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Through a glass, darkly

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

[ by Emlyn Cameron — On North Korea: a retrospective as preemptive strike ]
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Charles Cameron’s introduction: Regular readers may know my son Emlyn from previous contributions on Zenpundit [1, 2]. Here he wages a war of miniturization on the Korean fiefdom of Kim Jong-Un.

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Snow falls on Kim Jong-Il‘s funeral cortege

Reflecting on the Nuclear staring contest now ongoing between the United States and North Korea, I confront mixed feelings: Obviously one must consider different strategies and engage in a pragmatic calculus; One must consider the pros and cons, the risks and rewards, and the numerous lives which might be ended or fail ever to be lived as a consequence of any policy. It is, I need not say, a very complex issue. Worse still, it is an issue of severe import to many whose lives hang in the balance.

But I find myself grappling with a less practical question and coming away irresolute: If North Korea’s brand of surreal statism could be overthrown without bloodshed or tragedy, how would I feel? Would I be proud? Pleased? Grateful? Somehow, I can’t convince myself that I would be entirely satisfied. I feel certain that any pride, pleasure, or gratitude would be alloyed with something else. And this in spite of my knowledge that such a coup would be, well, a coup, and of the welcome it would justifiably receive.

“The bloodless anticlimax to an Orwellian police state?” I hear the likely refrain, “Terrific!”

“A peaceful end to a regime which embraced not only Stalinist propagandism, but De Facto Monarchy? Still better!” The voices continue.

“And a conclusion to tantrums and ICBM rattle throwing? Who could hope for more?” Comes the triumphal call.

And yet, I am unconvinced in the recesses of my heart. That might be strange to many people, even a tad immoral, but it’s how things stand.

In order that such a stance might make more sense, I’ll admit that I have a strange affection for the turbulent little state and its Emperor’s New Jumpsuits. This probably extends from more general conflicted feelings about overt dictatorships: I am someone who deeply loves enlightenment philosophy, and cherishes my personal freedoms. I am, all the same, a morbid person, prone to fatalism, and I harbor dark anticipations about the future of humanity. Somewhere in the middle I developed a great relish for bleak wit. For these reasons, it should come as no shock that I am a great admirer of George Orwell and a fan of his writings. Perhaps like others who count themselves among his readers, I find myself emotionally torn while reading Nineteen Eighty-Four or Animal Farm; The dystopias he presents disturb me, and yet, (in spite of my philosophical leanings) a small part of me is always tugged at by a desire to relinquish the struggle of self determination, and to escape the paradox of choice by giving in to such an oppression. The terrible certainties, even of state assigned conclusions and death, speak to some tired part in me, which recognizes strain from the ongoing alertness required of anyone who wants to be the arbiter of their own affairs.

North Korea, likewise, is a natural antagonist to the individualism I hold dear, but, perhaps because of its total conviction and flagrance in opposing my worldview, I am captivated by its iconography and insular existence. I have always been fascinated by the ludicrous spectacle, the stark imagery, and the total devotion of totalitarian nations, though I revile their premises. Having one around, therefore, leaves me in rather a strange position: I desire the grip of the North Korean state on its people broken as a matter of principle, while simultaneously fearing the death of a kind of dangerous endangered species; I am struck by the feeling that the end of the North Korean state would be a victory for my values, and the loss of one of the world’s great curiosities.

A friend recently called North Korea “an Eighth Wonder of the World”, and I agree. It is a tragic wonder, dangerous rather than glorious, but a wonder none the less.

My grandfather, a conservative philosopher, referred to himself as a “sentimental monarchist”. If a peaceful end came to the militaristic regime in North Korea, my relief would be tinged with a similar kind of sentimental loss; Something interesting would be gone, and I would feel a nostalgic pang for the missing strangeness. I fancy that I would rather keep the aggressive little power, not on a map, but on a shelf. I should like to keep it in a snow globe, I think (the state already more or less frozen as it is).

I’d like a little magnified globe, not unlike the coral paperweight in Orwell’s book, in which would be held the repressive slice of 1950’s authoritarianism: Marches and missiles behind safety glass. Occasionally, on a quiet night, I might chance to hear a soft, televised threat to my safety, or a report on bountiful rations; If I felt a stab of longing for the atmosphere of suspended aggression from my parents and grand parents age, I could go to the mantle and wind the little state up by hand (rather than by tweet) and hear a tinkling anthem that takes me back; I’d like to visit the trinket now and again and watch snow fallout from a nuclear winter after I shake it, or watch tiny jackboots and smiling, slightly condescending diplomats go about their days work. Maybe the mandatorily grateful workers would even build a cardboard city for my benefit, to give an impression of plenty. And once I had seen the last settling flakes fall, I would place it back above the fire place with a feeling of having harmlessly revisited my childhood, glad of a souvenir to solidify the bittersweet memory. After all, a snow globe can cast nothing else from the mantle to the floor, nor launch beyond its translucent border.

Then again, just because I’d have the terror held safely under glass, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t continue in earnest within.

