocate for what they wanted, but “their” guys could also trust you as a facilitator.

    In the end, what you really needed to have and to not just have, but to use, was the ability to tell your client “NO.” And I think that’s where DARPA is going to find they fail. Telling upchain “no” isn’t, as we’ve just been exposed to, part of the military vocabulary. But there’s just as much a failure in that regard on the diplomatic front and especially on the political front. Just as Bush and Obama have surrounded themselves with lawyers who never learned (maybe because their roles were always as gladiators, be it prosecutorial or political) to tell their clients no, they have done and are doing the same in their wider fields.

    Obama, who has never bothered with settling on the domestic narrative (bc it is so much easier in the short run to play political hopscotch), sternly intones the need for a unilateral approach, all under his direction, as he fires McChrystal.

    Just as there was never a Sat Night massacre equivalent of lawyers in the Bush or Obama admin, over things as basic and intrinsic as torture murders, there is no one else in any other institution that has taken it upon themselves to say NO. It looks like, very possibly, that may have happened over some Iranian assaults during the Bush years, and if so we can be glad of that, but by and large, you can’t have successful negotiations when the negotiators has no power to tell his principal no and when the principal lives in solely in the manic phase of their bipolar existence. /ramble

    • emptywheel says:

      We don’t have, and have never had, a cohesive narrative on Afghan that survives any baseline honesty. So how do we sell narratives?

      Well, as compared with the Cold War, I’m not sure we’ve got a successful narrative at all.

      The Cold War narrative that we were about “freedom,” ostensibly meaning personal freedom but actually meaning capitalism, at least worked. Jazz and rock, all by themselves, did a lot of the work for us (then again, I’m biased by having read too much Czech dissident literature, which had a bigger penchant for rock than a lot of the people we targeted with our narrative.

      So what do we have now? Not freedom, not if we’re torturing everyone. And the capitalism=freedom narrative doesn’t work now that Asia is kicking our ass. And for domestic consumption we’re increasingly reverting to the kind of cultural superiority complex that 19th century colonial powers did. But they had better literature. Even our movies increasingly suck.

      • Ishmael says:

        The “narrative” has shifted so many times I’ve lost count – getting bin Laden, preventing a failed state that could shelter terrorists, building schools, educating women, the war on drugs, keeping the Chinese away from the Afghan “treasure trove”, keeping Pakistan under control – something for everyone. It starts to remind you of the Iraq war and Wolfowitz’ rare moment of candour when he said the WMDs was chosen because everyone could agree on it.

      • bmaz says:

        Isn’t the title a tad off in a way? “DARPA Seeking CompLit Experts”. Really, they are not. Instead, they are looking for geeks to write a computer program to simulate a comp-lit approach.

      • Rayne says:

        You’re talking about an insurgency within our own culture which can not only bypass the dominant narratives or memes, but insert into Afghan culture and supplant other competing narratives/memes at the same time.

        And we have to achieve both using an incredibly broad spectrum of tools — those of the 21st century and those of the 19th century and earlier.

        Any successful insurgent narrative and the meme bundle it conveys must be built on universal ethics and archetypes. It’s that which needs to be mined, but if the humans tasked with this aren’t conscious of these, it’s awfully hard for products of consciousness like those DARPA is attempting to develop to find them.

        As Einstein said, A problem cannot be solved by the same state of consciousness which created it. Going to have to shift the consciousness of entire cultures simultaneously.

    • klynn says:

      You caught a bit of my drift when I wrote to EW that I could write a diary series on the issues discussed…

      Thanks. Look forward to the next comment.

    • bmaz says:

      Jeebus. You weren’t done after all that?? Am installing a toll booth/word counter for your portal. My daughter is gonna need to go to college one of these days ya know…..

      • Mary says:

        LOL – the 14 was to remind me what comment I last read. But yeah, a word counter would probably come in handy.

        @36 – I disagree. He was there embedded with troops, troops who are putting their lives on the line. If he has no cohesive concept that works, it means they don’t. And they are the ones there to sell to the Afghans why we are there. And that’s a big part of what this post is about – the “human terrain” and COIN boot-to-boot, soldiers with village elders approach. It wouldn’t matter if they did have a lovely set of policies upstream if they were lost downstream. The fact that they don’t have upstream or downstream is just a broader freeze frame of the issues. But @39 – I agree with that.

        @40 – I don’t think we have one to sell either.

  15. Rayne says:

    This comes close to what needed to be articulated during the Junger salon:

    The very same, and very big, disconnects that were coming through in the book salon with Junger come through in the Rolling Stones piece on McChrystal and come through any and every time Afghanistan takes center stage (and I think it is another reason it doesn’t take center stage much). Junger starts off with arguing that since we killed lots of French in WWII its fine to kill lots of Afghans in our current little problem over there, in order to “drive out” the Taliban like we “drove out” the German army. OTOH, when you push him on that (we drove the Germany army to somewhere, and then were able to deal with it on an institutional level, whereas our avowed goal with the Taliban isn’t to drive them back within a national boundary but to exterminate them, which involves extermination of ideology, etc.) he says that the reason we are in Afghanistan isn’t to drive the Taliban like a German army, it’s to rebuild infrastructure and economy to pre-Soviet invasion levels (recontstruction).

    It’s also why Junger was the wrong guy to press about policy; he wasn’t there to cover it.

