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Archive for July 21st, 2012

The perils of juxtaposition: Aurora

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

[ cross-posted from SmartMobs – this post is not about the tragic Aurora shooting, but about internet advertising mechanics ]

Our hearts go out to all the bereaved.


If you know me & my Hipbone project, you know I’m always on about juxtaposition as a means of generating a sort of stereoscopic depth of understanding from two similar — or opposite — ideas, images etc.

And yes indeed, the juxtaposition of ideas and the creative leaps that juxtaposition generates are at the heart of the Sembl game approach that Cath Styles and I are prototyping.

-- image: board for an iPad Sembl game + detail of single move

But look, you need to have some sense of context.

And neither current algorithms nor remote humans seem to be terribly good at this.



The Celeb Boutique tweet above was posted when the word Aurora started trending after the recent awful cinema shooting, and was up for an hour before someone realized how inappropriate it was and took it down. In subsequent tweets, the boutique apologized and noted “our PR is NOT US based and had not checked the reason for the trend…”

I think that’s extremely unfortunate, but somewhat understandable: human error, outsourced.

The humans in question should have been as savvy as Paul Coelho, who counseled (just a day earlier, if I’m getting my dates right) as follows:



Then there was the Christian Science Monitor‘s article, Colorado shooting: A rare glimpse into Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, which showed up on blog-friend Critt Jarvis‘ monitor with this ad:

Again, that’s unfortunate — but the CSM’s ads are presumably chosen by algorithm, and I wouldn’t know where to send an algorithm to repent if I met one and it was sincerely apologetic…

The CSM website does offer us humans an opportunity to object to ads we find tasteless and inappropriate, however:

The Monitor is committed to showing only those ads that meet our standards for appropriate content. These particular ads are sold by internet advertising partners who share the revenue with The Christian Science Monitor. We have implemented filters with them that are designed to prevent unacceptable advertising from showing on the site. If you feel an inappropriate ad is being displayed, please contact us immediately using the form below. Ads that violate our acceptance standards will be removed from the site and our filters will be adjusted to help prevent a recurrence.

So humans can backtop the algorithms when they play foul… that’s good.


But all this just reinforces my appreciation for Cath Stylestweet last week, after she met with Mel from Serena (neat video, btw!):


There’s still no machine substitute for human wit and wisdom.

Two annexes to my post: It’s an abomination!

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — finding feedback loops in blindspots, truths in symbols, strength in ideas ]

photo credit: Mobile News UK


It is in the nature of analogical thinking that it moves sideways, or more precisely, in honeycomb fashion, rather than forwards — and so it is that my just completed post It’s an abomination! leads me to two other considerations:


My first is to compare the situation of the Pakistani gentleman preparing and selling flags for burning

The man who dominates much of the supply chain of American flags to religious groups, 30-year-old Mamoon-ur-Rasheed – who’s been publishing anti-American placards and hand-made stars and stripes since his school days, when he was angered by the Clinton administration’s sanctions on Pakistan following its nuclear weapons testing in 1998 – is now remarkably dispassionate about his services, as well as about the short shelf-life of his flammable goods.

“We work hard for our product, and we get paid for our product,” says Rasheed, clad in a camouflage baseball cap and seated behind a desk that takes up most of the space in his eight-by-six-foot office in Gulashan-e-Iqbal, one of the city’s oldest working class neighborhood.

“So what if it burns? The purpose of the flag is to last for an hour. It’s unfortunate, but if the demand is for an hour, then the supplier must meet such demand too,” he says.

— with the no less entrepreneurial fellows in Cambodia who capture birds for the express purpose of selling them to those who wish to set them free:

Merit release — procuring animals that are about to be slaughtered and releasing them back into the wild — is a tradition practiced, to different degrees, by various Buddhist groups each year. It sounds like a good — and yes, meritorious — idea, but you might want to think twice before trying it. Why?

