Saturday, January 11, 2020

Rocky IV, best Rocky Movie Made

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik I, the world's first artificial satellite, which took about 98 minutes to orbit the Earth on its elliptical path. On November 3, Sputnik II was launched, carrying a dog named Laika.

In July 1955, the White House announced its Space plans in response. On January 31, 1958, the United States successfully launched Explorer I. In July 1958, Congress passed the "Space Act", which created NASA as of October 1, 1958.

On March 8, 1965, first US Marine landed Danang and charged into the Vietnam War. On March 9, 2016, an artificial intelligence system called AlphaGo took down a world champion Go player in Seoul.

Growing up in the US, I’ve always enjoyed telling people that “Go” is an ancient Chinese game beyond the reach of artificial intelligence—I relished the idea of being human because artificial-ness of anything seem to be void of what’s the best in us. I am as shocked as anyone in Asia that it is no longer the case. When AlphaGo, an American AI, beat the best Go human player the world has to offer, I was somewhat proud—there you go fellas, proof that liberal democracy with its open market system and inclusive culture can achieve technological feats that will beat thousands of years of wisdom. It was validation to me that autocracy systems however well-established or powerful, cannot compete against the power of innovation—a power of the people. But I was also torn: could we have come so far in technology that we are now welcoming the morning after when AI are plotting our demise?

In America, no one cared. In China, the response was eerily predictable: double down and win—autocracy without show of force, after all, is a paper tiger. China went on to enlist its dream team of tech giants including Alibaba and stepped up a plan in Artificial Intelligence (AI) as the US had done in response to the then Soviet’s show of power in the 1950’s. China is even attempting at designing and planning for its soul at Beijing by plotting for a vibrant music scene.

Today, “Baidu and Tencent have set up research centers in the US, and Huawei sells advanced networking equipment in Europe.”

Art by seniormanolito
So far, China has embraced the Internet age with its authoritarianism; the Great Fire Wall of China is much more impressive than Trump’s own wall at the US southern border that became no less than a laughable climbing challenge. Artists are banned. Behind the digital curtain, China is amassing amazing amount of data to feed its AI research to better anticipate the next generation of social and political needs. All the while, this competitiveness is creating the “Drago” of machine learning; Rocky responded.

In midst of chaos, the Trump administration under the lead of Mattis and Michael Kratsios organized a summit on the subject of AI. Kratsios had indicated the White House was fully committed to AI to figuring out “what the government can do, and how it can do it even more.”

Sounds like a great plan Balboa; [in my best Russian accent possible] but China has two things that the US does not: (1) an immense amount of personal data (by the shear size of its population as well as its ability to ensure people turn their data to the government) to feed the advancement of AI research, and (2) a Roger Stone mentality to collectively achieve—do whatever it takes (lie, cheat, and steal) to win.

Despite the official actions by the Trump Administration, I am not so sure we can count on a win as Rocky could in his movie. In the aftermath of Cambridge Analytica, the existential question of liberal democracy online is in full frontal. Our own politicians seem to be eager to exploit the nakedness than seeing the emperor’s new cloth for what it is: an illusion to cover up the greatest theft in history, allowing the free and open exploitation of people’s data (their property) for the private gains of few individuals sophisticated enough to commit such heist (*ahem, Facebook).

About ten years ago I attended one of the Blog World Expo in Las Vegas when Twitter was the new hot thing. I predicted wrongly that society would abandon the Twitter idea in no less than 5 years because I refused to believe that rational public discourse can occur in no more than 160 characters. But I am astonished by the wisdom of the crowd that defied expectations as I “held my beer” and watch humanity learned to quickly organize online, toppled regimes, and then quickly fall to our worst by exploiting this for personal gains—"I am Internet Famous” is now sold on t-shirts at online stores as parents find no quandaries exploiting even their own children for attention and profit. Forget educating the masses, Internet has become a whore for the masses.

In December 2019, President Trump signed into law bringing into existence the sixth branch of the US armed forces—the Space Force. On January 3, 2020, a drone strike on Baghdad International Airport  killed Iranian major general Qasem Soleimani.

Rocky won against Drago because he had heart and determination; the US is lacking either at the moment because we are divided and fattened for slaughter. We put our poor to wars and our children on the alter to sacrifice their liberal democracy for cheaply made consumer products and short-profit gains for few heisters. Finding heart and determination to win an AI race takes a lot more than 160 characters and nobody has the time for even that these days. Hollywood is betting on even shortened attention span of the masses; I can’t fault them for being opportunists.

