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Trolls not Elves: a Putinesque Christmas

Monday, March 30th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — a factory for words — ugh! ]
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Troll factory

**

In American folklore, a Christmas elf is a diminutive creature (elf) that lives with Santa Claus in the North Pole and acts as his helper.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty has a fasacinating account in which One Professional Russian Troll Tells All. I’m gonna quote that piece extensively without putting it in blockquotes, since it has blockquotes, italics and illustrations of its own. Between the double asterisks immediately below and the double asterisks following them, then, you won’t find my words but those of RFE/RL, drawn in two gobbits from their piece.

Here’s the skinny on how it works, followed by the part that really caught my interest, dealing (obliquely) as it does with the Putin and the Patriarch theme.

**

RFE/RL: So what did your department do?

Burkhard: Our department commented on posts. Every city and village in Russia has its own municipal website with its own comments forum. People would write something on the forum — some kind of news — and our task was to comment on it. We did it by dividing into teams of three. One of us would be the “villain,” the person who disagrees with the forum and criticizes the authorities, in order to bring a feeling of authenticity to what we’re doing. The other two enter into a debate with him — “No, you’re not right; everything here is totally correct.” One of them should provide some kind of graphic or image that fits in the context, and the other has to post a link to some content that supports his argument. You see? Villain, picture, link.

[ .. ]

RFE/RL: Does the Villain have a role in such assignments?
 
Burkhard:
If something is pro-Putin, the Villain will have doubts. For example, for Orthodox Christmas, Putin went to Mass at an ordinary village church outside Voronezh and there was sweetness and light all around. A story gets posted along the lines of, "How wonderful, how marvelous, how great, what an amazing man he is." But the Villain disagrees: "OK, come on, Putin went to Voronezh to boost his popularity with the public." To which we answer, "What's the matter with you, what popularity are you talking about? Yes, he's popular, but he doesn't need popularity, he just wants to meet with ordinary people." That's a funny example.

Next Assignment

Topic: Build a positive attitude toward the domestic policies of Vladimir Putin; the president personally celebrated Christmas with ordinary Russians.
 
Keywords: president rf, putin news, putin policies, christmas, vladimir putin
 
Again, the assignment begins with a post published on a LiveJournal account. The post about Putin is prefaced by a fragment from a poem by Marina Tsvetayeva, "It's a sin to soar over a golden-domed chapel and not to pray in it," which in this context seems to take on a double meaning. 

Christmas unites!
 
The blessed holiday of the Nativity is upon us. And on such a miraculous day, which unites all citizens of Russia — no matter whether you're a believer or, as they say, "unchurched" — on the way to the Lord, the Russian president VP was, as always, with the people! Where else but in the provinces, far away from the urban hustle and bustle, is it possible to really experience this holy day? So this year Vladimir Putin visited the village church in honor of the Holy Virgin, located near Voronezh in the village of Otradnoye. And on such a holiday, one of the main holidays in Russia (and in the entire Christian church), at such a difficult time the president was with the people and congratulated all the clerics and faithful parishioners!

On the Barnaul forum, the Link Troll kicks things off with praise and a link to a December 31 vesti.ru article, Putin Congratulates Obama And Reminds Him Of The Principles Of Mutual Respect.

"Great article! By the way, the president of Russia, also congratulated the American president, the German chancellor, and other Western politicians on New Year's Eve. He's to be commended for expressing his peaceful intentions and conducting normal policy — something that's hard to get from Barack Obama."

The Villain Troll appears incensed:

"And what did you find that was so totally amazing in his Christmas message??? I don't understand!!! Vladimir Putin is an ordinary person!! So what if he's the president?? If I get on TV and wish everyone a nice Christmas, will you write a nice article about me too??? Finally we've found something to talk about!"

The Picture Troll posts a photo of Putin at the church and retorts:

"This is idiotic! Putin is our president. And it's really great that he went to a village church to congratulate everyone on the holiday. Christmas is a miracle. I envy the congregation. I would have loved to have been there on that great holiday."

