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Tommy the Russkie Tank-tank

Sunday, April 16th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — A Russian tanker-toy saga ]
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Another contribution to the maxcro / micro, war / games displays in my mental cabinet of wonders:

I’m sorry, this was about the only screen-grab I could manage that showed both the toy tank and its war-fighting seniors. In the children’s story, the toy tank gets left at the tank museum overnight, and is shocked and awed by the realities of which it is but a simulacrum — the OT 76, T 72, and most particularly the T-14 Armata super-tank.

The equation war : war games :: T-14 : toy tank eiher understates the significnce of the T-14 or exaggerates that of the toy — but equations between simulacrum and reality lie at the heart of such philosophical excursions as Baudrillard‘s Simulacra and Simulations, with its phony epigraph, a simulacrum of a quote from Ecclesiastes:

The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none.

In the case of this children’s book, we can postulate another equation: Russia : propaganda :: factory : advertising.

But see for yourself, some of the details are hilarious:

Mosquitoes of the mind

Saturday, October 22nd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — or should that be Uber über alles?]
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uber-drones
Forget billboards — motorists now have ads buzzing a few feet above their windshields — MIT Technology Review

**

There is an endless variety of possible starting points for a critique of oneself and the world. One might start from:

  • the message in a fortune cookie
  • whatever one’s parents imparted
  • whatever one rejected of what they imparted
  • Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates
  • a return to the Green Line
  • Palestine from the river to the sea
  • the sweet humility of the Magnificat
  • the fierce doctrine of Original Sin
  • the Cloud of Unknowing
  • the uncontaminated Unity of Godhead
  • the Buddha’s Noble Truth of suffering
  • the shining suchness of the Tathagata
  • something Karl Marx said, or Darwin
  • a tall tale from Chuang-Tzu
  • Lao Tzu’s unspeakable truth, unmappable path..
  • or the way someone reacted when one trod on their foot in the subway
  • Myself, I tend to go from either:

  • the Bene Gesserit adage, Fear is the mind-killer
  • or its obverse in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Yoga is the cessation of waves in the mind.
  • **

    Which brings me to advertising.

  • Yoga is the cessation of waves in the mind.
  • Advertising is the paid attempt to capture my attention regardless of my wishes in the matter.

    In terms of the Yoga Sutras‘s goal of an unruffled mind, advertising attempts to stir up trouble — not in Syria or Afghanistan, or even in my kitchen, but within my consciousness.

    And I’m not alone in detesting this invasive behavior. “Nearly 90% of people watching timeshifted shows fast-forward the ads,” the Guardian reported in a piece titled TV advertising skipped by 86% of viewers, and while Victoria may have a secret ingredient which makes her ads memorable — I’m referring here, of course, to a recent Nobel Prizewinner — most ads are simply irritants.

    The benefit of advertising, to those whom it speaks, is that it acts as a road-sign to what we may want. It’s adverse effect is to clutter up our lives with road-signs to irrelevant and possibly offensive destinations. Apples don’t need little stickers on them proclaiming “apples by the Creator” but a discreet mention of “All purpose disinfecting cleaner by Bright Green” was quite helpful to me the other day, as I was wandering the aisles of Safeway in search of a brand they no longer carry..

    And yes. Advertising drives sales drives manufacturing drives employment drives a roof over the head for many who might otherwise find themselves in the rain. Granted.

    **

    But here come the mosquitoes.

    The image at the head of this post comes from an article titled Uber’s Ad-Toting Drones Are Heckling Drivers Stuck in Traffic.

    The unfortunate drivers in traffic jams in Mexico City are close to ground zero of an epidemic; Beelzebub, remember, is Lord of the Flies.

    An associative algorithm from teh Amazon

    Saturday, October 15th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — ISIS advertizes! — and riding on Berger & Stern’s coattails at that — sad ]
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    The artificial intelligence behind Amazon‘s selection of books he might be interested in surprised JM Berger — co-author with Jessica Stern of the excellent ISIS: The State of Terror — today, by recommending Be Happy Like ISIS: The secret to success that will change your world view (The Code Breakers Book 1) as something that might interest readers of his book.

    Unbelievable. I checked my own Amazon account, and found this:

    isis-book-dq

    That’s from the “Sponsored Products Related To This Item” section of the Amazon page on JM’s book. Right at the bottom of that screenshot, I found this:

    sponsored

    **

    See also:

  • Of Anwar al-Awlaki and Bold Christian Clothing
  • The intelligence of algorithms
  • On the foolishness of some current algorithms
  • As I said recently in Japanese joinery: DoubleQuoting with wooden blocks:

    One of my own aims has been to generate — or begin the generation of — a similar anthology of “DoubleQuotes” (conceptual twinnings) illustrating the methods of associative connection available in the realms of language and the aural and visual arts.

    So here’s another example, belonging in another category — a commercially-sponsored algorithm linking two books it “believes” might of of interest to a common audience. One is a rigorous examination of ISIS history, use of online propaganda, and apocalyptic rhetoric. The other is an example of that propaganda, skilfully contrived with keywords like “happy”, “secret to success” — and even “code-breakers” — in its title, to propagate itself on Amazon despite its pro-terror slant. Puerile.

    Feh!

    Unfortunate tweet sequence

    Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — keeping a wary eye on algorithms, with the sting in the three links at the end ]
    .

    Here’s a tweet alerting readers to a newspaper piece on the Munich terror attack:

    Here, entirely by chance, is the tweet that followed it as I scrolled down my feed:

    That tweet, for what it’s worth, was promoted.