    I’m going to use the hardware/software analogy again, because it is readily accessible as a model. Combat is the point at which hardware must function to execute and realize an outcome; policy is the software, and it consists of many different layers. The software has become corrupted in a myriad of ways, and the hardware cannot produce the results requested by the corruptions, let alone produce to expectations (which may no longer be represented in the software because of corruptions).

    Junger is merely telling us about the hardware functions, it does so in a crappy environment, but he cannot tell us about all the corruptions in the software driving the hardware. That’s not what he was covering. At best he can tell us about some disconnects between orders and results.

    The higher level software corruptions and failures are supposed to be addressed by our policymakers and legislators, but that’s where we must step in. It’s ultimately us who write the fundamental operating system on which all of this is based. If it’s flawed, so is everything else which is predicated on it.

    • Rayne says:

      Meant to add: and the wrong hardware is being used too frequently. To paraphrase somebody I was speaking with yesterday, a hammer is being used on a wrench problem. The outcome is exacerbated by bad, corrupted software.

      I’m thinking of the iconic image of a guitar on which was written, “This machine kills fascists.” It’s almost koan-like, a teaching tool for the nature of the problem we face.

  16. earlofhuntingdon says:

    We are a country that is institutionally disinterested in learning about other cultures. One of our biggest exports (in addition to arms) is narratives that deliberately flatten culture. We don’t put much stock in listening.

    Individual Americans are often wholly unlike that, but among elite institutions and as a corporate power, that descriptions fits us precisely. Eight years of Karl Rove and nearly two of Rahm Emanuel have only weakened the tie between words and meaning.

    Although a nation of immigrants, we don’t like foreign cultures. Although language oils the wheels of commerce, employers deride it as a non-skill, something everyone has to the desired level and isn’t worth paying for. Although good citizenship depends upon it, schools teach and governments prefer indoctrination. That requires language skills that can digest government and MSM pablum but not see through Orwellian newspeak.

    Our stoutest leaders deride learning a foreign language or its public use here. They even deride reporters who ask, in their presence, questions of a foreign head of state in his own language and in his own country. Communication with citizens of all stripes and colors is less important, it seems, than catering to the prejudices of a few with fat wallets. As Mencken might say, the language of America is money and too many speak it poorly.

    A face may launch a war, a cartoon may launch a religious vendetta, but “narratives” put out by propagandists who don’t know their target audience, their language or their culture are not likely to stop them.

    • Gitcheegumee says:

      EOH, That is a superb post.

      As someone who spoke French BEFORE I ever learned English, much of what you ,and others have written,have a particular resonance for me.

      It always struck me as odd how the person who is disdainful of foreign speaking persons here in this country, consider it a luxury to vacation in the country of that person’s origin. Example, Mexico,or France.

      • emptywheel says:

        There was a study done during 2004, asking where people vacationed and tying it to political party. Republicans were traveling, by large, large margins, solely to Ireland or Greece (it hosted the Olympics, and I’d imagine Republicans have better access to tickets, many of which are used for barter by corporations). Democrats were traveling all over.

        I read that before I went to Ireland and, for family reasons, had to camp out in a tourist town before descending on Mr. EW’s family’s house. I had a very engaging discussion with some arch arch conservatives. but maybe that was just odd luck.

        • Gitcheegumee says:

          Now , that IS interesting.

          Although my native tongue is French, my dad is second generation Irish Catholic Yankee (Brooklyn, New York ,no less,) by way of County Cork.

          (My paternal grandfather worked at Ellis Island,btw.)

          Several years ago,after a trek to London, I decided to visit the old home place in Erin,but the political unrest got so contentious ,I cancelled my ticket.

          Pity,but I still hope to get there someday soon…

          Thank you for the info about the 2004 study, WHO knew..but you? *G*

  17. seaglass says:

    If all else fails we just use a drone and you become the narrative to a Video game where you die for real. Then a coffee break and another target. Wasn’t that easy?

  18. CAOgdin says:

    As a long-time successful practitioner/teacher in the field of (the horribly named) “Neuro-Linguistic Programming” (aka NLP), I know there’s a whole body of useful methodologies, and I can attest to their power and flexibility as a tool to communicate with anybody (even someone with a different language) about anything.

    However, with DARPA’s mindset, as reflected in many of the posts here, because NLP isn’t a recognized “academic” discipline (no, it’s a technology that WORKS, damn it!), it will never be considered by them.

    What a shame, really. Because building trust is the core of the required mission, and “trust” doesn’t even enter into the academic dialog of stories and narratives. Just take, for instance, the value of metaphor in building trust (which isn’t limited to spoken/written language): If you don’t grasp the underlying structure of all metaphor, how can you possibly synthesize new and useful strategies based on metaphor? Most formal texts on metaphor aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

    Academia may be the wrong place for DARPA to be looking…but, DARPA is a bureaucracy, intent on justifying it’s own world view, so they won’t look outside the “disciplines.” Which is why DARPA has had so few ground-breaking inventions in recent years.

    Nice idea, and still worthy of pursuit. I just have little confidence that DARPA’s academic approach will yield usable results.