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Elsewhere, on the Yekaterinburg forum, the Villain Troll attacks Putin's Christmas appearance as a stunt aimed at distracting the public from the country's massive economic woes:

"Give your neighbor a sack of buckwheat this year!! Now that's a good deed!!! Vladimir Putin represents everything that awaits us in the future!! He just went to pray for his ass and ask for forgiveness. He's driven the country straight to hell, and now what can he do??? Pray, and that's it!"

The Picture Troll issues a stern reprimand, illustrated with a bucolic photo from the scene:

"Good lord, your language! Christmas is a blessed holiday, and here you are swearing. It's not worth it. There's enough buckwheat for everyone, our country will survive the anti-Russian sanctions, no problem. So I congratulate everyone on a blessed holiday and wish everyone peace and goodness. Especially YOU!"

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And thus the troika spends the day sweeping through 35 forums. 

**

Oh, well — or Ah, hell:

SPEC social media manipulation UK US

Sources:

  • British army creates team of Facebook warriors
  • Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social media
  • And as JM Berger and Jonathan Morgan have exhaustively documented, terrorists do it too.

    Variations on the Blue Screen of Death

    Saturday, March 7th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — where would we be without our digital devices, minds & memories? ]
    .

    Two converging thoughts, the first from John Robb at Global Guerrillas:

    Over the weekend, ISIS threatened the life of Jack Dorsey, a co-founder and Chairman of Twitter. Why? Twitter, at the urging of the US government, has been shutting down the accounts of ISIS supporters for months. So, ISIS supporters responded by making a threat with a nifty graphic:

    IS warns Dorsey the Twitter CEO Robb GG

    We told you from the beginning it’s not your war, but you didn’t get it and kept closing our accounts on Twitter, but we always come back. But when our lions come and take your breath, you will never come back to life

    The CEO as an Objective of War

    Unfortunately for the suits in Silicon Valley, ISIS isn’t as much of a pushover as al Qaeda was. They have mass and
    momentum and they are smart enough to understand the role of the Internet in this struggle. Additionally, they have lots of experience coercing CEOs. They did it quite a bit of it during the war in Iraq (and it worked).

    Regardless, the targeted killing of a well known tech executive in sunny California by ISIS jihadis does appear impossible to imagine. Few places are more remote from each other, and not just geographically. Silicon Valley is a hyperconnected, financially mainlined zone striving for a tech nirvana. ISIS is a disconnected autonomous zone striving to return to the 7th Century. However, that’s probably a bad assumption. Charlie Hebdo showed the world that terrorism is evolving and corporate targeting on global scale is now on the agenda. This means an attack on a tech CEO isn’t just possible, but probable. Worse, once an attack on a senior tech executive happens, future threats will be instantly credible and highly coercive..

    If that occurs, we are going to find out very quickly that the corporation, and particularly tech companies, are particularly bad organizations for warfare. One reason is that they are too centralized. In particular, the institution of the CEO is a grave weakness (a systempunkt in global guerrilla lingo). The CEO’s centrality to the corporate network makes him/her a single point of failure for the entire organization. Another is that executives in most of the western world are very soft targets. Easy to find (Google and Google maps), easy to isolate, and easy to kill…

    **

    And the second from Marc Lindemann, When the Screens Go Dark: Rethinking Our Dependence on Digital Systems, from Small Wars Journal:

    In a threat environment where even the most useful digital system may be knocked out of the fight, there needs to be a back-to-basics approach that will enable units to continue to fight effectively in the absence of their digital systems and digital guidance from higher headquarters. Every commander should be able to shut off the TOC’s power, slipping the digital leash, and have confidence that his or her unit can continue to function. Junior leaders and staff sections should be able to anticipate the problems inherent in digital-system failure and know what to do without a major disruption in TOC operations. ADRP 6-0’s non-digital solutions – “establishing trust, creating shared understanding, or providing a clear intent using mission orders” – are significant. More significant, however, and more measurable is the degree of Soldiers’ basic proficiency in their warfighting tasks.