    **

    I’m sure the people doing the promoting wouldn’t have chosen to have me read it immediately after reading the newspaper tweet just above it, but that’s the sort of things that happens when “thought” gets automated. It reminds me of the time I was researching al-Awlaki on the pro-jihadist site Revolution Muslim, and some algorithm suggested I’d like an add offering “bold Christian clothing”:

    Awlaki-and-ad

    No sale there, I’m afraid.

    **

    It gets more serious, though:

  • 3 Quarks Daily, Algocracy: Outsourcing governance to Algorithms
  • WSJ, Google Mistakenly Tags Black People as ‘Gorillas,’ Showing Limits of Algorithms
  • ProPublica, How We Analyzed the COMPAS Recidivism Algorithm ProPublica
  • Terror Is Glamour as War is Game

    Friday, March 18th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — on the necessary simultaneity of temporal and eternal perspectives ]
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    quote-terror-is-glamour-salman-rushdie

    **

    First as to glamour -– it may help to reflect that glamour, our word, comes not from Vogue but from the same origins as grammar (referring to languages) and grimoire (a book of spells, spelling also being a matter of language), and means something along the lines of “luminous illusion”. If we say terror is glamour, then, we mean that it “casts a spell” — and thus creates an appealing, indeed compelling, mirage. It lies, then, in the realm of magic, image, imagination, so ably delineated by Ioan Couliano in his great book, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance.

    The best of contemporary advertising draws on precisely the same Renaissance principles of persuasion — principles of extraordinary power which we nowadays tend to dismiss as “magical thinking”.

    **

    Thus Virginia Postrel, in Terror Is Glamour:

    Glamour can sell religious devotion or military glory as surely as it can pitch lipstick or island vacations. All promise a way to transcend our everyday circumstances, to experience more and become better than ordinary life allows. All invite us to imagine escape and transformation.

    Postrel continues:

    From Achilles and Alexander to “national greatness,” the glamour of battle is remarkably persistent. So is the glamour of martyrdom, as any trip through a Western museum or perusal of a Lives of the Saints (or its Protestant equivalent) will demonstrate. Nor is martyrdom’s appeal to Christians merely historical, as Eliza Griswold reported in this 2007 TNR piece.

    Glamour appeals to our desires, whatever they may be, and Jihadi glamour offers something for everyone: from historical importance to union with God, not to mention riches and beautiful women.

    Postrel then quotes Egyptian cleric Hazem Sallah Abu Isma’il, indicating that the “beautiful women” in question are “black-eyed virgins” from a world conceptually above our own:

    If one of these virgins were to descend to this world, her light would extinguish the light of the sun and the moon. That’s how beautiful she is.

    Yet as Postrel comments, “glamour proves perishable”:

    As Rushdie suggests, of course, glamour always leaves something out, in this case the literally gory details of the act .. Either aspirations change, entropy and boredom set in, or the audience learns too much, destroying the mystery and grace on which glamour’s beautiful illusion depends.

    She concludes with a significant question and preliminary response:

    How do we puncture the glamour of Jihadi terrorism? The first step is recognizing that such glamour exists.

    That may seem like CVE 101, but the deeper our understanding of magic, imagination, image — and hence the power of glamour — the deeper our understanding of the deep problem that CVE presents will become.

    **

    Next we turn to Richard Fernandez, writing in A Bellyful of War, picking up the themes of war’s attraction, and the carnage its glamour omits from mention, and tying both to the notions of war as game and war as brutal reality:

    William Tecumseh Sherman understood what many modern theorists have forgotten: war can be attractive to young men for as long as long as it remains a game. War in small doses is supremely thrilling, even glamorous. It is peace which can be routine and boring.

    And so it goes until war stops being a game and the going gets really rough. “Its glory is all moonshine,” said Sherman. “It is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated … that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.” To Sherman a “bellyful of war” was ironically the psychological foundation of generational peace.

    Not only is that last sentence a profound statement worthy of the contemplation of all who love peace – it is also far more subtly convincing than the old Strategic Air Command motto, Peace is Our Profession, which sounds more like one of Rochefoucauld’s tributes that vice pays to virtue than anything, and yet is presumably intended to convey the same insight.

    **

    Finally we have Plotinus, for whom – in a manner richly echoed by Shakespeare — life itself is a dream, a play, a sport, a game:

    Murders, death in all its guises, the reduction and sacking of cities, all must be to us just such a spectacle as the changing scenes of a play; all is but the varied incident of a plot, costume on and off, acted grief and lament. For on earth, in all the succession of life, it is not the Soul within but the Shadow outside of the authentic man, that grieves and complains and acts out the plot on this world stage which men have dotted with stages of their own constructing. All this is the doing of man knowing no more than to live the lower and outer life, and never perceiving that, in his weeping and in his graver doings alike, he is but at play; to handle austere matters austerely is reserved for the thoughtful: the other kind of man is himself a futility. Those incapable of thinking gravely read gravity into frivolities which correspond to their own frivolous Nature. Anyone that joins in their trifling and so comes to look on life with their eyes must understand that by lending himself to such idleness he has laid aside his own character. If Socrates himself takes part in the trifling, he trifles in the outer Socrates.

    Plotinus is correct, I would suggest, sub specie aeternitatis, just as is Sherman sub specie incarnationis — and it is the role of the artist to hold both visions, trivial and eternal, as Koestler suggests.

    **

    I am again grateful to David Foster for his ChicagoBoyz post The Romance of Terrorism and War which triggered this exploration and the one on Getting Deeper into Koestler which preceded it.


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