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Vexillology 2

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- in response to a comment by Zen on a previous post -- swastikas, anarchist flags, Gadsden flags, black banners, and their various variants ]
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Yesterday, in response to my piece on Black Banners in the Washington Post Zen commented:

Funny how no one mistakes the meaning of a flag with a swastika or a hammer and sickle.

I pretty much agree. Most of us — with occasional exceptions – recognize the swastika as the detestable symbol of Hitler‘s National Socialists or Nazis, right?

**

And yet there are nuances — and it was in search of those that I sent myself off on one of those wild goose chases to which the internet entices us. My response got so long in fact, and so heavily illustrated, that I decided to make it a post of its own.

The Nazi swastika is pretty straightforward — except that it can be confused with an ancient Hindu symbol of Life, Love and Light..

found in pujas or worship ceremonies,

associated with Lord Ganesh,

from which Rudyard Kipling no doubt drew his own use of a swastika imprint on his books,

although he later withdrew it,

Kipling was so disgusted by the Nazis and the sight of their flag that he removed the swastika, a Hindu symbol of good luck, from his bookbindings. It had been his trademark for nearly forty years but it was now ‘defiled beyond redemption’

and in Buddhism, for instance decorating the throne of the Dalai Lama,

in the design of US Naval dormitories in Coronado,

in old-style greetings cards,

and a kabbalistic diagram:

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Ah, but it also has many variants:

the Maru ni Hidari Mannji crest, from Japan,

the symbol of the Slavic Union,

the National Power Unity Party of Latvia,

the Syrian Social Nationalist Party,

National Unity of Russia,

Russia’s National Socialist Movement,

the Tohokai Party flag,

the Golden Dawn, from Greece,

the Dutch National Socialist movement,

and Swedish National Socialist Bloc,

Action Front Nationalist, Germany,

and the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, S Africa,

reminiscent of this flag of the Isle of Man,

not to be confused with that of the Isle of Women:

**

You might think Anarchist flags would be pretty simple, eh? Red and black triangles..

except that this shouldn’t be confused with the right-wing Nation flag from Belgium:

Interesting anarchist variants apparently include the Anarcho-feminist flag,

the Eco-anarchist,

and the Market-anarchist,

illustrated here,

and sometimes, apparently, in conjunction with..

.. the Gadsden flag:

which will be familiar to Tea Partiers and Chicago Boyz.

**

I found or was pointed to most of the images above by the three Political Flags of Extremism pages, to which I am grateful.

Now, as to the Black Banners — Wikipedia has an entry on The Black Standard, showing diferent variants of the black banner (or raya) — notably these three:

The simplest version — the one Muhammad carried into battle,

next, the flag with shahada used by AQ,

and finally the version associated with al-Shabaab and most recently the “Islamic State” caliphate:

There are doubtless many more, some official and some the work of individuals, and exactly which versions have ben recorded in use by which groups is beyond my scope to say.

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My real point, my real answer to Zen’s comment isn’t to agree or disagree with him, just to say that both group flags and logos and which groups they’re attributed to, with what exact shades of meaning, can be a tricky business.

When the US Embassy in Cairo was attacked on September 11th 2012, the “caliphate” was not yet in existence, and the black flag visible in this photo was labeled “the al-Qaida flag”:

It wasn’t even the only black banner there:

To add yet a further touch of symbolic mashup, you can also see an Anonymous / Guy Fawkes / Vendetta mask in both pictures.

In any case, back then the “shahada with seal” was an al-Qaida flag, and this week, Abby Phillip called that same style of flag the “signature flag” of the Islamic State in her WaPo article this week.

As Heraclitus famously said, panta rhei — all is flux.

And a tip-of-the-hat to Lewis Shepherd for a reminder of that great word, vexillology!

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Merch for war and peace

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- hint: peace comes at a far higher cost ]
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No longer do you need to sit long hours in meditation or travel to Syria and borrow a gun to show your appreciation for peace or jihad. You can now buy a t-shirt for the cool Caliphate [upper panel, below]…

or a comfy chair like the one made for the supercool Dalai Lama [lower panel, above].