Sunday surprise, from dogs & muffins to Stop! & 45mph limit

Sunday, August 6th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — better eat a muffin than a dog, stop at a stop sign than blow through it at 45, oh well ]
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It’s cute, sorta, that AIs can’t easily distinguish dogs from muffins:

But STOP!

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What’s not so funny is that the AI in many autonomous vehicles misreads a treated STOP sign —

— as a sign for a 45 mph speed limit. As Ivan Evtimov and colleagues indicate in Robust Physical-World Attacks on Machine Learning Models, “Physically realizing such an attack for road signs can raise concern in human observers.”

I’ll say.

Grab the wheel, conscious entity!

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Readings:

  • Becoming Human: AI, Why are Marketers All Talking about AI Now?
  • Wired, Simple Pictures that State-of-the-Art AI Still Can’t Recognize
  • Car & Driver, Researchers Find a Malicious Way to Meddle with Autonomous Cars
  • Arxiv, Robust Physical-World Attacks on Machine Learning Models
  • Scaramucci imitates Life

    Sunday, July 30th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — a definite case of Mini-Me in my opinion ]
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    Jump directly to the 9.25 mark to see the 20 or so seconds of Daily Show video DoubleQuote, in which the artifice of Scaramucci eerily imitates the life of Trump:

    Or see the whole thing –your choice. Me, I’m just amazed at the gestural similarities — and on this occasion I can say, as the movie detective so often says: I don’t believe in coincidence.

    **

    Hilarious, if unsettling.

    Oh, the Trumpian DoubleQuotes I’ve missed!

    Friday, June 23rd, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — praise of Bruce Hoffman’s review of The Exile (ie Osama bin Laden) — interrupted by Trumpist verbal pyrotechnics ]
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    Saif al-Adel, key AQ operative

    **

    War on the Rocks has a tremendous review by Bruce Hoffman of Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy, The Exile: The Stunning Inside Story of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Flight, a must-read.

    Never mind that, I’ve been missing tremendous DoubleQuote opportunities, as I discover now I’ve seen Kathryn and Ross PetrasTrump’s Elements of Style in McSweeney’s. Consider some of my options:

    I know more about renewables than any human being on Earth.
    — interview, Sean Hannity, 4/13/16

    I think nobody knows more about taxes than I do, maybe in the history of the world. Nobody knows more about taxes.
    — interview, AP 5/13/16

    I know more about ISIS [the Islamic State militant group] than the generals do. Believe me.
    — speech, 11/12/15

    There is nobody who understands the horror of nuclear more than me.
    — speech, 6/15/16

    And then:

    I have a great relationship with the blacks. I’ve always had a great relationship with the blacks.
    — TALK1300 radio interview, 4/14/11

    I have a great relationship the Mexican people. I love them, they love me!
    — MSBNC interview, 7/8/15

    I have a great relationship with the people of Scotland and an unbelievably good relationship with the people of Aberdeen.
    — press conference 6/8/15

    And, for good measure, assuming you can stretch this far:

    What I like is build a safe zone in Syria. Build a big, beautiful safe zone, and you have whatever it is so people can live…
    — campaign rally, 2/13/17

    We’re going to have beautiful clean coal.
    — CPAC address, 2/24/16

    And then again:

    I have had tremendous success.
    — interview, ABC News, 7/30/16

    I am worth a tremendous amount of money
    — interview, CNN 6/26/15

    I have a tremendous income.
    — presidential debate, 9/26/16

    I pay tremendous numbers of taxes
    — presidential debate, 10/9/16

    I have to admit, those last four — besides being a tremendous source of potential DoubleQuotes — is and are beautifully consistent. But do yourself a favor, unless I’ve displeased you, and go read the whole of the McSweeney piece.

    **

    I believe I mentioned Bruce Hoffman’s review of The Exile for War on the Rocks? One among many items of interest in that book would appear to be the significant role played by Saif al-Adel (see illustration above). Hamid Gul and Qassem Suleimani likewise. A key para:

    This tale of Iranian connivance provides additional evidence debunking the popular misconception that extremists do not cooperate across sectarian lines. Rather, it demonstrates how when interests overlap, they have repeatedly shown a remarkable ability to cast aside their otherwise rigid differences to work together. The ancient proverb that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” has long characterized the shifting and sometimes inexplicable alliances formed across the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia since the war on terrorism commenced 16 years ago. In this instance, the intensity of the shared enmity between Salafi-Jihadi Sunnis and Shia militants against the United States can never be prudently forgotten.

    A tie strong enough to bind Sunni and Shia together — their joint hatred of America? For those of us who take a keen interest in religion and love America, that’s a notion that may take quite some time to digest.

    Catching up with Carson

    Saturday, June 17th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — always amazed when theology makes its way into politics ]
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    I missed this when it first appeared, but wanted to capture it now I’ve found it (via a Lewis Black routine) —

    Seems the amateur theologian Ben Carson — who relies heavily on his professional status as a neurosurgeon for credibility — thinks amateurs get the job done way better than professionals. Whether that opinion will lead to better ship-building by, eg, Hyundai, Samsung and Daewoo is another question: they may or may not take note of Biblical precedent in this matter.


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