Well, as Conservation Magazine reports, hundreds of thousands of birds are caught in Asia each year just so they can be bought for merit release, putting them through the unnecessary stress of catching them just to be set free again. But there’s more. Many of these birds are infected with avian flu virus and other pathogens, and they can infect other birds, animals and people when they’re released. According to the study, published in Biological Conservation, 10 percent of the Cambodian birds the researchers tested were infected with avian influenza. “The presence of pathogenic viruses and bacteria among birds available for merit release is a concern both to wild bird populations and to humans involved in the trade,” the authors write.

The lesson here being that there are always more things going on than catch the eye, and that feedback loops in your blindspots are liable to getcha


My second is to compare Coleridge‘s observation about symbols:

On the other hand, a Symbol is characterized by a translucence of the Special in the Individual or of the General in the Especial or of the Universal in the General. Above all by the translucence of the Eternal through and in the Temporal. It always partakes of the Reality it renders intelligible; and while it enunciates the whole, abides itself as a living part in that Unity, of which it is the representative.

with the quote from Anais Nin that I referenced recently in relationship with Marisa Urgo‘s comment on Zawahiri:

The personal, if it is deep enough, becomes universal, mythical, symbolic…

And here the moral is that words can at times cut deeper than sticks and stones — in the words of that 2006 National Strategy for CT I just quoted, that winning the War on Terror means winning the battle of ideas — or as another poet, Muriel Rukeyser famously put it, that:

The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.

It’s an abomination!

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — the perils of adding scriptures to scripture, tearing or burning them — and flags, paper money too ]


It may be that the last time you used the word abominable it was in relation to a snowman. It’s not a word that’s frequently on my tongue, I have to admit, but an Israeli MK apparently used it — or it’s Hebrew equivalent — to describe the New Testament, which he was in the process of ripping up.


Shades of Pastor Jones burning a copy of the Quran!


The thing is, when you have a sacred scripture it’s delimited, it’s hands-off! And if someone else comes along and adds a slim volume or two, it’s an abomination, almost by definition, sight unseen.

Thus the New Testament is an abomination to Knesset member Michael Ben Ari, according to YNet:

“This abominable book (the New Testament) galvanized the murder of millions of Jews during the Inquisition and during auto da fe instances,” Ben Ari said adding that “Sending the book to MK’s is a provocation. There is no doubt that this book and all it represents belongs in the garbage can of history.”

And please note, I am definitely not suggesting that Ben Ari is representative of all Jews — nor, for that matter, Pastor J. Grant Swank of all Christians. Yet from Swank’s perspective, the Tanakh and New Testament are scriptures, but, and I’m quote him:

Obama’s so-called holy writ is the abominable Koran.

The Qur’an is a later scripture, neh?

And Swank’s tirade gets better. Still speaking of the President of the United States, he continues:

His hope for eternity is unknown; but if he becomes a suicide bomber for Allah, he will be guaranteed pronto a score of virgins for everlasting. His hope for the present seems to be his reliance upon Islam’s Koran furthered by his clandestine support of Islam World Rule via czars and a shadow government given to overthrowing our Republic.

And then on the other side of the political aisle there’s Mitt Romney‘s Latter-day scripture, The Book of Mormon, which bills itself as Another Testament of Jesus Christ. It too has been considered an abomination.

I don’t know if people still use the word much when talking about the Book of Mormon, it’s considerably less controversial these days than the Qur’an — but abominable was what Arthur Cleveland Coxe called it in his 1855 Sermons on doctrine and duty, writing of Joseph Smith:

an obscure and illiterate individual, in our great West, was busily forging the abominable “Book of Mormon,” which, fourteen months later, he foisted into the world…

People really don’t like other people making add-ons to their scriptures, do they?


Scriptures — and flags.

Look, I weep for a religion some of whose adherents kill when their scripture is burned or defiled, and I am glad for a religion that condemns such killings. As you might expect, there are tearers and burners in all three Abrahamic religions, and all three religions have those who object to such tearings and burnings.

