Left Out of the Narrative

Everybody recognizes the names of Michael Brown and Darren Wilson in connection with the riots in Ferguson.  But here's a question.  What was the name of the manager of the convenience store who Michael Brown strongarmed?  We may not be able to cite a name, but Joe Biden can put us in the ballpark.  "You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent."

We know that whatever his name was it was of Indian derivation.

The Ferguson Market, where Brown allegedly grabbed a handful of cigars before his deadly encounter with police, looters twice targeted the store owned by a Patel family along with several other Asian-American owned stores, according to the Daily Beast.

At least eight stores were looted in nearby Dellwood too with Pakistani American Mumtaz Lalani’s Dellwood Market among those ransacked and almost burnt down by dozens of looters, according to South Asian Times.

It's not just convenience stores. The low-cost motel industry is also largely Indian. The Times of India notes: "the hotel industry in the United States, particularly the budget hotels segment, is dominated by people of Indian origin. Some 60 per cent of all budget hotels, typically called motels, are owned by Indians. Their predominance has led to the term ''Potel Motels'' because they are usually run by Gujaratis with the last name Patel."  So whenever a night motel clerk is robbed or a convenience store is looted in a low income neighborhood the guy at the losing end was probably called something like Patel.

The race problem is usually defined in terms of black versus white. But it's not really that simple. I asked one South African Indian what life was like before and after apartheid. He answered that  "during apartheid the problem of South African Indians was that they weren't white. Afterward their problem was that they weren't black."

Recently Harvard University has been accused of "disappearing" Asians. "Asian Americans are invisible," writes Tim Mak in the Daily Beast.

That, at least, is the contention of Students for Fair Admissions, an organization alleging in an anti-discrimination lawsuit that Harvard systematically excludes Asian Americans through its “holistic” admissions process. The argument is that by considering information about an applicant other than test scores and GPA, the school is trying to limit the number of Asian Americans in attendance—and that the result is a form of affirmative action for non-Asians.

The media's ability to define the narrative is so enormously powerful it almost distorts reality. Take Ebola. Everybody knows that the epidemic is over because it's no longer reported. But as Deutsche Welle notes, it isn't. The apparent drop is an artifact of the way the disease has been reported.

The World Health Organization has dramatically revised the death toll from the Ebola outbreak. Almost 7,000 have died from the virus - adding 1,200 more to a count released days ago. ...

It is an abrupt increase of just over 1,200 deaths compared to its previous report, released days ago. A WHO spokesman said the steep hike in fatalities, mainly in Liberia, was mainly "a reconciliation of historical numbers" and not due to new deaths in recent days.

The UN's health agency has previously said it believes there are far more deaths than actually registered.

Virology Down Under has an informative graphic which shows how significant this "reconciliation" is. Writing at the start of November, Dr Bruce Aylward wrote that the weird numbers coming out of the WHO reflected the fact that they were catching up with unreported or misreported cases.  It went away and now it's back because the numbers went away and now they're back.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Ebola virus disease (EVD)case numbers that came out on 29-Oct were pretty big (see graph on the left). As if there weren't already enough new cases and deaths every 2-5 days, now there is this bolus of 3,562 cases added to the total. And a net change in deaths of -2? What the heck? ...

In terms of the jump in the number of cases, one of things that we've talked about in the past on this is that with the huge surge in cases in certain countries, particularly in September and October, people got behind on their data.

It's like the Indian convenience store managers in Ferguson, it's not that the 'reconciled' Ebola fatalities don't exist; it's just that we don't see them due to reporting problems. Yet the victims are as dead as the stores are burned. But it's not just a problem of Potels or individuals with the Wong name. Oblivion can happen to white guys too. Chuck Hagel has disappeared from the news, which is remarkable because he's still Secretary of Defense. But we have to rely on the ever retentive Joe Biden to recollect this forgotten man.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden is reportedly “ticked off” with the way Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s resignation was handled by the White House.

An administration official told Politico on Monday that Mr. Biden scowled in the State Dining Room as the news was delivered that Mr. Hagel, a friend, would not remain on staff for the duration of the administration.

David McRaney calls the phenomenon of importance based on what pundits or news sources focus on "the frequency illusion".  The public is lulled into thinking that because something is above the fold, it is more important.  And what is worse, the 'frequency illusion' feeds back on itself through confirmation bias. Individuals are rewarded by others for talking about the same things. Pretty soon they are all talking about the same thing. Once a meme gets started it takes over the narrative universe.

Just as things can be made to disappear, certain persons or objects can be made larger than they are by frequent repetition. The Daily Mail writes: "me, me, me! Obama uses first-person singular 91 times in immigration speech".  The man is big, real big through the operation of frequency.

The world as seen through the Narrative can be compared to reality as viewed through the reflection in a fun-house mirror. It's not exactly the way it looks. Perhaps a more accurate metaphor is to compare it to adaptive optics, in which images can be 'corrected' through selective deformation so that certain undesirable artifacts can be made to disappear. "Adaptive optics was first envisioned by Horace W. Babcock in 1953,  and was also considered in science fiction, as in Poul Anderson's novel Tau Zero (1970), but it did not come into common usage until advances in computer technology during the 1990s made the technique practical."

It may have been science fiction once, but it's commonplace reality now. News aggregation and organized punditry are easily manipulated to project a given image through a process similar to adaptive optics. What you see is is not necessarily what is out there. By adding data or emphasizing it differently you can overlay the image of a cat and make it look like a tree. This method of concealment is called steganography.

The Image of a Cat The Image of a Cat

The image of the at is inside this picture of a tree The image of the cat is inside this picture of a tree

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears the thud, is there really any noise?  If nobody notices Indians and "Asians", do they really exist?  Ernst Mach once asked Albert Einstein a similar question.

Mach was an Austrian physicist whose name is used as a measurement of speed, as in "Mach 1," the speed of sound at sea level. He was a contemporary of Einstein, to whom he suggested a thought experiment: What if there was only one object in the universe? Mach argued that it could not have a velocity, because according to the theory of relativity, you need at least two objects before you can measure their velocity relative to each other.

Taking this thought experiment a step further, if an object was alone in the universe, and it had no velocity, it could not have a measurable mass, because mass varies with velocity.

Mach concluded that inertial mass only exists because the universe contains multiple objects. When a gyroscope is spinning, it resists being pushed around because it is interacting with the Earth, the stars, and distant galaxies. If those objects didn't exist, the gyroscope would have no inertia.

It's called Mach's principle. Nobody has actually refuted it. "A very general statement of Mach's principle is 'Local physical laws are determined by the large-scale structure of the universe.'"

This concept was a guiding factor in Einstein's development of the general theory of relativity. Einstein realized that the overall distribution of matter would determine the metric tensor, which tells you which frame is rotationally stationary. Frame dragging and conservation of gravitational angular momentum makes this into a true statement in the general theory in certain solutions. But because the principle is so vague, many distinct statements can be (and have been) made which would qualify as a Mach principle, and some of these are false.

Do the Indians in Ferguson matter? Does Chuck Hagel really exist? You tell me.


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