    • emptywheel says:

      Well, one of the things many narratives have is a narrator so omnipotent that he (often) builds not trust but enchantment for his readers. I do think trust plays a part in some kinds of narratives, but the narratives our society tends to fund and therefore replicate are ones built not on trust but on power and manipulation.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Hence, BP’s and the MSM’s meme of “do you ‘trust’ BP?”. That substitutes emotional comfort for the more challenging question of its components. Does BP say what it means and mean what it says, does it promise the right things and timely fulfill those promises, while wreaking no further havoc along the way?

        BP isn’t a neighbor, friend or former lover. It’s a legal fiction with an unlimited lifespan, an enormously powerful business that acts through hundreds of talented, persuasive, ruthless and rich executives, whose lives, jobs and wealth depend on lowering BP’s costs, raising its resources and revenue, and persuading people to ignore how dangerous is its business. The same applies to other business and many aspects of government.

      • bobschacht says:

        I do think trust plays a part in some kinds of narratives, but the narratives our society tends to fund and therefore replicate are ones built not on trust but on power and manipulation.

        I do hope this thread is not dead yet– I’ve been traveling most of the day, but wanted to add something to this observation of EW’s: Of course our society tends to fund and therefore replicate the narratives built not on trust but on power and manipulation. Endless examples could be cited. The aristocracy funds the artists and subsidizes their productions. It is clear, for example, that Geoffrey of Monmouth was subsidized by the royalty whose ancestry appears so favorably, and in such detail, in his works. Another favorite example of mine is Parzifal, the entire theme of which is that Blood will Out, i.e., the superior “blood” of aristocrats will be revealed even when a child of royalty is brought up in a brutish environment and deprived of all the benefits of education in a royal court. This is the norm in ancient literature.

        There are interesting counter-examples, but these mainly come to play in environments in which an audience other than the aristocracy can actually afford to pay enough to attract the interest of the artists (musicians, poets, and actors). This is a rich potential field for sociopolitical literature study. Think, for example of Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung, in which Wotan does not appear as the sharpest tool in the toolbox, and in fact, his vain attempts at being pater familias winds up bringing the whole house of cards down on his own head.

        Bob in AZ

  19. TalkingStick says:

    What a shame, really. Because building trust is the core of the required mission, and “trust” doesn’t even enter into the academic dialog of stories and narratives. Just take, for instance, the value of metaphor in building trust (which isn’t limited to spoken/written language): If you don’t grasp the underlying structure of all metaphor, how can you possibly synthesize new and useful strategies based on metaphor? Most formal texts on metaphor aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

    Your post describes little more than a technology of manipulation. Customer service if you will.

    Manipulation may work for a while but it imbues the objects with immense anger which comes forth with the revelation of lack of sincerity.

    I say good for them for looking to the arts and humanities. As I suggest some may become transformed from contact with the authentic.

  20. fatster says:

    So, you take our troops who are trained to kill or be killed, who are in a hostile environment, who probably have a high school level of education, and so forth, and expect them to learn how to role-play with people who are not just from an entirely different culture, but whose lives are severely disrupted daily by organized violence against them conducted by those same troops? And the objective is to get the people whose land our troops have invaded to accept–what? Pacification? Western culture?

    Wonder what this would feel like from the point-of-view of a soldier–engage with these people for a few hours in armed conflict and then turn around the next few hours and engage with them as though you’re a member of the Peace Corps?

    Strikes me as rather bizarre, but, then, whatta I know?

    • Gitcheegumee says:

      Wonder how we would feel if the shoe were on the OTHER foot,say, down the line if a foreign power was occupying THIS country…say,oh, simply for example…China?

  21. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Here is a good example of the abuse of language from Charlie Savage and Glenn Greenwald. The subject is Obama’s purported interest in closing of Gitmo. Savage entitles his article, Closing Guantánamo Fades as a Priority, which Glennwald uses to ask whether closing Gitmo was ever a priority or only an election promise.

    In any case, one senior official said, even if the administration concludes that it will never close the prison, it cannot acknowledge that because it would revive Guantánamo as America’s image in the Muslim world.

    “Guantánamo is a negative symbol, but it is much diminished because we are seen as trying to close it,” the official said. “Closing Guantánamo is good, but fighting to close Guantánamo is O.K. Admitting you failed would be the worst.”

    That is so vintage Obama administration: we’re not going to do the things we said we would, but we’re going to keep pretending that we will and claim we want to in order to keep our rubes devoted and believing. That deceit works with many Democrats, but it does not seem to be working in the Muslim world, where people are far less politically faithful and gullible and want to see actual actions, not pretty words, and thus are growing increasingly disenchanted with both the U.S. and Obama. The reality is that closing Guantanamo has been discarded because of the Obama administration’s general embrace of the Bush/Cheney Terrorism template; if you are going to retain a system of due-process-free indefinite detentions, then closing Guantanamo makes little sense.

    The abuse of language and reporting is not by Charlie Savage; it belongs to the credulous or Brooksian editor who chose the title for his piece.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      The abuse of government and the electorate, on the other hand, as well as prisoner abuse at Gitmo and elsewhere, is now owned by Team Obama.

    • Gitcheegumee says:

      That deceit works with many Democrats, but it does not seem to be working in the Muslim world, where people are far less politically faithful and gullible and want to see actual actions, not pretty words, and thus are growing increasingly disenchanted with both the U.S. and Obama.-EOH

      So, when you have a populace that does not UNDERSTAND your language symbols(words), your visible ACTIONS become of paramount importance.It isn’t what they say, its what they do..or don’t do…that counts in the final analysis.