    Conclusion

    Although this paper does not and cannot advocate the abandonment of the U.S. Army’s existing digital systems, the U.S Army’s dependence on digital systems is very much on its leaders’ minds today. These systems have repeatedly demonstrated the potential to make the U.S. Army a much more efficient and lethal fighting force. Before his retirement, however, GEN Robert W. Cone, then Commanding General, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, gave digital systems an ultimatum: “Why do we want this piece of technology? If it does not dramatically improve training ef?ciency, we need the strength to walk away.” Right now, the military is poised to increase digital training requirements in pursuit of inter-service operations, multinational activities, and the expansion of the network to include all Soldiers and vehicles. Leaders at every level must understand their dependence on digital systems, successfully manage their units’ use of these systems, and promote decentralized initiative in support of clearly defined and mutually understood tactical goals. In the end, Soldiers must have tactical knowledge that transcends anything displayed on a computer monitor. Soldiers, not our digital systems, are what will win our future conflicts. When the screens go dark, the mission must go on.

    Well, the military details are way beyond me, though they presumably make sense to other SWJ and ZP readers — but the idea that the net, or large domains within it, may suddenly go dark (or blue, as the saying goes) is one that should give each one of us, dependent as we are on digital media for our communications and memories, considerable plause.

    **

    It was my friend Peter Rothman — currently editor of H+ Magazine — who wrote the now celebrated digital haiku a few years back:

    Windows NT crashed.
    I am the Blue Screen of Death.
    No one hears your screams

    Lewis Shepherd on the IC/Mil/NatSec Potential of Holographic Computing

    Friday, January 23rd, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    Lewis Shepherd, formerly of the DIA and IC and recently of Microsoft, has an outstanding post on Microsoft’s exciting ambient/holographic computing interface HoloLens. What I saw in the videos is stunning and I then ran them by an extremely tough, tech savvy and jaded audience – my students – their jaws dropped. It’s that impressive.

    Insider’s Guide to the New Holographic Computing 

    In my seven happy years at Microsoft before leaving a couple of months ago, I was never happier than when I was involved in a cool “secret project.”

    Last year my team and I contributed for many months on a revolutionary secret project – Holographic Computing – which was revealed today at Microsoft headquarters.  I’ve been blogging for years about a variety of research efforts which additively culminated in today’s announcements: HoloLens, HoloStudio for 3D holographic building, and a series of apps (e.g. HoloSkype, HoloMinecraft) for this new platform on Windows 10.

    For my readers in government, or who care about the government they pay for, PAY CLOSE ATTENTION.

    It’s real. I’ve worn it, used it, designed 3D models with it, explored the real surface of Mars, played and laughed and marveled with it. This isn’t Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance.” Everything in this video works today:

     

    These new inventions represent a major new step-change in the technology industry. That’s not hyperbole. The approach offers the best benefit of any technology:empowering people simply through complexity, and by extension a way to deliver new & unexpected capabilities to meet government requirements.

    Holographic computing, in all the forms it will take, is comparable to the Personal Computing revolution of the 1980s (which democratized computing), the Web revolution of the ’90s (which universalized computing), and the Mobility revolution of the past eight years, which is still uprooting the world from its foundation.

    One important point I care deeply about: Government missed each of those three revolutions. By and large, government agencies at all levels were late or slow (or glacial) to recognize and adopt those revolutionary capabilities. That miss was understandable in the developing world and yet indefensible in the United States, particularly at the federal level.

    I worked at the Pentagon in the summer of 1985, having left my own state-of-the-art PC at home in Stanford, but my assigned “analytical tool” was a typewriter. In the early 2000s, I worked at an intelligence agency trying to fight a war against global terror networks when most analysts weren’t allowed to use the World Wide Web at work. Even today, government agencies are lagging well behind in deploying modern smartphones and tablets for their yearning-to-be-mobile workforce.

