Jingo Killah

I am not a pacifist. I am Jingo Killah.

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We explore the eternal question: What's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding?

Ok, maybe I was a little hard on metaphor in my last post.  Metaphor is one of the most potent ways of demonstrating a new or difficult to explain phenomenon.  They are meta-stories.  “Once upon a time, there was a pig.  And some weird guy decided he didn’t like the look of that pig, and so he put lipstick on it.  It didn’t make much of a difference, and other people saw him for what he was – a fool.  The End.”  Or, the shorthand – lipstick on a pig.  It evokes a lot more than just using the word ‘pointless’, cos it provides characters, good visuals, and a heavy dose of hyperbole.

In some cases, metaphors become real life, as in Joe the Plumber.  I have not followed or cared about this ‘news’ story at all, but I do like how he was conjured from a metaphor.  Did he even exist before the third debate?  From the intensity of metaphorical political debate springs real sentient life.  Impressive.  Thomas Haden Church summons ‘Joe Six-Pack’ here, but as he is a professional actor, it seems less than magical.  Couldn’t we have a REAL metaphorical Joe Six-Pack to kick around?

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to throw down this other metaphor, cos it may actually fall into the ‘useful’ category, as in understanding the political process a bit more.  It’s technical, as in scientific, so some may run for the hills.  But it’s also about audio, so, like, some might find it really rad cool.

Phase cancellation (don’t run!) is a phenomena in stereo recordings.  It is bad.  Audio engineers work hard to make sure there is none of it in their recordings.  However, the phenomenon itself is mind-blowing.  It is a way to make audio disappear.

In stereo recordings, there are left and right channels of sound.  This allows recording artists to create a panorama of sound across a 2 dimensional space.  You know it, you love it.  It’s been in vogue for 40 years.  The ‘pan’ allows the engineer to take a single (mono) sound source (say a guitar) and have it biased left or right, or straight up the middle.  This is easily controlled, and rarely produces problems.

A challenge occurs when a stereo microphone setup is put into play.  In one typical setup, a drumset has a pair of microphones above the kit, to capture the entire range of the instrument.  These mics have to be at least 90 degrees opposed – in other words, if one mic is facing 45 degrees to the left, the other must be facing 45 degrees to the right.  But let’s say our engineer is ignorant of that, and both mics are facing in the same basic direction.  Then we pan the left mic left and the right mic right in the mix.  Boom, suddenly in the control room, lots of audio has disappeared.  What has happened?

phase cancellation!
(from Wikipedia)
Because the two mics have picked up basically the same audio, we have two very similar waveforms being processed.  But they are not EXACTLY the same.  The left figure shows that if they are exactly the same, the effect is mostly benign, and the sound gets thru.  But, if the two waveforms peak and trough at diametrically opposing times, the sound literally disappears.  This is in the air, mind you, out of the speakers, not somewhere in the electronics.

You may be able to experience a practical demonstration right now – if you have a pair of headphones handy, get ’em out.  Browse to this page.
(from audiocourses.com)

This is an audio recording with the stereo phase problem described above.  If you listen to it in headphones, you’ll be able to hear a tone.  You can hear it because the opposing waveforms are isolated by your big fat head.

Now remove the headphones and allow it to play thru your laptop or desktop.  On my MacBook, the track is fully cancelled (inaudible), cos the speakers are symmetrical.  If you have external speakers, you might still hear something, but if you move the speakers close to each other, parallel, the sound will disappear.  It’s actually more fun with external speakers, cos the movement really demonstrates the canceling waveforms.

Wow, ok, wasn’t that fun?  If you got this far, now you can enjoy the metaphor that took this long to set up.

Obviously, left and right will represent the political spectrum in a pretty direct way.  You can have radically different audio (representing media and news and local punditry) on the left and right channels.  If you situate yourself closer to the left source, only listen to the left source, you’ll hear everything from that side loud and clear.  Same on the right.  Purely partisan politics are not affected by phase cancellation.  Each channel is essentially a mono recording, since the listener is only choosing to listen to one side.

I believe most people try to situate themselves closer to the middle, to better hear the full spectrum of sound.  One would rightly think that this is the best place from which to survey the political spectrum.  However, if there is such a thing as political cancellation, those denizens of the middle may have as large a problem as those on the left or right.

Let’s say Candidate L is experiencing problems with his connection to lobbyists.  He can prepare to defend his reputation, which sends out a reactive and unique signal that shines out loud and clear no matter where you are on the political spectrum.  A candidate does not want this.  However, if he can connect Candidate R to lobbyists, and then they both put out the same basic “My opponent blah blah lobbyists”  sound bite, the chances are that the entire problem will disappear thru the middle of the spectrum.  It will cancel.