      I have taken to muting much of the political palaver…and i am investing in a new set of eyeglasses.

    • Mary says:

      Admitting you never intended to do anything but fail – evenmoreworser.

      @59 – or there’s the one about the tar baby.

      @73 – but you’ve got the expertise and background for it.

      bookmarking #73

  22. Hugh says:

    One way to fill that breach, Darpa figures, is through “interactive stories.”

    How about “Once upon a time there was a big, bad hegemon that went around gobbling up small countries, like yours, ……”

    I think I could get the hang of this. Where do I send my résumé?

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      You missed the part where the locals asks the storyteller about his big teeth and ears.

      • Hugh says:

        You missed the part where the locals asks the storyteller about his big teeth and ears.

        The ears are the better to hear you with and the teeth are to win hearts and minds (chomp, chomp).

  23. Synoia says:

    Automated propaganda won’t work.
    Ask the Russians who lived under communist rule.
    Ask the progressives who no longer believe Obama.

    Where every speech for a leader is ridiculed, in inflection and tine, with the exact self same words.

    • Gitcheegumee says:

      There is a fascinating entry for the Father of propaganda, Edward Bernays,in Wikipedia.

      A double nephew of Sigmund Freud, the term Banana Republic was coined during his PR work for the United Fruit Company, in South America and the overthrow of Guzman.

      Edward Bernays – Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaBernays’ propaganda (documented in the BBC documentary, The Century of the … ISBN 978-0804615112, fulltext online; This Business of Propaganda (1928) …
      en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bernays – Cached – Similar

      • TalkingStick says:

        To make the record clear. Sigmund Freud considered the manipulation of people through psychological techniques to be the greatest of unethical behavior. It remains virtually the “first principle” of psychoanalysis (and for this person all schools of psychotherapy.). He did early on experiment with hypnosis and other methods of suggestion and then rejected them.

        He also considered group psychology to be a whole different discipline with the principles of psychoanalytic theory not applicable.

        btw he and nuclrar family barely escaped extermination by the Nazis. Three of his elderly sisters did not.

        • Gitcheegumee says:

          That is very interesting.TS.

          Goes to show that we should select our friends very carefully,as we have no choice when it comes to selecting our relatives.

  24. VMT says:

    Counterinsurgency, in many ways, is a series of negotiations — over economic development, over security, over political power. And “negotiation,” Darpa explains in a new request for information, “is best served by a culturally-specific narrative that explains why we hold a position, how it relates to other parties, and how it affects all parties both positively and negatively.”

    They are on the right track, but they’re fumbling around in the dark. The military is essentially conceding that diplomacy is their only realistic solution for avoiding drawn out, meaningless warfare. Unfortunately, they have very few diplomatic resources because they have privileged military hardware and training in their funding over human communication.

    • liberalarts says:

      We’ve forgotten what a military is for. War, maximum damage in minimum time, to win. Period. A military has no other purpose. By forcing, and allowing, the military to subsume more and more of the functions and budgets of other agencies and departments, we’ve perverted function and spending. All around. The system is sick and dysfunctional, to use a word I really dislike. Kind of resembles the effect of pituitary tumors on human growth: startlingly tall and extremely weak. Extending any function past its inherent limits is disastrous.

      • Rayne says:

        Yes, absolutely. But there has been a conscious effort on the part of the military industrial complex to increase the size of the war machine and its power, including enlargement through the co-option of functions for which it is horribly suited and for which it was never intended. Diplomacy and related development functions don’t belong in the defense portfolio. Neither does law enforcement, and yet the monsters of the MIC insist on pulling state and justice into their fold.

        This is the corruption of the software in process, trying to rewrite the policy/programming around the tools/hardware.

        But we haven’t done an effective job of killing the memes which set the corruption in motion to begin with. What is the motivation of the MIC to begin with?

        • liberalarts says:

          Personal agenda. I worked in the MIC for, oh, 25 years or so, as an employee of sub sub contractors of prime and sub defense contractors. (These systems become dizzingly complex over time and with money.) Lots of people, especially the ones who had external self-image needs, posed as patriots, you know, helping to hold up the umbrella of national defense. Maybe. But I worked for a paycheck. And so, I suspect, did they. When you ascend the positional/pay ladder, status and power come into play.

          We’re not an impersonal species. Everything revolves around personal issues. (Don’t get me started on medical people.) There’s incalculable amounts of power and status and money to be had. That’s more than enough for human motivation, and like all emplaced systems, inertia keeps the system in motion. Chalmers Johnson doesn’t think it’s possible to stop the system now. I describe America as late stage empire. I think the skids are greased and there’s no turning back. I wish I could say differently, but look at the size of the system and consider that you don’t know the half of it.

          • Rayne says:

            I wish I didn’t know the half of it. Worked for several of Fortune 100 companies in my lifetime, household names. What you’ve described is no different inside these super-sized organizations. The complexity can be very deliberate, a means to shelter assets and shift risk. The personal issues at mid- and upper-level eventually narrow down to two: money and power.

            Until there’s a crisis which threatens its business model, you’re right, inertia maintains their direction. We missed our chance with a crisis, one of their own making; unfortunately, a crisis big enough to cause a reset of all business models would have resulted in devastating losses to the people. Until we can find a way to sever the interests and needs of the people from these institutions, there will be no stopping the system.