    This laggard behavior must change. Government can’t afford (for the sake of the citizens it serves) to fall behind again, and  understanding how to adapt with the holographic revolution is a great place to start, for local, national, and transnational agencies.

    Now some background…

    Read the rest here.

    I remarked to Shepherd that the technology reminded me of the novels by Daniel Suarez, DAEMON and FREEDOM. Indeed, I can see HoloLens allowing a single operator to control swarms of intelligent armed drones and robotic over a vast theater or in close-quarter tactical combat as easily as it would permit someone to manage a construction site, remotely assist in a major surgery, design a new automobile or play 3D Minecraft.

    MORE…..

    WIRED – Our Exclusive Hands-On With Microsoft’s Unbelievable New Holographic Goggles 

    engadget -I experienced ‘mixed reality’ with Microsoft’s holographic …

    Arstechnica.com -Hands-on: Microsoft’s HoloLens is flat-out magical | Ars …

    Mashable -Microsoft HoloLens won’t be the next Google Glass, and …

    Gizmodo -Microsoft HoloLens Hands-On: Incredible, Amazing …

    New York Times -Microsoft HoloLens: A Sensational Vision of the PC’s Future 

    Creating a web-based format for debate and deliberation: discuss?

    Friday, December 12th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — Talmud, hypertext, spider webs, Indra’s net, noosphere, rosaries, renga, the bead game, Xanadu, hooks-and-eyes, onward! ]
    .

    Let me firmly anchor this post and its comments, which will no doubt shift and turn as the wind wishes, in discussion of the possibility of improving on current affordances for online deliberation.

    Let’s begin here:

    **

    There are a variety of precursor streams to this discussion: I have listed a few that appeal to me in the sub-head of this post and believe we will reach each and all of them in some form and forum if this discussion takes off. And I would like to offer the immediate hospitality of this Zenpundit post and comment section to make a beginning.

    Greg’s tweet shows us a page of the Talmud, which is interesting to me for two reasons:

  • it presents many voices debating a central topic
  • it does so using an intricate graphical format
  • The script of a play or movie also records multiple voices in discourse, as does an orchestral score — but the format of the Talmudic score is more intricate, allowing the notation of counterpoint that extends across centuries, and provoking in turn centuries of further commentary and debate.

    What can we devise by way of a format, given the constraints of screen space and the affordances of software and interface design, that maximizes the possibility of debate with respect, on the highly charged topics of the day.

    We know from the Talmud that such an arrangement is possible in retrospect (when emotion can be recollected in tranquility): I am asking how we can come closest to it in real time. The topics are typically hotly contested, patience and tolerance may not always be in sufficient supply, and moderation by humans with powers of summary and editing should probably not be ruled out of our consdierations. But how do we create a platform that is truly polyphonic, that sustains the voices of all participants without one shouting down or crowding out another, that indeed may embody a practic of listening..?

    Carl Rogers has shown us that the ability to express one’s interlocutor’s ideas clearly enough that they acknowledge one has understood them is a significant skill in navigating conversational rapids.

    The Talmud should be an inspiration but not a constraint for us. The question is not how to build a Talmud, but how to build a format that can host civil discussion which refines itself as it grows — so that, to use a gardening metaphor, it is neither overgrown nor too harshly manicured, but manages a carefully curated profusion of insights and —

    actual interactions between the emotions and ideas in participating or observing individuals’ minds and hearts

    **

    Because polyphony is not many voices talking past one another, but together — sometimes discordant, but attempting to resolve those discords as they arrive, and with a figured bass of our common humanity underwriting the lot of them.

    And I have said it before: here JS Bach is the master. What he manages with a multitude of musical voices in counterpoint is, in my opinion, what we need in terms of verbal voices in debate.