And that’s the power of — choose one:

  • (a) symbols in the mind
  • (b) money in the bank
  • Thing is, the t-shirt, showing your relaxed appreciation of jihad, will run you about $10 — but a similarly relaxed appreciation of meditation will cost you $10,000 — war is a thousand times cheaper than peace, give or take.

    **

    Sources:

  • The Wire, Retailers Capitalize on Iraq Crisis With ISIS Merchandise
  • Chicago Tribune, Desire a Dalai Lama chair?
  • Nice irony in that Chicago Tribune headline, no?

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    Turing Test…..Passed

    Monday, June 9th, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

    I am not an Ai aficionado but this would seem to be a pretty significant milestone:

    Turing Test: Computer Program Convinces Judges it’s Human

    Judges in England were fooled into thinking the computer program they were conversing with was a human on Saturday — making the it the first to pass the 65-year-old Turing Test.

    “Eugene Goostman” is not a 13-year-old boy, but 33 percent of the people who partook in five minute keyboard conversations with the computer program at the Royal Society in London thought it was, according to The University of Reading, which organized the test.

    The Turing Test is based on “the father of modern computer science” Alan Turing’s question, “Can Machines Think?”

    If a computer is mistaken for a human by more than 30 percent of judges, it passes the test, but no computer has accomplished the feat — until now.

    “Eugene” was created in Saint Petersburg, Russia, by software development engineer Vladimir Veselov and software engineer Eugene Demchenko, according to the University of Reading. The computer program was tested along with four others during Saturday night’s event, but was the only one to thoroughly imitate a person.

    “Our whole team is very excited with this result,” Veselov said. “Going forward we plan to make Eugene smarter and continue working on improving what we refer to as ‘conversation logic.’”

    Computers that are as smart — or smarter — than humans raise concerns of dire economic consequences and diabolical robotic plots fit for science fiction movies.

    But Kevin Warwick, a visiting professor at the University of Reading says a computer that can think and act like a person will be an asset to battling cyber-crime. “Online, real-time communication of this type can influence an individual human in such a way that they are fooled into believing something is true … when in fact it is not,” he said.

    Warwick pointed out that this weekend’s test is also controversial because some claim it has been passed before, but the test did not pre-specify the topics of conversations and was independently verified. “We are therefore proud to declare that Alan Turing‘s test was passed for the first time on Saturday,” Warwick said. 

    How fast will this evolve, I wonder?

    Many readers are no doubt familiar with the “Turing Police” in Willam Gibson’s classic  Neuromancer.  While Ai will bring many tech advantages, at some point, at least for cybersecurity and CI purposes, there will need to be some kind of analog to reduce and punish the misuse or abuse of Ai with something short of a Butlerian Jihad.

      

    UPDATE!:

    Not so fast….

    ….Okay, almost everything about the story is bogus. Let’s dig in:

    It’s not a “supercomputer,” it’s a chatbot. It’s a script made to mimic human conversation. There is no intelligence, artificial or not involved. It’s just a chatbot.
    Plenty of other chatbots have similarly claimed to have “passed” the Turing test in the past (often with higher ratings). Here’s a story from three years ago about another bot, Cleverbot, “passing” the Turing Test by convincing 59% of judges it was human (much higher than the 33% Eugene Goostman) claims.

    It “beat” the Turing test here by “gaming” the rules — by telling people the computer was a 13-year-old boy from Ukraine in order to mentally explain away odd responses.

    The “rules” of the Turing test always seem to change. Hell, Turing’s original test was quite different anyway.

    As Chris Dixon points out, you don’t get to run a single test with judges that you picked and declare you accomplished something. That’s just not how it’s done. If someone claimed to have created nuclear fusion or cured cancer, you’d wait for some peer review and repeat tests under other circumstances before buying it, right?

    The whole concept of the Turing Test itself is kind of a joke. While it’s fun to think about, creating a chatbot that can fool humans is not really the same thing as creating artificial intelligence. Many in the AI world look on the Turing Test as a needless distraction.

