Systematically Introducing Chaos

There’s a branch of mathematics called Chaos Theory – the idea that “within the apparent randomness of chaotic complex systems, there are underlying patterns, constant feedback loops, repetition, self-similarity, fractals, self-organization, and reliance on programming at the initial point known as sensitive dependence on initial conditions.”

What? Don’t worry. It’s simple, really. That which seems random and chaotic isn’t really random and chaotic, because “a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state” – a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas and that sort of thing. That seems absurd, but these things can be mathematically modeled – eventually. One thing causes another, but that one thing can be something no one imagined. Brilliant (or obsessive) mathematicians can discover that one thing – and then no one will believe them. They’ll trot out their proofs. No one will still believe them. But that damned butterfly really did cause that tornado. This makes theoretical mathematicians a bit grumpy.

Let them be grumpy. Chaos theory is useful in meteorology, the study of the most deterministic nonlinear system there is. Fire up the supercomputer and feed it everything. The purchase of just one more SUV in Iowa can put Miami underwater in a decade or two. Things are not really all that random and chaotic. Do the mathematical analysis. One thing does lead to another. Find the initial one thing, that one small thing that causes later large differences in everything.

Chaos theory might be useful in politics too, the second most deterministic nonlinear system there is. We’re in chaos now. America elected Donald Trump and everything now seems random and chaotic. Donald Trump has systematically introduced chaos into what seemed somewhat stable before, a system where Republicans and Democrats argued about everything but agreed on the basics – the rule of law, the system of checks and balances set up in the Constitution, and so on.

Those are the big things, but sometimes it’s the little things that tell the story:

President Trump reportedly eschews exercise because he believes it drains the body’s “finite” energy resources, but experts say this argument is flawed because the human body actually becomes stronger with exercise.

Trump’s views on exercise were mentioned in a New Yorker article this month and in “Trump Revealed,” The Washington Post’s 2016 biography of the president, which noted that Trump mostly gave up athletics after college because he “believed the human body was like a battery, with a finite amount of energy, which exercise only depleted.”

Well, not exactly:

Exercise does deplete stores of glucose, glycogen and fats from the body’s tissues, but these fuels are restored when a person eats, said Michael Jonesco, a sports medicine and orthopedics specialist at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.

Rather than thinking of energy stores as a battery, “a better analogy would be like the fire that you continue to fuel with more coal or wood,” Jonesco said. “You need to continue to add fuel, or your flame will die. This is true whether you exercise or not. Simply by existing, we are burning energy.”

What’s more, although exercise puts a temporary stress on the body, the body adapts to that stress so that the heart and muscles become stronger and more efficient. “If we can create a battery that, every time it’s used, actually becomes more powerful and efficient, then sure, our body is like that battery,” Jonesco said.

All of that is stunningly obvious, so why would Donald Trump say such a thing? He would because he can, and twenty-eight percent of America will suddenly agree with him, because they want to agree with him, to stick it to the liberals and urban hipsters and globalists. They know it’s not true. That doesn’t matter. It’s time for a little chaos. Donald Trump smiles – he’s a disrupter – it was time to shake things up anyway.

And there are other little things:

Donald Trump’s penchant for Big Macs and well-done steak slathered with ketchup might have been widely documented but his pudding preferences have always remained more of a mystery.

Until now that is, it has emerged that the President has two scoops of ice cream with his chocolate cream pie while everyone else at the table has just one.

Time magazine has gained great insight into President Trump’s dining preferences after he invited three of their reporters for a tour of his home and office followed by a four-course dinner in the Blue Room – the oval-shaped parlor on the first floor of the White House.

They found that the waiters know President Trump’s personal preferences well.

He gets two scoops. Everyone else gets one – even James Comey – because he’s president and James Comey isn’t. This is a minor matter, but that damned butterfly in Brazil really did cause that tornado in Texas. A small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. In fact, the purposeful introduction of norms-breaking chaos does encourage others:

During a vote at 3 a.m. on Friday morning, angry Republicans in the North Carolina state Senate cut education funding from the districts of Democratic senators.

The News and Observer reported that Republicans had become frustrated after Democrats forced vote after vote on budget amendments during a session that began on Thursday and went into the early hours of Friday morning.

Republicans eventually called for a two hour recess after negotiations between Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue and Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger appeared to break down.

When the session resumed around 3 a.m., Republican Sen. Brent Jackson introduced an amendment that provided an extra $1 million to fight the opioid epidemic. The amendment was passed before Democrats noticed that the $1 million had been taken from education funding in their districts.