World all over will have to come to grips with the morning after Cambridge Analytica and ask some tough questions about how we collectively use and cease to abuse the Internet; after all, what we feed ourselves feeds the monster inside that will grow—a noble one or a malicious one to fight continuing wars we start with ourselves. Here in the United States, I refuse to believe the human spirit are the lesser to artificial ones; but it is harder now—I am not so sure Rocky is for a fight with Drago. But I’m with Nicholas Thompson on this one as he indicated 
"But there is another way to influence China, one more likely to succeed: The US could try to wrap Beijing in a technology embrace. Work with China to develop rules and norms for the development of AI. Establish international standards to ensure that the algorithms governing people’s lives and livelihoods are transparent and accountable. Both countries could, as Tim Hwang suggests, commit to developing more shared, open databases for researchers.

But for now, at least, conflicting goals, mutual suspicion, and a growing conviction that AI and other advanced technologies are a winner-take-all game are pushing the two countries’ tech sectors further apart. A permanent cleavage will come at a steep cost and will only give techno-authoritarianism more room to grow."

Sunday, October 27, 2019

On Freedom - In Loving Memory of Moe

I did not have any pets at home growing up. I rescued a pup in Iraq during one of our missions clearing a house of explosives, but was later told to surrender him to Civil Affairs as pets and infantry did not mix well. When I left the Army, I had the urge to get a puppy and we rescued one. He was an amazing friend and kept me busy for more than 10 years. We first attempted to train him as a search and rescue dog, but his laziness quickly quashed that dream. Instead, he became a therapy dog and led my wife and me to many hospitals and nursing homes. He even came to my law school finals to help ease the anxiety for me and many of my peers. Through the years, he taught me the value of patience and unconditional love. He was there when our son was born but he passed away a few months ago.

It is often said that humanity’s true moral test is how we treat those at our mercy: our pets and animals (Milan Kundera, and I think Gandhi said similar things). But what I have learned from our dog Moe was much more: about the ideas of freedom and civility.

In training our dog Moe to become a therapy dog, I learned to let go of control of his roam; he would be off-leash but his freedom came with a discovery of his curiosity and intelligence. By giving him the range to explore, he learned rules and boundaries. He learned to maneuver around wheelchairs and oxygen tanks, first out of fear but later out of his desire to comfort those bionic-human beings needing his attention. He learned to participate and respect because he was not bound to arbitrary chains; and his presence was a warmth that everyone felt. When he passed away, we received condolences from all over; but the most tearful thing came from my son who said “daddy, I grow up learn magic and bring Moe back.” To which my wife kindly reminded us that "Necromancing is nothing to f*** with ..." ;-D

As I reflect on Moe's life lived, and the increasing presences of authoritarianism around us (from China to Turkey), I am reminded why freedom is so important as Moe had taught me: when we let go and enable freedom, amazing things will transpire from those who are bestowed the privilege; it is when we chain them that they become uncontrolled and uncivilized.

"To him who in the love of Nature holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language; for his gayer hours
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides
Into his darker musings, with a mild 
And healing sympathy, that steals away
Their sharpness, ere he is aware.
When thoughts
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
Over thy spirit, and sad images
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;
Go forth, under the open sky, and list
To Nature’s teachings, while from all around
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air
Comes a still voice"

We love you Moe.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

In a world of chaos, what divides us?

The world is now in a sustainability crisis: not just from the environmental brink of irreversible changes, but more pressingly from social and economic pressures and direct assaults to liberal democracy from the likes of Cambridge Analytica reinforcing misinformation campaigns undermining the value of free choice—for you see, without a freedom to choose we cannot correct the environmentally degrading courses made by autocrats, greedy corporate executives, and willing politicians.

Without freedom, we are all doomed.

While liberal democracy takes a shadowy left-hook on the chin from social media for profits’ sake, a few authoritarian regimes are mounting direct right uppercuts: killing journalists, censoring dissidents, committing cultural internment and genocide, and intimidating anyone dare to stand and speak against the monotonous power-based voices: obey, as resistance will be futile. The exercise of this power-based voice has made martyrs out of Jamal Khashoggi and unwilling fictitious characters such as Winnie the Pooh and the whole South Park universe—I only wish our humanity is so fictitious that I can laugh it off.