    Oh, and the biggest red flag of all. The event was organized by Kevin Warwick at Reading University. If you’ve spent any time at all in the tech world, you should automatically have red flags raised around that name. Warwick is somewhat infamous for his ridiculous claims to the press, which gullible reporters repeat without question. He’s been doing it for decades. All the way back in 2000, we were writing about all the ridiculous press he got for claiming to be the world’s first “cyborg” for implanting a chip in his arm. There was even a — since taken down — Kevin Warwick Watch website that mocked and categorized all of his media appearances in which gullible reporters simply repeated all of his nutty claims. Warwick had gone quiet for a while, but back in 2010, we wrote about how his lab was getting bogus press for claiming to have “the first human infected with a computer virus.” The Register has rightly referred to Warwick as both “Captain Cyborg” and a “media strumpet” and has long been chronicling his escapades in exaggerating bogus stories about the intersection of humans and computers for many, many years.

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    Of a flag and the blood of martyrs

    Saturday, May 10th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- how, where and why the name, the map, and the flag merge into reality -- Gregory Bateson to the rescue ]
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    I am indebted for this screengrab to Phillip Smyth, whose recent Singing Hizballah’s Tune in Manama: Why Are Bahrain’s Militants Using the Music of Iran’s Proxies? post in his Hizballah Cavalcade at Aaron Zelin‘s Jihadology included the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq martyr video for those killed fighting in Syria, with its allusion to the martyrdom of Hussein at Karbala — deep breath — from which this grab is taken.

    **

    Let me back up: what I want to discuss here is the significance of flags, with the blooded Shahada flag providing an instance.

    We have two brain hemispheres: one of them, according to Gregory Bateson, knows the difference between a sign and what it points to, one doesn’t — and we live in a world that’s made up of these two perceptions, one layered over the other, the other shining through on occasion.

    Here’s Bateson — if you don’t know him, one of the presiding geniuses of the twentieth century thought:

    The distinction between the name and the thing named or the map and the territory is perhaps really made only by the dominant hemisphere of the brain. The symbolic and affective hemisphere, normally on the right-hand side, is probably unable to distinguish name from thing named. It is certainly not concerned with this sort of distinction. It therefore happens that certain nonrational types of behavior are necessarily present in human life. We do, in fact, have two hemispheres; and we cannot get away from that fact. Each hemisphere does, in fact, operate somewhat differently from the other, and we cannot get away from the tangles that that difference proposes.

    For example, with the dominant hemisphere, we can regard such a thing as a flag as a sort of name of the country or organization that it represents. But the right hemisphere does not draw this distinction and regards the flag as sacramentally identical with what it represents. So “Old Glory” is the United States. If somebody steps on it, the response may be rage. And this rage will not be diminished by an explanation of map-territory relations. (After all, the man who tramples the flag is equally identifying it with that for which it stands.) There is always and necessarily be a large number of situations in which the response is not guided by the logical distinction between the name and the thing named.

    I’d like to reemphasize a couple of phrases:

  • certain nonrational types of behavior are necessarily present in human life
  • the right hemisphere … regards the flag as sacramentally identical with what it represents
  • **

    That quote comes from a while back, of course, and we have a great deal more detailed knowledge now than we did when Bateson first wrote it — but I checked with a neuropsychologist colleague, and he gave me the okay to quote it as an admittedly broad strokes version of a more complex truth, and thus subject to various qualifications.

    And while it may seem like a strange suggestion to some who might otherwise think of the flag as “just a flag, a piece of colored fabric” — it makes perfect sense of the diplomatic protocol surrounding the Saudi flag which I noted in a previous post:

    The script in the centre of the flag is the Islamic creed, “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is the Prophet of Allah”. The flag is therefore considered sacred and special protocol rules apply: the flag does not dip in salute, nor is it ever flown at half-mast. Note that the creed always reads properly from right to left, with the sword hilt to the right, so the reverse of the flag is not a mirror image of the obverse. When making the flag, the creed must be reproduced precisely, including the accent marks. The use of the flag on any commercial item (especially clothing) is not recommended as it might be considered inappropriate, or even insulting.