They stripped away the money for public schools in Democratic districts, because they could, even if this would normally be beyond the pale, but now nothing is beyond the pale:

Self-proclaimed white nationalist Richard Spencer led a large group of demonstrators carrying torches and chanting “You will not replace us” Saturday in Charlottesville, protesting plans to remove a Confederate monument that has played an outsize role in this year’s race for Virginia governor.

“What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced,” Spencer said at an afternoon protest, the first of two rallies he led in the town where he once attended the University of Virginia.

At the second rally, dozens of torch-bearing protesters gathered in a city park Saturday evening and chanted “You will not replace us” and “Russia is our friend,” local television footage shows. Spencer was not shown addressing that gathering, but he tweeted a photo of himself standing in the crowd carrying what appeared to be a bamboo Tiki torch…

Once an obscure Internet figure, promoting white identity, Spencer coined the term “alt-right” – referring to a small, far-right movement that seeks a whites-only state – and rose to prominence during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Although Trump denounced the alt-right, Spencer’s followers counted his victory as a win for the movement as Trump espoused hard-right stances on undocumented immigrants, Muslims and political correctness.

Someone introduced chaos into the system, and then there was former congressman Tom Perriello:

Perriello, who grew up in Charlottesville, tweeted derisively at Spencer after the alt-right leader posted video of the first protest.

“Get your white supremacist hate out of my hometown,” Perriello wrote on Twitter.

Spencer replied: “We won, you lost, little Tommy.”

“Actually, you lost,” Perriello shot back. “In 1865. 150 years later, you’re still not over it.”

Let them argue that out, but it is clear that Donald Trump has successfully and systematically introduced chaos into what seemed somewhat stable before – the South did win the Civil War, finally, and Russia is our friend, and exercise is bad for you. Who knew?

Greg Miller says it may be more than that, as perhaps the Russians injected the chaos:

Russia has yet to collect much of what it hoped for from the Trump administration, including the lifting of U.S. sanctions and recognition of its annexation of Crimea.

But the Kremlin has collected a different return on its effort to help elect Trump in last year’s election: chaos in Washington.

The president’s decision to fire FBI Director James B. Comey last week was the latest destabilizing jolt to a core institution of the U.S. government. The nation’s top law enforcement agency joined a list of entities that Trump has targeted, including federal judges, U.S. spy services, news organizations and military alliances.

The instability, although driven by Trump, has in some ways extended and amplified the effect Russia sought to achieve with its unprecedented campaign to undermine the 2016 presidential race.

That was the plan:

In a declassified report released this year, U.S. spy agencies described destabilization as one of Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s objectives.

“The Kremlin sought to advance its longstanding desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order,” it said.

Russia’s “active measures” campaign ended with the election last year. But Comey’s firing on Tuesday triggered a new wave of Russia-related turbulence.

His removal was perceived as a blow to the independence of the bureau’s ongoing investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Current and former U.S. officials said that even if that probe remains on track, Comey’s ouster serves broader Russian interests.

They won this one:

“They feel pretty good overall because that’s a further sign that our political system is in a real crisis,” said Eugene Rumer, a former State Department official who served as the top intelligence officer on Russia issues from 2010 to 2014. “The firing of Comey only aggravates this crisis. It’s now certain to be more protracted and more painful, and that’s okay with them.”

James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence, offered a similar assessment in Senate testimony last week, even before Comey was dismissed, saying that Moscow must look on the election and its aftermath with a great deal of satisfaction.

“The Russians have to be celebrating the success of what they set out do with rather minimal resource expenditure,” Clapper said. “The first objective was to sow discord and dissension, which they certainly did.”

That explains that rally in Charlottesville, but they didn’t get all they wanted:

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who shared many of Trump’s pro-Russia positions, was forced to resign in February after it was revealed that he had misled other White House officials about his post-election conversations with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States.

In a late December phone call that was intercepted by U.S. intelligence, Flynn assured Kislyak that Trump planned to revisit the sanctions issue shortly after taking office. Trump has so far not followed through on that front, largely because the Flynn controversy and multiple Russia probes have made it politically unfeasible.

And there’s this:

Trump’s policies toward Russia have also taken a harder line in part because of the rising influence of senior members of his administration, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who are critics of Moscow.