On the surface, the left-hook and right uppercuts combo on liberal democracy seem wholly unrelated: most would point fingers at Putin or Zuckerberg for being behind those Facebook breaches of misinformation; of course, Xi and bin Salman alone sit atop of those blames for censorship, forced/political incarcerations, economic intimidation and worse yet organ harvesting. To connect these individual “powers-that-be” in the same context against liberal democracy almost seems a conspiratorial sacrilege—one that would surly mark me as being ridiculous to imagine a world in which Putin, Zuckerberg, Xi, and Mohammed bin Salman, among others, all walked into a bar … and left agreeing to work in unison attacking our American values in freedom and pursuit of happiness. 

But we ARE mistaken to blame Zuckerberg, Putin or Xi, or Mohammed bin Salman, personally for failures of our liberal democracy. Such personal criticisms invariably lend support for these larger-than-life power-idols because humans are capable of sympathy on a fundamental level for anyone being merely/imperfectly HUMAN—yes, we instinctively have sympathy even for dictators. Still, placing such pointed blame on those power-idols implies an innocence of the accuser and spontaneously dividing the world into “us” versus “them.” Conveniently, we are giving them, and the power-based worships around the world, ammunition to fight back against liberal democracy with our own propaganda on how cruel and intolerant we can be in the name of “freedom.” Trust me, many around the world are more than happy to trade a lifetime of hard-earned freedom for an ounce of temporary peace and permitted prosperity. And they are all too happy to be entertained by observing how the American democratic experiment has failed.

The American democratic experiment is failing but not because of Zuckerberg, Putin or Xi, or Mohammed bin Salman, or any other power-idol we care to put on a pedestal (*ahem* Trump). The American democratic experiment is failing because we have forgotten what the experiment is all about—defiance in freedom by the people and progress in due process for all.

Defiance in Freedom.

Freedom is a responsibility. The Founding Fathers of this country saw the wisdom in that and drafted our Constitution protecting free speech, free association, and psychologically guaranteed our rights with the second amendment for the right to bear arms. In doing so, the founding of this great nation and its experiment in self-determination are rooted in defiance; “standing with others similarly inclined is paying forward the debt we owe those who paved our way.”

There is no such thing as defiance in freedom in places like China, or Russia, or Saudi Arabia. Defiance in those places can cost you your life and liberty; consequently, the privilege to pursuit happiness in those bad lands are limited to the select few and are based on patronage without due process or fairness.

Progress in Due Process. 

Freedom unchecked and without responsibility can be dangerous. Left unrefined, freedom drives deeper our affinity for stereotypes and fundamentalism, and creates a need for patronage for some sense of predictability. It is hard work to cross the waters and learn to appreciate differences; freedom thus uncivilized is a state of nature from which we have contracted out by our consent to live under our Constitution—a document guiding us to seek out differences and embrace them for the common good.

But there are many different constitutions around the world; some are process based (like ours) and some are patronage-based drafted around cult of personalities (e.g., China). When a constitution of a people is process based, due process and transparency allow a sense of fairness and equity from which defiance is possible and progress can be made. When a people’s constitution is patronage/personality/idol based, as seen in China and many other places, secrecy and mistrust breed unrests, protests, and direct confrontations—if not contained, could possibly result in horrendous consequences. Defiance is dangerous and progress is controlled. We see this manifests in China during the Cultural Revolution, at Tiananmen in the Summer of 1989, and currently ongoing in Hong Kong.

It would be remiss of me to support the Hong Kong protesters without pointing out the xenophobic undercurrents of these protests by both sides of the confrontation. The emboldened responses of pro-mainland-China voices against Hong Kong hate crimes ought to be welcomed by a people who value free speech, but some caution is warranted. There is an underlying systemic threat to due process long in the making with its origin traceable in modern Chinese memory to the Cultural Revolution—the mass hysteria campaigns albeit officially resolved by the Chinese Communist Party, continues to affect the Chinese national psyche that to this date refuses to confront its own failings; (China in 1981 passed a resolution declaring the Cultural Revolution no longer relevant for discussion as Mao’s contributions and mistakes cannot surpass his idol status and legacy).