And yes, the ratios of religiously-provoked modes of destruction vary across religions and across centuries…


But what of flags?

I raise the issue because a fellow in Pakistan who manufactures flags for burning, Mamoon-ur-Rasheed, was in the news recently, and made this point:

Isn’t flag burning positive, compared to American atrocities? And also compared to the Taliban? We’re not attacking mosques. … We’re not targeting American embassies. We’re not killing anyone. Nor are we flying drones around, we’re just burning flags, mere pieces of cloth, and then we’re done. It’s over.

Setting aside Rasheed’s political opinion, Matthew Wallin at American Security Project asks the right questions in the security context:

Is it really over after the deed is done? Does anger against the United States dissipate? What do people do after they have gone home after a flag burning?

A key question to answer is: how much of these protests are translating into actual violence? This is an element that must be understood to determine if flag burning is simply a form of protest, or if those involved are planning more sinister actions. We must also seek to understand to what degree these protests endanger traditional diplomacy efforts and the challenges faced by members of the Pakistani government attempting to pursue diplomatic cooperation with the United States. If they are harmless expressions of anger and frustration, we have an obligation to understand this.

But that’s really just the beginning of a much wider-ranging discussion, philosophically speaking, which Rasheed’s comments also address:

what’s the relation of a symbolic object to the reality is symbolizes? If a flag is hurt, does it hurt the United States? If a Bible is burned, does it hurt Christianity? God?

If the word “spider” was an actual, live spider, arachnophobes couldn’t read the rest of this sentence… Is Picasso’s signature on a two dollar check worth as much as his signature on a check for a thousand bucks? Come to that, when paper money goes up in smoke when a house catches fire, where does the value go?

And yet, and yet, we are very attached to our flags, our scriptures — and our money.


The poet Coleridge in his Statesman’s Manual suggests:

On the other hand, a Symbol is characterized by a translucence of the Special in the Individual or of the General in the Especial or of the Universal in the General. Above all by the translucence of the Eternal through and in the Temporal. It always partakes of the Reality it renders intelligible; and while it enunciates the whole, abides itself as a living part in that Unity, of which it is the representative.

So. Do we find this translucence in our scriptures, in our flags, in our money, in our fellow humans — in the world around us?

Guest Post: Shlok Vaidya Reviews Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

Shlok Vaidya is a longtime friend of zenpundit.com and is a consultant on technology and security issues, including terrorism and the Naxalite insurgency. When I heard that Shlok had received a coveted advance copy of the latest novel by Daniel Suarez, I cordially invited him to cross-post his review here. Vaidya blogs on books, technology, warfare and resilient communities at Shloky.com.


by Shlok Vaidya

Kill Decision is startlingly real. And equally plausible.

Suited masters of perception playing games with reality while skipping scotch in Crystal City. D.C.’s incestuous relationship between big defense business and… everyone else. Nameless, compartmentalized operators fighting through the night in cesspools loosely labeled as countries. Drones raining from the skies.

For those familiar with the constellation of clandestine units, private military contractors, and information warriors that comprise much of America’s counter-terrorism capacity, this book will feel very, very real.

(If you’re not up to speed, I heartily recommend Marc Ambinder’s The Command as a quick/cheap/quality introduction to that world.)

But Kill Decision takes that reality a step forward. In a way that perhaps cements Suarez’s position as the best near-future fiction author of the post-9/11 era. He folds in equal parts science, warfare, and informed futurism to take today’s sleek drones to their logical conclusion. The results will gnaw on your brain like a swarm of gnats, for weeks after you read the book.

This is possible, of course, due in large part to his foundation in John Robb’s work (something Suarez graciously mentions in his acknowledgements). Readers of Brave New War and Global Guerrillas will find themselves nodding along.

Kill Decision is that real, yet, like Suarez’s Freedom and Daemon, it’s also a lot of fun. Great action sequences that just scream MAKE A MOVIE. Compelling characters. Quality narrative. It’s all in here.

Grab it today if you want to see tomorrow.


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