Even so, Trump himself continues to send pro-Russia signals, sometimes at the expense of agencies that report to him. Trump recently signaled, again, that he remains unconvinced that Russia was behind the hack of the 2016 election and release of tens of thousands of emails that damaged Hillary Clinton’s campaign. His position is a rejection of the consensus view of U.S. intelligence agencies.

They didn’t get everything, but they got Trump:

Trump has provided a steady stream of material for Russian propaganda platforms.

One day after firing Comey, Trump welcomed Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, to the White House. U.S. news agencies were barred from attending, but a photographer for Russia’s state-run Tass news agency was granted access to the Oval Office.

Photos released later in the day showed Trump warmly welcoming his guests, including a shot that showed Trump smiling and shaking hands with Kislyak, the ambassador embroiled in the controversy with Flynn.

Russian officials have denied the country meddled in the U.S. election. In brief public appearances last week, Lavrov joked about Comey’s dismissal – “Was he fired? You’re kidding!” – and mocked claims of Moscow interference.

Yes, they’re laughing at us, and the chaos is real:

The assertion that the Trump administration has been advantageous to Moscow “is laughable,” said James Carafano, the vice president of foreign and defense policy at the Heritage Foundation, who served as an adviser to the Trump transition team. “The president has actually stiff-armed them on a number of occasions.”

But critics argue that many of Trump’s foreign policy positions undercut U.S. influence overseas and, as a result, strengthen Moscow – his effective endorsement of nationalist candidates including Marine Le Pen in France; his effort to impose an immigration ban on Muslim-majority countries, and his threats, since softened, to restructure NATO.

They won:

“It plays into the idea that we are as corrupt as anybody else – that what the United States is exporting isn’t something you want,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official involved in tracking the Russian election hack and its aftermath. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the issue.

With sanctions still in place, Russia may think that the election interference “didn’t pan out the way they expected,” the official said. “But what they’re getting now is more positive than what they had under President Barack Obama and what they feared under Clinton. It’s not pro-Russia, but it’s certainly not anti-Russia. It’s more a kind of chaos. And that does benefit them.”

Of course it does, but maybe that’s not their doing:

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Sunday that he thinks US institutions are under assault from President Donald Trump.

“I think in many ways our institutions are under assault both externally – and that’s the big news here is the Russian interference in our election system – and I think as well our institutions are under assault internally,” Clapper told anchor Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Pressed if he meant US institutions were under assault internally from the President, Clapper responded, “Exactly.”

This man prefers established order to intentional chaos:

Clapper called on the other branches of the federal government to step up in their roles as a check on the executive.

“The founding fathers, in their genius, created a system of three co-equal branches of government and a built-in system of checks and balances,” Clapper said. “I feel as though that is under assault and is eroding.”

That seems to be happening, and oh yeah, Clapper wants Trump to stop lying about him:

Clapper also said Sunday that the President and the White House are wrong to cite Clapper’s previous Senate testimony on the questions about alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia as proof that no such collusion exists, emphasizing that no one should portray his comments as “exculpatory” – something Trump has done repeatedly on Twitter.

“The bottom line is I don’t know if there was collusion, political collusion,” Clapper told Tapper. “I don’t know of any evidence to it. So I can’t refute it, and I can’t confirm it.”

In fact, he wasn’t in the loop:

Clapper told NBC in March that he didn’t know of any evidence that demonstrated collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. At a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing earlier this month, Clapper clarified that statement, saying he was also unaware of the FBI’s investigation into the matter until Comey made it public in March.

At that subcommittee hearing, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, whom Trump fired in January for refusing to defend his initial temporary ban on visitors from several Muslim-majority countries and suspension of the entry of Syrian refugees, declined to answer the question of whether there was evidence of collusion publicly; in her answer, she also noted that Clapper had been unaware of the FBI investigation.

Clapper said Sunday that his “standard practice” as the leader of the intelligence community during the Obama administration was to defer to the FBI on any counterintelligence investigations.

In fact, he wasn’t supposed to know about such things – that’s all he said – and there was that dinner:

Trump and Comey had a private dinner in the White House on January 27 in which a source close to Comey said the President asked the FBI director to pledge his loyalty, which Comey, who reportedly was taken aback by the request, refused to do.

The dinner was on the same day that Yates went to the White House to warn the administration about since-ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn’s potential vulnerability to Russian blackmail and that Trump issued the executive order restricting travel from several majority-Muslim nations.

Clapper said Sunday that he spoke with Comey prior to the dinner while at an event at FBI headquarters in Washington.