    The Saudi flag is the scripture is the Word of God, in the same (lower case “s” sacramental) way in which the consecrated bread is the body of Christ is the Real Presence in the Catholic eucharist, and in each case, to desecrate the symbol is to desecrate that to which (from the point of one hemisphere) it refers and which (from the perspective of the other) it makes present.

    Thus Bateson might say, with Saint Augustine and the Catechism, that in each of these cases, the outward and visible sign embodies an inward and spiritual reality.

    And which in turn may explain why Bateson, setting an exam for the young psychiatrists he was training in a mental hospital in Palo Alto, asked them as his first question for brief descriptions of “sacrament” and “entropy” — figuring them to be two of the “core notions of 2,500 years of thought about religion and science”.

    To some readers, all this will be so obvious as to need no explanation, to others it may still seem utterly opaque. My hope is to give you a sense that beneath the rational surface of our lives, there lurks another mode of thinking — and that one of its aspects is to treat “signs” as though they *are* whatever they represent.

    **

    Relevant quotes from Gregory Bateson:

    Once I drew up a sort of catechism and offered it to the class as a sampling of the questions which I hoped they would be able to discuss after completing the course. The questions ranged from “What is a sacrament?” to “What is entropy?” and “What is play?”

    As a didactic maneuver, my cathechism was a failure: it silenced the class…

    – Gregory Bateson, Steps to an ecology of mind

    Even grown-up persons with children of their own cannot give a reasonable account of concepts such as entropy, sacrament, syntax, number, quantity, pattern, linear relation, name, class, relevance, energy, redundancy, force, probability, parts, whole, information, tautology, homology, mass (either Newtonian or Christian), explanation, description, rule of dimensions, logical type, metaphor, topology, and so on. What are butterflies? What are starfish? What are beauty and ugliness?

    — Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity

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    Second American Revolution II: the symbolic side of things

    Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- always on the watch for the symbolic ]
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    First, let’s admit that the cattle-rancher archetype has immense popular appeal. Here’s the header from the Bundy Ranch website:

    That’s pretty hard to beat, no?

    **

    As ever, I’m concerned to keep track of the symbolic side of things, the emotional tugs, the flags, rituals, and stratagems which gather morale to a cause — in this case, the standoff at the Bundy Ranch.

    Again in this photo we see cowboys, and this time one of them is carrying the American flag held high…

    What other flags were in evidence?

    I’m pretty sure I can see the US Army, Navy and Marine Corps flags here, along with the US flag —

    **

    There’s another flag, just above the Corps flag in the photo above, that I couldn’t identify — a flag which was also captured in this Guardian shot –

    I didn’t recognize it, but our blog-friend and frequent commentator Grurray did… And here’s where things get really interesting, and I learn what I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t decided to look into this matter of the flags at the Bundy Ranch showdown.

    It’s a Latter-day Saints banner known as the Title of Liberty, and it dervives from a passage in the Book of Mormon, Alma 46 verses 12-13 and 36-37, wherein Captain Moroni

    rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it — In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children — and he fastened it upon the end of a pole … and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty) and he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren …

    and…

    it came to pass also, that he caused the title of liberty to be hoisted upon every tower which was in all the land, which was possessed by the Nephites; and thus Moroni planted the standard of liberty among the Nephites. And they began to have peace again in the land…

    Here it is, raised for an event in Washington DC:

    And here it is, catalogued for sale as a 3′ x 5′ flag:

    **

    Finally, there’s the Gadsden flag:

    — flown here at the Bundy Ranch protest alonside the US flag:

    **

    That’s it for flags, for me, at least for now… It has been an interesting ride.

    I mentioned stratagems, though. Here’s one that strikes me as less than chivalrous — but which, if push had come to shoot, would have made quite a media splash. The stratagem? Simple — put women in the front line…

    Sheriff Richard Mack explains his idea:

    Mack goes into further detail in an interview with Ben Swann. You can read excerpts here, or view the entire interview on YouTube here — the relevant passage begibs around the 4.39 mark.

    I am not by any stretch a lawyer — but isn’t that veering pretty close to the old “human shield” idea we so despised in Iraq and Afghanistan?

    **

    Thanks again to Grurray — with sharp eyes & knowledge to match!

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