The Cultural Revolution is the epitome of controlling outcome sacrificing the due process—the Chinese would soon forget their own self-transgressions than to confront them. In doing so, the Chinese people have put freedom aside in favor of their pride and prejudices. And here we are, blaming Xi, Trump, Zuckerberg, Putin or Mohammed bin Salman for our own mass hysteria on media blitzes all for the sake to be entertained. We are not so far from a Cultural Revolution of our own.

Yet without freedom, we are all doomed.

Liberal democracy is a condition we strive for all to exist in hopes for fairness and human progress. Blaming someone else for our follies demonstrates a laziness to embrace liberal democracy ourselves to reflect on events like the Cultural Revolution, which are immensely informative of what divides us today. Let’s not forget that our responsibility in freedom is to keep history alive and embrace our own mistakes. No one else is to blame for the failing of our liberal democracy—at least not those without such privilege to begin with.



Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Fairness, Hope, and Peace - 天生有权, 有心做主。

I’ve been re-reading a book called Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. After coming back from war, the idea of survival fascinates me.

The older I get, the less certain I am of how much I understand; and in this maddening world of ours: Who lives, Who Dies, and Why is a question much about FAIRNESS than about just merely perpetuating the carbon-copy vessel-bodies we occupy walking this earth.

At the heart of this “survival” book is an important message—a message about having heart and making rational decisions. Each survival situation requires the calm and coolness of black jazz musicians performing rhythmic masterpieces in the face of racism, but progressively leveraging the raw emotional power to compel and fight against injustice through their music and voice. Each survival is a balance of will, reason, and feel to gain one more step towards HOPE.

That brings me to today’s madness in Hong Kong and the need for the survival of PEACE steering us away from progressively more authoritative regimes. Exercise what "civil disobedience" you must and wave your umbrellas proudly, even if they cannot protect you from bullets. Sing and people will rally when you put heart into the right places. They will copy your voice, sure; but imitation is the best form of flattery. Celebrate our commonalities.


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Fear is the mind-killer

Fear is the mind-killer.” – Litany Against Fear
I’ve seen the photo many times now. So much so that I can almost imagine gawking down the dark void of a tank barrel thinking “there is no way these idiots would waste the ammunition.”

But it’s not the caliber of barrel that is impressive. What seems more formidable is the human cruelty that can be inflicted staring right back at the vision of a photograph. The government can take your home, take your family, or better—erase you from history and bestow fear on those who would dare to rally behind.

Hence, no one followed the Tank Man in 1989.

It has been thirty years since the Tank Man stood, no one is sure what had happened to him. In the wake of Tiananmen’s violent resolve, China had joined the WTO (in 2001) and the world was hopeful it would share a common vision of emancipation with open economies, rule of law, and mutual exchanges of ideas. China is due for praise for lifting hundreds of millions of its citizens out of poverty since Tiananmen. It has made progress towards implementing the rule of law, and at times its economy seems open and welcoming to progressive ideas working towards global sustainability. More impressive is the hundreds of thousands of young Chinese students traveling to foreign countries without fear, facing prejudices, and taking back knowledge and friendships with them to help transform the world’s biggest population facing the largest ecological threats since joining the fossil-based global consumer production scheme in 2001. Hope seemed on the horizon.

Somewhere things turned for the worst.

The United States and Europe are now struggling with nationalist rhetoric at odds with the international institutions put in place after WWII. The United Nations struggles to address common threats such as climate change and human rights violations. The World Trade Organization appellate body are primed for paralysis with its membership dwindling below the threshold to exercise its adjudicative powers. The North Atlantic peace alliance faces an existential crisis as it is being leveraged for political gains rather than for stabilizing regions. Corruptions are rampant in both Socialist and Democratic nation states. Patriotism, nationalism, and authoritarianism are all on the rise. Pundits and optimists hope and bet on our dependence on the market forces to return to the same old spiraling downward progression, but the public confidence looms doom (millennial citing predictable global catastrophes as their main reason for not saving for their futures).

With uncertainty lurking, opportunists invoke and exploit strong emotions hijacking our wisdom of sensibilities. While the hijackers are busy creating totalitarian environments to silence the dissent allowing prolonged opportunities for such private profiteering, the masses are busy attuned to distractions. Caught in the middle are the students of life with what remain their resilient optimism, still traveling to and from China, United States, and the rest of the world in search of better lives on this pale blue dot in the universe we call our home.