“He mentioned to me the invitation he had from the President for dinner,” Clapper said. “He was – my characterization – uneasy with it both from the standpoint of the optics of compromising his independence and the independence of the FBI.”

Comey, a very tall man in good shape, refused to drop by the White House and shoot hoops with Barack Obama and Arne Duncan, even if he could probably dunk on Obama. A summons to a private dinner with the president was something else, or maybe it wasn’t. Kathleen Parker suggests something else:

In a Trumpian world, stalled somewhere between second grade and a prep school locker room, even the ridiculous seems plausible. So, let’s try a wild one: Maybe Trump fired Comey for being taller, at 6 feet, 8 inches. In light of his infatuation with size, one can easily imagine that a 6-foot-3-inch Trump would resent having to look up to the guy who was investigating possible collusion between his campaign and Russia.

Like that Brazilian butterfly causing that Texas tornado, that’s possible too, although E. J. Dionne notes this:

President Trump’s opponents have spent his administration’s first months engaged in an unusual but important debate: Is Trump a problem because he is incompetent or because he harbors autocratic designs that threaten American democracy itself?

That could go either way:

At the end of his first 100 days, the debate was tilting toward ineptitude. Trump didn’t know or care much about policy, shifted from one issue position to another, shunned eloquence in favor of often-deranged tweeting and didn’t even bother filling hundreds of government jobs.

The wealthy, especially Wall Street types, rejoiced when Trump backed away from many of his populist-sounding economic promises, particularly on trade, and moved toward a conventional, if rather radical, conservatism: steep tax cuts for the rich, deregulation on a grand scale. For the privileged, happy days were here again.

Those who fear Trump’s authoritarian side acknowledged that his potential for excess had been at least partly contained by our system of rights. The freedom to organize and express opposition, the power that free elections confer on every citizen, the independence of the courts and the liberty of the media – all are very much alive.

Nonetheless, members of this anti-Trump wing insisted on vigilance against Trump’s alarming indifference to the basic norms of self-government, his affection for thuggish leaders and his vicious attitude toward opponents.

But there is a way to settle this:

The firing of James B. Comey as FBI director and the administration’s fog of lies aimed at clouding the real reason for Trump’s decision are the most important signs that we have a leader who will do whatever it takes to resist accountability.

He will fire anyone who gets in his way. Trump’s dismissal of Sally Yates, the acting attorney general, and Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in New York, can now be seen in a more sinister light. Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general on whom the Trump apparat initially tried to pin responsibility for Comey’s firing, may be next – if he is the person of integrity his friends describe.

Of course, Trump can be fairly regarded as both incompetent and authoritarian. We may be saved by the fact that the feckless Trump is often the authoritarian Trump’s worst enemy. If we’re lucky, Trump’s astonishing indiscipline will be his undoing.

In short, by introducing chaos into the system, Trump may have introduced his own exit from it. Sow chaos and you get chaos:

President Trump, frustrated and increasingly isolated, is considering a shakeup of his communications staff following the spectacular fallout over his stunning decision to abruptly fire FBI director James Comey on Tuesday. For their part, White House staff members don’t seem very happy, either. Unnamed administration sources, via varied comments to CNN, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Associated Press, have painted an unsurprisingly dour picture of how things have been going at the demoralized White House, where some Trump aides say they are eager for the president’s trip abroad next week. “We need to get the president outside the Beltway,” someone close to the White House explained to CNN.

That’s probably a good idea:

According to insiders who spoke with the Associated Press, the leak-obsessed president, distrustful of his staff, has shrunk his inner circle to his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as longtime aides like former spokesperson Hope Hicks and Trump’s personal bodyguard Keith Schiller. Three officials told the AP that Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has been shut out of major decisions following conflicts with Kushner and didn’t even know Comey had been fired until he saw it on television. Reince Priebus, who was consulted regarding Comey’s termination, is nonetheless still on the perpetual bubble with Trump continuing to question his leadership as White House chief of staff. Axios additionally reports that, according to Trump’s “after dark” consultants (the friends Trump calls at night), the president may expand the bloodletting beyond the communications team and Priebus to include Bannon and White House counsel Don McGahn. Trump is reportedly “angry at everyone,” including a few cabinet members who he thinks have been grandstanding…

This had to happen. A sufficiently sophisticated mathematical model would have predicted this. Any man who likes well-done steak slathered with ketchup is bound to fail. That’s chaos theory. Remember that Brazilian butterfly.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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