            • shaw53 says:

              The system cannnot be stopped. But I can get off the train by various means. The first is found right here on this blog… real dialog re what the Hell is really goin’ on. Explore, debate and dialog are propaganda-busters.

              I see the MIC as just another huge, blood-sucking corporation that has great advertising selling crap as invaluable. The memes of Big Daddy protecting the red white and blue is pure drivel. Its cough syrup that gives you cancer.

              Opting out is another way. Complex, but do-able. Many people are establishing local control over their food, health, energy and information needs and living below the IRS threshold for feeding the Beast of the MIC.

              • liberalarts says:

                I agree. Local, and state where you can. That’s how the fundies took over the Republican party. Strategically, it’s completely sound.

  25. MaryCh says:

    {apologies in advance, ‘specially if I’m FOS:}

    Marcy, did you mean disinterested (connoting neutral) or uninterested (not caring about.) I wouldn’t quibble, but your quote is a focus of comments.

    {/grammar police wannabe}

  26. Cujo359 says:

    I think you can boil this thing down to two basic lessons:

    1. We Americans don’t value education nearly enough to be running the world.

    2. DARPA does some crazy shit sometimes.

  27. rmwarnick says:

    The U.S. military has had nine years to develop Pashto and Dari communication skills, without success. I’ve got no Afghan language ability, but I can deduce what they are saying — “Yankee Go Home.”

  28. Oval12345678akaJamesKSayre says:

    Why don’t we simply start acting like human beings instead of being such imperial pricks around the planet? No “strategy” needed…

  29. Propagandee says:

    Maybe some Trekie at DARPA was inspired by the episode “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra”, from Star Trek The Next Generation, considered by many Trekies to be the best ever.

    “Picard is captured, then trapped on a planet with an alien captain who speaks a metaphorical language incompatible with the universal translator. They must learn to communicate with each other before the beast of the planet overwhelms them. ”

  30. Propagandee says:

    Here’s how the episode is summarized at

    http://memory-alpha.org/wiki/Darmok_%28episode%29

    “Picard is captured, then trapped on a planet with an alien captain who speaks a metaphorical language incompatible with the universal translator. They must learn to communicate with each other before the beast of the planet overwhelms them.

  31. liberalarts says:

    You know what’s interesting, here. Lots of commentary on why the military isn’t succeeding in it’s narrative hearts and minds ventures and how that sort of thing works, but not one comment questioning whether the military ought to be doing it. You’re all picking apart the weaknesses of execution, not the policy, itself.

    • Rayne says:

      See my (82). I’ll say it again: diplomacy and development along with law enforcement do not belong in the defense portfolio.

      Fundamentally, this administration did not generate an effective problem statement about Afghanistan. Try it yourself: The problem with Afghanistan is _____________________ (fill in the blank). They are throwing available bodies in the form of military at the problem, but they really haven’t effectively stated what the problem is let alone identified an effective solution.

      Here’s a graf from Gen. McChrystal’s summary, excerpted from his initial assessment of Afghanistan late last summer/early fall:

      …NATO’s Comprehensive Strategic Political Military Plan and President Obama’s strategy to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al Qaeda and prevent their return to Afghanistan have laid out a clear path of what we must do. Stability in Afghanistan is an imperative; if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban — or has insufficient capability to counter transnational terrorists — Afghanistan could again become a base for terrorism, with obvious implications for regional stability.

      This is what a military commander charged with solving a problem sees, but the problem he’s been given is poorly defined and what little has been defined is not his purview as military commander. Afghanistan has issues with identity combined with development challenges, and nothing the military does is appropriate to resolving these issues.

      • liberalarts says:

        Yes, you did write that. Let’s stop the argument here. We’re in agreement generally. I’m not up for parsing details. We’ve allowed the military to get into things they aren’t made for. Late stage empire.

    • fatster says:

      Basically, it’s the contradiction, isn’t it? The military cannot be the equivalent of the Peace Corps.

      Wonder how many millions of our tax dollars they’ll spend before they reach the “Duh” point?

    • bobschacht says:

      You’re absolutely right– but we can blame that all on Rumsfeld, who wanted to absorb every State Department function that he could get into the DOD.

      I wonder why Hilary isn’t working harder to get it all back.

      Bob in AZ

    • emptywheel says:

      Nope, Thomas F, died in 1993 (one of, if not the last, thing Akers did as CEO was send flowers to my father’s funeral, which made us laugh our asses off when we figured out who had sent the flowers).

      Mom first reported to Earl, btw, so when she married my dad and became (her initials were M R) MRWHEELER on her printouts, everyone assumed she married her boss.

      • Synoia says:

        A big Iron person. very successful division. I worked in Pok in 1982 on Pixsys. Pixsys went nowhere,and was replaced by TVF (Trout Vector Facility).

  32. Peterr says:

    What a post, and what a thread of comments!

    In the post, I was struck by the absence of any mention of religion in the list of fields that DARPA was interested in mining. The two links by klynn @7 are perfect examples of the importance of communication in Afghanistan that takes into account religion.

    If you think irony throws narrative analysis for a loop, religious irony adds in twists and turns that are bewildering to behold. My doctoral work did a lot with the use of narrative, including how narratives break down. Religious language may have very specific “in-house” meaning with one group, but a second group may use the very same phrases with very different meanings within their community.