In honor of this 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Massacre (or as the current U.S. President Trump had called it in 1990: a show of “the power of strength”), I am reminded that today is a day of great memory. The Chinese students who rose in defiance of the “power of strength” remain inspirations for countless others in both the East and the West to date. Confronting such power of totalitarian strength is the power of collective courage, which comes from the knowledge that the world does listen; we are turned to genuineness united against an installation of Fear to allegedly maintain stability, but for how long?

How long before the young forget such Fear and rise up in revolt? How long before the young remember such Fear to rise up for the virtuous ends?

Today, June 4th, is a day to honor all students of life continuously learning what Courage really means.

“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.” 
― Frank Herbert, Dune

Friday, May 24, 2019

International Institutions Under Strain (Part 3 - NATO)

(This is part three of a three part learning blogs to honor those who gave their lives to defend things worth defending.)
Daultay Dofine: This scheme of yours has failed, Lord Sidious. The blockade is finished. We dare not go against the Jedi.
Darth Sidious: Viceroy, I don't want to see this stunted slime in my sight again. This turn of events is unfortunate. We must accelerate our plans. Begin landing your troops.
Nute Gunray: Ah, my lord, is that... legal?
Darth Sidious: I will make it legal.
Nute Gunray: And the Jedi?
Darth Sidious: The Chancellor should never have brought them into this. Kill them immediately.
Nute Gunray: Yes, my lord. As you wish. 
- On the eve of Trade Federation’s invasion of Naboo, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

Post WWII, Europe faced the daunting task of rebuilding lives while maintaining vigilance for peace and security of the region. Greece was fighting a civil war, tension was mounting in Turkey, and communism was gaining popular support in Italy. The Soviet had successfully advanced a coup in Czechoslovakia (bordering Germany) testing the hospitality of Western Democracy. Great Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg came together and formed a peacetime military alliance under the Brussels Treaty.

Then U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall sought to support the effort. He had proposed a large-scale stimulus package for Europe in part hoping to stabilize the region. U.S. Congress passed a legislation for the European Recovery Program in April 1948 allowing for some $12 billion (equivalent of $100 billion today) for post war economic revitalization in Europe.

The Soviet Union stood firm on the other side, however; Stalin had barred any satellite States in Eastern Europe from participating in the stimulus activities and instituted a blockade against West Berlin.

To safeguard the European stimulus investments, a Republican Senator Arthur H. Vandenburg called for the negotiations for a North Atlantic Treaty in May of 1948. The US led negotiations were a success; the “Treaty” was signed in 1949 between United States, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and the United Kingdom.

The core principal of this Treaty was infamously enshrined—an attack against one is an attack against all. Article 5 of the Treaty reads:
“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.  
Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.” 
NATO has invoked this Muskeetering Article 5 only once—after the 9/11 attacks against the United States. NATO does have an active duty force ready to guarantee the collective defense of the participating nation States; it has taken up the collective defense measures on several occasions including in Syria and in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

Today, the NATO peacetime military alliance is the largest of its kind in the world. Yet in all of its military might and glory, NATO is only catching up to the cyber defense priorities of the modern age. Even less so, the NATO alliance as led by the United States has yet to fully appreciate the need for a coordinated effort to deter economic warfare against democracies and promote economic progress conducive to the ideals on which NATO was built.

Nationalist movements are gaining popularity in the US and in Europe. With these moving tides, international conflicts in cyber and economic spaces directly challenge the NATO’s Muskeetering motto. As national incentives across the Atlantic become untangled and misaligned from one another, the NATO alliance appears an outdated watchdog of aging western democracies. With billions of dollars’ worth of economic damages at stake and rising risks to our critical infrastructures, private sector mercenaries and active citizens are organizing to supplement State sponsored ones. From Anonymous to Bell¿ngcat, distributed model of operation is replacing centralized headquarters in military camps with active citizens and private security forces with computer terminals.

NATO’s “all for one and one for all” by default establishes an enemy; but who are today’s enemies? Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the recent May 2019 Cyber Defence Pledge Conference (London) stated in response to a question by UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt:
 “… the more and better protected resilient we will have our critical infrastructure the more the enemies will focus on the mind of our societies. And here, indeed, the aim is to undermine the trust, the mutual trust, to undermine also the credibility of [democracies] …” 
There will always be frictions and wars. Preventing them requires good organization and collective actions, but more importantly it requires a strong moral core—one that was NATO’s inception of fostering democracies, not bullying autocracies.

 “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” ― George Orwell, 1984