    I am particularly hoping to hear from some of those who participated in tweeted comments arising from my previous post here titled Some thoughts for Marc Andreessen & Adam Elkus, including also Greg Loyd, Callum Flack, Belinda Barnet, Ken (chumulu) — Jon Lebkowsky if he’s around — and friends, and friends of friends.

    What say you?

    Some thoughts for Marc Andreessen & Adam Elkus

    Thursday, December 11th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — proposing a simple tweak for Twitter as a “difference that might make a difference” ]
    .

    Marc Andreessen gave us the first web browser, NCSA Mosaic. Without it, we’d be in an alternate universe. Much gratitude.

    **

    A few days back, Andreessen tweeted:

    Behold, two ideas, each one commonly voiced and easily taken or granted, which move in opposite directions.

    Andreessen has a nose for these things. Sometimes he uses two tweets to point up this kind of paradox, sometimes just the one. But he’s intrigued, presumably, by the fact that two such contradictory attitudes can both persist in the same cloud of discussion without drawing much attention to their discord — and that when they are isolated and juxtaposed in this way, the discord jumps out at us, and with any luck we begin to question assumptions and actually think our way to a more nuanced understanding of the topic in question.

    He’s using form to sharpen insight.

    **

    More than that, conceptual juxtaposition is the form he’s using, and that’s a form I’ve been exploring myself here on Zenpundit and elsewhere under the name DoubleQuotes for a while.

    I use conceptual juxtaposition myself for a variety of purposes, not least because it’s the seed form of creative activity — the intersection between different ideas is the “seam” where Koestler finds the origins of humor, tragedy and discovery:

    koestler-model

    **

    My own DoubleQuotes format is a means of capturing those intersections, whether they be verbal, visual, aural or even numerical, as shown in these two examples:

    SPEC Baghdad 450

    and:

    SPEC Karman Gogh 450

    **

    A while back, Adam Elkus took note of what Andreessen was up to with his juxtapositions, and thought they merited comment in their own right:

    Adam also noted the similarity between our respective thought processes, and followed up by tweeting, “In fact, one wonders if @pmarca and @hipbonegamer could team up for a double quote post.” I invited @pmarca to play a round or two of DoubleQuotes with me, there was a hiatus of a couple of weeks..

    ..and then Adam retweeted an inquiry along similar lines:

    and responded:

    to which I replied, “Let me think on it.”

    **

    I have been thinking..

    Twitter already features a line connecting two tweets when one is a direct response to the other:

    DoubleTweet

    That’s a minimalist version of what I’d like to see — but I’d like to be able to lock two tweets, or retweets, together at the time of posting. I don’t know if this is app territory or something Twitter might want to create itself, but I ran across the two tweets that follow…

    within a few minutes of one another on my feed, but with fifteen or so intervening tweets…

    and I wanted to RT them together as a pair — not one followed by the other, with who knows how many tweets from other people in between them as they appear in my tweeps’ feeds.

    In those two n\tweets together, eccentric mechanical beauty meets eccentric natural beauty, I like both, but more than that, I like the contrast, and the underlying similarity — in this case, a similarity that is found in the eye of this beholder, and which I hope might catch the eye of like-minded others.

    **

    So: what I’d like to see is an affordance for posting two tweets or RTs as a connected whole.

    This might be for the purpose of an Andreessen paradox, or a HipBone DoubleQuote, for raising a question or pointing up an irony, for illustrating parallelisms or oppositions in the editing of a film … the possibilities are endless.

    That single minimalist line tying the two tweets together would be a starting point, but very simple graphics could be devised for signaling identity (the line features a small equals sign at its mid-point), inequality (“does not equal”), parallelism (double line), directionality or causality (an arrow), paradox (two arrows in opposite directions), question (a question mark), or recursion (an arrow chasing its tail), etc..

    Lines with ah! oy! hu! and eureka! at their midpoints would also be neat:

    double tweet links

    **

    Whether with or without these graphical niceties, the capacity to DoubleTweet would put us in play mode, insight mode, aha! mode.

    We could use more exercise in that mode of being and thinking, no?


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