    And if you have to add language translation on top of that . . . Let’s just say that it isn’t going to be easy.

  33. Jeff Kaye says:

    Darpa… DARPA…

    Follow the money. They aren’t really interested in communicating with the conquered people. They are interested in communicating with… computers!

    MITRE’s DARPA Communicator

    MITRE’s DARPA Communicator program, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has worked to provide human-to-machine interaction via speech and represents a solid step forward in the evolution of interface technology….

    The success of DARPA Communicator could well hasten fuller development of true, “natural” dialog interaction with computers….

    An amazing aspect to the pursuit is the diversity of disciplines necessary to keep up the chase. It takes linguists, psycholinguists, psychologists, mathematicians, electrical engineers, acoustical engineers, physicists, computer scientists, information technologists, cognitive scientists, and neurobiologists, working separately and together, just to keep pace. As Hirschman, with a smile of understatement, succinctly puts it: “These are exciting times.” Indeed.

    That’s a lot of jobs, a lot of funding opportunities, a whole research project, with lots of money to go around for all (but for basic K-12 education, roads, decent medical care, job retraining, not so much). Indeed.

    While the discussion here is interesting, it is not typical of the kind of work DARPA is involved with on this score. Here’s the kinds of things they are really working on, from a NATO RTO bulletin from 2003:

    The Translingual Information Detection, Extraction and Summarization (TIDES) program is creating technology to enable English speakers to locate and interpret critical information in multiple languages without requiring knowledge of those languages. The source data could be unformatted raw audio or text, stationary or streaming; critical information could span one or more sources in one or more languages. TIDES technology includes synergistic components for: (i) finding or discovering needed information; (ii) extracting key information about entities, relations, and events; (iii) substantially reducing the amount that a person must read; and (iv) converting foreign language material to English. TIDES has created two text and audio processing systems (known as OnTAP and MiTAP) and is using them in Integrated Feasibility Experiments involving bio-security and terrorism. The experiments, being conducted at contractor facilities with the assistance of military and intelligence personnel, are designed to assess the utility of the evolving technology, to learn where improvements are needed, to develop effective concepts of operation, and to jump-start the transfer of the most effective technology into operational use. Work on Arabic was substantially accelerated in response to the events of September 11. In FY 2003, TIDES
    will demonstrate initial machine translation capabilities from Chinese and Arabic to English. These demonstrations will be done for Navy and Intelligence Community partners at various U.S. locations. The goal of TIDES is not simply to increase productivity: it provides commanders and other decision-makers with a great deal of timely, vital information that is currently out of reach.

    Or there is Darpa’s “Babylon” program:

    Babylon gets its name from the Tower of Babel. This program aims to make it possible for U.S. forces to communicate effectively with people who do not speak English. It is speech-to-speech machine translation for constrained domains. Babylon builds off the success of the “DARPA One-Way translation technology that has been used to good effect in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and other places. One-way translation combines spoken phrase recognition with audio play out. An American soldier speaks one of a few thousand possible phrases in English, the machine recognizes what he has said, then plays out the pre-recorded equivalent phrase in the other language.

    DARPA is part of the problem. COIN is a money drain in the name of conquering other countries. It is bankruptcy and folly.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      How to conquer the world while knowing nothing about it. And lowly generals like Rommel and Patton made it a life’s passion to know their enemy better than they did themselves.

      “The computer says, ‘Shoot ’em!'”
      “I guess we shoot ’em.”
      “But they’re…”
      “Don’t fuck with the computer orders or we won’t get our bonus, or chow tonight.”
      “OK.”
      “Open fire.”

      • Rayne says:

        I’m far less worried about DARPA; it’s an engine for innovation, the kind we should have had working on on alternative energy. It’s done considerable funding of research through education facilities which in turn seeds other innovation.

        I’m more worried about direct culture jamming of OUR culture, right under our noses, which will result in killing of innocents. Like Special Ops folks working as consultants on “24” to ensure accuracy of the program, or on design and programming of video games our youth use.

        Think about it: the drones which are being used to chase drug cartel shipments and in AfPak are being flown remotely by people using an interface that looks a lot like a video game interface. Our youth are being desensitized to killing by what amounts to special ops training via video games — or by apps on iPhone.

  34. Mile23 says:

    I am struck by the fact that the set of narrative-creation skills that are under discussion here are the same set of skills that got us confused enough about al Qaeda and 9/11 that the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan seemed like a good idea.

    Obviously, this is the same argument for Iraq.

    It’s their world; we just live in it (and pay for it).

    I say: This research is very dangerous. It enables us to justify any act of aggression against another population. The US military should be in the business of killing, not in the business of making us feel OK about killing, and not in the business of trying to make others feel OK about having been occupied by a military force.

    • Gitcheegumee says:

      According to your theory,it could also possibly serve to justify any act of aggression against THIS population,also.

      Come to think of it,maybe this is foreplay…no pun intended.

  35. eblair says:

    The humanities have been under assault for a long time. Where to start, where to start? A few related factors jump out:

    1) Positivism and the belief that there is some kind of fine line between facts and values. Science studies the facts. Humanities studies the values. But values are arbitrary, so the humanities are an anachronism.

    2) Sputnik and the resulting emphasis on science in education.

    3) Huntington and the Trilateral Commission’s extreme Right wing belief that society is better run by a small group of “experts.”

