Friday, January 17, 2014

The Bellman Equation (movie review)

I had a credit at Movie Madness, which I almost used on Breaking Bad Season V, but that's less than the usual number of episodes and was $2.50 instead of $5.  So I saved my credit for whatever documentary next grabbed my attention, just based on reading the DVD case.

In this instance, I had no prior knowledge of what I was getting into, except that it was semi-contemporary.

In retrospect, I thank the Library Angel or whatever synchronistic principle, having just seen Daniel Ellsberg:  The Most Dangerous Man in America.  This could have been the other feature of a double feature as both center on the RAND Corporation and its role in war-making and/or peace-making per the game theory du jour.  I've never been a RAND fan, and I've done more than an average amont of homework, with lots of access to declassified stuff in Firestone Library (Princeton).

Some displaced sense of scientism, laced with logical positivism, begets a steroidal hubris, a steaming soup of memes, which gets generals feeling their oats and wanting to bomb something, anything.  Call it the Dr. Strangelove Effect.  There's a deliberate aversion to "sentiment" meaning a despising of EQ ("emotional IQ"), something less wise than "crazy" (the translation of "beneficial chaos" in dynamical systems theory today).  RAND never got that far and it took Ellsberg, another RAND insider, to finally pull the other way.

I thought the film dodged a deeper dialog by focusing on the hapless Rosenbergs, the easy targets, "green vomits", and not mentioning Ellsberg at all.  Bellman's subsequent reaming by HUAC was undoubtedly traumatic and took years off his life but he wasn't fighting the system, he was fighting for his reputation within that system, the one Ellsberg eventually fought and which we currently see as worth bringing down, with Richard Nixon an obvious bad guy, as hapless as they come.

You get three generations of Bellman here:  the grandson, making the movie, the dad who disagreed with how things were managed in his lifetime (with good reason), and the grand dad, some genius at RAND who more typified the establishment in its worship of new hybrids such as operations research, game theory, GST, dynamical systems (chaos math) and, back then, general semantics (popular in San Quentin at least [ the Youtube is gone -- the warden is introducing Bucky to the prisoners, mentioning they've been studying Korzybski most lately]).  Not forgetting AI.