This may have been patently obvious to you before this lovely essay, but here’s the thing about this metaphor – it allows us to see more visually how this phenomenon is actually working.   We wring our hands and we wonder where all the outrage is, why the mass of the people aren’t seeing what we’re seeing, when we see corruption, lying, theft, and general calummny and evil.  Well, first, let’s say a third is biased right -they’re closer to the right sound source.  And then, the middle third aren’t hearing anything cos the cancellation has taken all the punch out of the sound.  So 2/3rds of constituents are not hearing what is potentially the truth.

The cancellation metaphor also helps us to understand the types of political manipulation that are now standard practice.  One-upsmanship has been around for a while, but we are now in the age of anticipatory cointelpro.  The Kerry Swift-Boat phenom demonstrates that a significantly weaker opponent (in this case, in regard to their personal military service record) is wise to hit first with a slander.  The partisan third eats it up, the middle third hears it for a full day or so, and by the time the opposing party gets its cancellation on, it’s too late.  And in a situation where the truth is on the side of the reactive party, it’s doubly frustrating.  Significantly less than half of the political constituents will conclude on the side of truth.

The McCain campaign has been over-using this technique throughout this whole election season.  Obama has used it judiciously, but I think this is because he is choosing to be fully in charge of his signal, whereas McCain has been far more reactive.  The fact that ‘Change’ is the catchphrase of both platforms is playing to the middle.  The co-opting of this word works as such – the left is outraged at the hypocrisy and theft (and no one cares), the right doesn’t really care about the rhetorical use of the word, and the middle is cancelled, as no matter which way they vote, they’ve been promised change.  The challenge to Obama is to make this word resonate in a unique way, not buckle under to the attempt to cancel it.

A way that Obama sought to use cancellation was in his VP pick;
Biden brought foreign policy experience directly to the table, in an attempt to cover for a perceived weakness in Obama’s campaign.  Biden was essentially McCain Jr.  It’s a way to say “Fresh – AND wise!” to McCain’s “wise”.  It seems that in that moment, Palin was a play to cancel out Obama’s freshness.  Her selection may not have been the PUMA thing at all – more simply, she had the right energy to cancel Obama’s personal magnetism.  Her pick has been disastrous, to be certain, but I think ultimately she has kept McCain in the race.  If he’d picked ‘other weird old ineffectual white guy’, his ticket may have collapsed under its own dullness.

And even the apparent ‘experience’ cancellation that was suffered by the McCain camp in their VP pick might have had a unique twist under this filter.  Defending oneself from the epithet ‘inexperienced’ is not so terrible – I believe Obama could have found a nuanced way of saying ‘Nothing succeeds like success’ and argued his way back out, the old-fashioned way.  He didn’t want to, being aware of ‘protesting too much’ working against him.  But I believe in my own naive way that Obama still had options on this front.  However, when Palin entered the race, a false equivalency was fostered in the middle – “Ah well, he’s inexperienced, she’s inexperienced, I guess there’s just a whole lot of inexperience going on.”  It became way too convoluted for any argument to get through.

Forget pushback – this metaphor reveals the location of the battlefield in this war of words between the two campaigns.  Tit for tat is too simplistic.  This is more like the rock paper scissors of the political landscape.  We’d like to believe that we’re taking the fight to the other side, but the real goal is to play the middle, to capture the middle.

Here’s the one to anticipate – ACORN is in the right-wing news on a daily basis, hyped up and primed to be a breaking scandal.  They don’t have anything direct yet, cos there’s been no voter fraud, just some bad forms that mean nothing.  If a guy can show up to a polling place with a government ID that says “Mickey Mouse”, and he gets to vote as registered voter Mickey Mouse, then we have a problem.  However, this trumped-up story has legs, cos when voter fraud begins to happen against the democrats on election day, the story will immediately be juxtaposed against the ongoing ACORN stories, and people will shrug, and bemoan the fact that we have such corrupt elections.  This is what I meant about anticipatory cointelpro.  They’ve manufactured this story early in anticipation of the traditional liberal “They stole my vote” screed.

Yes, I am biased.  I will admit this readily.  However, we have no system by which to isolate and verify the claims of the left and right without falling prey to accusations of bias.  Journalism’s mission at this point in history is to find a way to describe this left-middle-right phenomena in a way that satisfies everyone.  We’ve covered the left and the right endlessly, and we’ve let them engage each other, but with only a few rare exceptions, no one has ever been converted from one side to another.  These are constants.  We’ve described the middle as ‘dull’, but ironically it’s the other way around.  The science, the sociology is happening in the middle.  The potentiality is all in the middle.  Arguments are lost in the middle.  Contests are won in the middle.  And as I’ve been trying to explain here, cancellation happens in the middle.  The path toward eliminating it is to give a voice to the middle again, and listen up when they say “I’m not hearing anything.”

(Thanks to Scott for demonstrating Phase Cancellation to me back in our old recording studio.)

One Response to “Metaphor U”

  1. […] always get drawn to this kind of nonsense. I really want to expand on this old post of mine somehow, express it in a digestible mainstream kinda way. It discussed how politics is a […]

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