    4) The culture wars and the Left’s stupid rejection of the study of the works of “dead white men” on the grounds of the bias of “Eurocentrism”.

    5) Extreme professionalization of the academy. It is quite possible to get a PhD in the humanities and never read any history. Many academic philosophers know little history and many academic historians study arcane facts that have almost no relevance to anybody but fellow specialists. Synthesis is almost non-existent in our universities.

    “I have always had a high regard for those who defend grammar or logic. One realizes fifty years later that they have warded off great dangers.”-Proust

    “Lack of an historical sense is the hereditary defect of philosophers…So what is needed from now on is historical philosophizing.”- Nietzsche

    Frankly, it is hard to overstate just how far we have fallen. The excitement of Madison felt when reading the great works of the past under Witherspoon is almost totally alien to our undergraduates. Who reads Demosthenes or Cicero today except for a few classicists. Specialists only. The idea that these might be required reading for those looking to go into politics is completely alien to most.

    The humanities are for all intents and purposes dead in America and the West. Even, Rorty the great ironist whose relationship with the humanities was contentious lost his irony in the end in some comments he made at Potsdam about the WOT (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gm-5uikx3kk). Much of the world, Africa, China, goes on unaware that a light has gone out in the West. But it has.

    • Gitcheegumee says:

      Humanity has been under assault for a long time…and just wait for the first pressing from the Gulf’s Grapes of Wrath vineyard.

    • prostratedragon says:

      The humanities are for all intents and purposes dead in America and the West.

      Ironically enough, the College at Columbia University still makes some attempt to liberalize the education of its undergraduates. Way back in the day, an incoming transfer student would not have automatically been exempted from these courses, but I don’t know about past 1980 or so.

      (Reason for the irony is that Obama transferred into CC for the last two years of his bachelor degree.)

  36. gmoke says:

    There’s a great local story in Afghanistan about a local chief who became a national leader and united the Muslim, HIndu, and Sikh communities in the Northwest Frontier Provinces in the first half of the 20th century. He formed what some call the first non-violent army and they protected people and prevented riots while improving village living conditions from around 1930 to 1947 when they were suppressed by the new Pakistani government. Their non-violence was based upon the Islamic principle of sadr, patience, the patience of the Prophet in Mecca under persecution, and the Pashtun tradition of melmastia or hospitality.

    That man’s name was Abdul Ghaffar Khan also known as Badshah Khan, the Khan of Khans.

    Too bad nobody in our government seems to know that story.

  37. freepatriot says:

    I got a degree in “critical analysis of Dramatic Literature in various media”

    mostly by accident

    I was studying Desktop Publishing at the time

    where do I sign up ???

  38. Garrett says:

    An especially outstanding post, Marcy.

    About computers and irony:

    In computer natural language processing, should it ever come, irony will be one of the hardest things to deal with.

    You need context to spot irony. And context works at Russian doll level complexity. You need a whole lot of information, all of it subtle, to know when someone is being ironic.

    It’s as good example as any why brute force, expert system models of language processing won’t work.

    Just try to list out in rules, how you know something is ironic.

    Computers are going to have to be very crafty and self sufficient, if they ever figure it out.

    I suspect the computers will be like modern linguists. Some hardwired deep structure rules. And then the ability to learn new languages from experience.

    Multiple symbolic transformation passes, to get from surface grammar to deep meaning. And context is not special. It is just another grammar.

    The linguist computers will pay strong attention to social and other context. They’ll probably have to develop theories of power relation in language use too. Otherwise they wouldn’t spot the irony about the VP.

  39. WilliamOckham says:

    I have lots of strong feelings about this. I graduated with a degree in English and History. I work in software development. I am fond of telling people that to change the world, you have to be a storyteller. DARPA doesn’t have a clue. They don’t need geeks. We need to get out of Afghanistan.

    • Garrett says:

      One good reading of this story does go:

      After nine years of conflict, the U.S. military is still having trouble finding common ground with warzone locals. One way to fill that breach, Darpa figures,

      Stop.

      You can express that as a grammar. With the combination of the first sentence and the second, anything that follows is necessarily nonsense. It’s the only allowable construction.

  40. NoOneYouKnow says:

    I think it’s cute that DARPA wants to use tricorders or finger puppets or something to try to convince Afghani warlords not to kill our people while taking our money (and the Pentagon is humoring them). It won’t work, and the US will be forced out of Afghanistan like every other invader for the past 2000 years.

  41. al75 says:

    Do military atrocities happen less frequently when soldiers can understand the language of the civilians they’re operating among?

    I was recently reading about the WWII tradition of collecting Japanese skulls – it was viewed as a serious disciplinary problem that prompted numerous high-level efforts to stop it. Of the 6,000 japanese war deat returned from Iwo Jima after the war, 4,000 corpses were reportedly missing their heads.

    My friend reported in Viet Nam his unit had a tradition of collecting ears of dead VN – and I have heard many similar stories from others.

    But I’m not aware of such issues in WWII Europe, or in Korea where US troops usually had interpreters available.

    I don’t know if the lack of language ability leads to atrocities – there are obviously racial and other factors too – but reading this post prompted the question.

  42. phred says:

    OT

    EW, you have probably already seen this from Lichtblau, but given all the effort devoted here to WH emails, I thought this would be of interest…

    Some lobbyists say that they routinely get e-mail messages from White House staff members’ personal accounts rather than from their official White House accounts, which can become subject to public review.

    Is Rove still employed in the WH?

    • bmaz says:

      Depending on the subject, there is nothing wrong with that. If you go to work for the administration you are not precluded from having private email. The relevant question is to what extent is official administration business conducted on private personal email.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Or they meet with lobbyists and industry officials at coffee houses near 17th and L, which they needn’t record as “meetings”.

      One would think that contacts rather than location or media would be what public officials need to document. How silly.

      As for e-mails, yes, I’d love to know what improvements Team Obama has made in the mare’s nest that Team Bush intentionally made of WH telecoms, outsourcing here, using defunct s/w and h/w there. And what was the cost.

  43. Ishmael says:

    Interesting perspective on narrative from an early work of David Foster Wallace and the role of media in its creation/destruction (via New York Review of Books):

    Human beings are narrative animals: every culture countenances itself as culture via a story, whether mythopoeic or politico-economic; every whole person understands his lifetime as an organized, recountable series of events and changes with at least a beginning and middle. We need narrative like we need space-time; it’s a built-in thing…. The narrative patterns to which literate Americans are most regularly exposed are televised. And, even on a charitable account, television is a pretty low type of narrative art. It’s a narrative art that strives not to change or enlighten or broaden or reorient—not necessarily even to “entertain”—but merely and always to engage, to appeal to. Its one end—openly acknowledged—is to ensure continued watching. And (I claim) the metastatic efficiency with which it’s done so has, as cost, inevitable and dire consequences for the level of people’s tastes in narrative art. For the very expectations of readers in virtue of which narrative art is art.

    Television’s greatest appeal is that it is engaging without being at all demanding.

    …..

    You teach the reader that he’s way smarter than he thought he was. I think one of the insidious lessons about TV is the meta-lesson that you’re dumb. This is all you can do. This is easy, and you’re the sort of person who really just wants to sit in a chair and have it easy. When in fact there are parts of us…that are a lot more ambitious than that. And what we need, I think—and I’m not saying I’m the person to do it…is serious engaged art, that can teach again that we’re smart.

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/jul/15/smarter-you-think/?pagination=false

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      The capture potential of television and films is enormous because at one time or another during the day, for however long, virtually all of us want to let go and be engaged without being engaging in return. For the addictive, the virtual can replace the reality for too much of the day, especially when reality is in the dumps.

  44. bobschacht says:

    First, the exchange reinforced my strongly held belief that our society devalues the humanities to its significant cost.
    …the underlying problem was that we, this country, doesn’t really treat humanities with the same seriousness we treat, say, math. (Not that we treat math with the seriousness it deserves either). Largely, but not entirely, because of actions of the humanities academy, the humanities have either become the feeding ground for law, or a frivolous soft pursuit usually reserved for those who could look forward to a career without big worries about paying off college loans.

    Marcy,
    Yours is the most intelligent discussion of the Humanities perspective in many years. But what you write about the intellectual challenge, it sounds like it is well within the scope of things anthropologists have done.

    Which leads me to the inability to frame the problem. IBM couldn’t envision that speech is–often–not sincere, and so couldn’t develop their research to account for such a probability…
    Want to pacify a country with neither the native speakers to speak to the local language or the willingness to learn it? Build videogames to try to communicate without language!

    We neither have the competence nor are we investing in getting the competence we need to carry out our COIN project. For better or worse, we have not done what the country did during the Cold War, which is establish a bunch of Area Studies centers to gain deep competency in the culture and social science of the areas we were seeking to influence and fund people to go learn these difficult languages. Not to mention, we’re kicking out those in the military who do speak these languages.

    Instead, we’re asking kids that probably didn’t join the military because of their linguistic skills to learn Dari in two-week courses and we’re trying to invent some way to successfully establish common goals through the use of computerized, mimed narrative.
    This, btw, is the ultimate root of my deep skepticism about COIN. We are a country that is institutionally disinterested in learning about other cultures. One of our biggest exports (in addition to arms) is narratives that deliberately flatten culture. We don’t put much stock in listening.

    So no matter which COIN genius General is in charge, no matter how much money and time we throw at the problem, we’re still going to be fighting weaknesses in our own culture and education system….

    Our country is always looking for short-cuts. And our fear of scary brown people is a reflection of the underlying xenophobia. Whether it comes by way of the humanities or the social sciences, we’ve got to come to terms with the world in which we live.

    Bob in AZ

  45. sundog says:

    Damn, IBM. My Dad worked there back in the ’60’s. Maybe one day I’ll tell you about the psychological experiments they did with him. I don’t think they got the results they were seeking. One of his best friends worked there his whole life as well. All I remember was all of those damnable ‘THINK’ placards everywhere.

    Great article, but everything here usually is of a very high standard, but I haven’t seen many F-1 posts lately. How about Kobayashi passing Alonso!?

    • bmaz says:

      And Buemi in the Toro Rosso too. All on the last lap. Quite a showing for a kid who had a hard time getting his car past the first lap at the start of the season.

  46. TarheelDem says:

    Yep, it seems the only “learning” of value is business. Math, science, economics itself even, social science, especially humanities and arts — all devalued. The only things of value in this culture seem to be persuasion and money.

    You would think that they would discover that the way that you talk to people is in their own language. So what DARPA is really seeking to do is create an effective pidgin, the language of imperialism everywhere.

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