Apr 052017
 

I don’t often post pictures of my friends, but this time, I have my friend Perry’s permission.

Perry was flying west the other day. While waiting at the airport, he encountered a familiar face. The familiar face belonged to Canada’s Minister of National Defence, Harjit Singh Sajjan.

The Honourable Minister was probably flying back to his Vancouver riding, which he represents in Parliament.

Whatever the reason, the remarkable thing is this: Mr. Sajjan was traveling the same way most other Canadian would travel. On a commercial airliner, flying coach.

Let me repeat that, this time in boldface: Canada’s Minister of National Defence, traveling cross-country on a commercial airliner, flying coach.

I am so glad Mr. Sajjan allowed Perry to take this selfie, and that Perry kindly permitted me to repost it. This was not a moment designed for publicity. As far as I know, Mr. Sajjan does not publicize the manner in which he travels. He just… does the right thing.

And the other remarkable thing is that he can do this. It speaks volumes about our country and our government.

 Posted by at 12:37 pm
Apr 032017
 

Donald Trump told us that if necessary, the US will act alone on North Korea.

In a discussion on this topic, a commentator on CNN remarked on the dangers of having to deal with a madman armed with nukes.

If I were in Kim Jong-un’s shoes, I’d worry about that, too.

 Posted by at 3:07 pm
Mar 212017
 

Retired counterintelligence officers rarely give interviews. It is even more unusual for them to do so without anonymity.

Yet this is exactly what Ferenc Katrein, a former Hungarian counterintelligence officer did, when he was interviewed by the independent Hungarian news portal index.hu.

The full interview is available in English.

Katrein tells us of a secret service offensive that is waged by Russia against the European Union. He speaks of a corrupt Hungarian leadership that offered an opportunity for many Russian citizens to enter and even settle in the country in return for a modest investment with little or no effective background checks. He speaks of the role of Russia in far right movements in Europe, and their campaigns of disinformation.

All in all, it is a rare glimpse into how a counterintelligence service works on the eastern fringes of the European Union, and the extraordinary challenges that Europe faces in light of an aggressive (and in many ways, unrestrained) Russian foreign policy agenda.

 Posted by at 11:54 pm
Mar 202017
 

I saw this image of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un earlier today on CNN:

The joy on these faces seems genuine. To think that an officer so forgot himself in that moment of celebration, he actually jumped onto the shoulders of the country’s all-powerful leader!

What they were celebrating was the successful test firing of a new rocket engine.

But what this picture reveals, the genuine joy on these faces, suggests something much worse: namely that North Korea’s leaders may truly believe their own propaganda. They may truly believe that governing via a totalitarian regime is the right thing to do. That sinking money into a gigantic but, in many ways, very backward military is the right thing to do. That pissing off the United States is the right thing to do.

And thus, self-fulfilling prophecies are born. North Korea may think that it is defending itself from US aggression. But they do not seem to realize that it is precisely their stance and their weapons program that make them a subject of US threats and sanctions.

And they especially don’t seem to realize that with a genuinely unhinged leadership in the White House, further provocation may achieve the exact opposite of what they want: Instead of being able to preserve the regime, they might see it come to an hasty end as Washington decides to intervene after all, leading to a tremendous loss of life no matter the outcome.

 Posted by at 9:33 pm
Mar 062017
 

I just caught this on CNN. A statistic that shows that most Americans believe ISIS is the gravest threat to their country:

And this shows why populism wins votes. Because in actuality… first of all, there are only two countries on this list that represent an existential threat to the United States, Russia and China, and China only marginally so.

North Korea is a threat mainly because it is unpredictable, but even if they develop a nuclear tipped ICBM, the country remains a distant third on the list of real threats.

As to Iran and ISIS… they are no threat to the United States at all. ISIS has no capability other than inspiring some “lone wolf” attackers. Iran has no desire to engage in direct conflict with the US, nor do they have any serious capability to harm the United States; they may be “state sponsors of terrorism”, but their actual threat contribution is below the noise floor.

So I think in terms of the real threat they represent, the order should be more like Russia, China, North Korea, ISIS, Iran. That is, almost completely the other way around.

But when the commander-in-chief and his cabinet are blabbering about how they must protect America by shutting the doors on refugees, too many listen.

 Posted by at 7:54 pm
Feb 262017
 

In many ways, this is the most disturbing story I read in recent… days? Months? Maybe years?

The title is (relatively speaking, in this day and age) innocuous enough (if perhaps a little sensationalist): “Revealed: how US billionaire helped to back Brexit“. Yeah, sure. Billionaires are evil SOBs, we knew that already, and now a bit of investigative journalism dug up another reason why we should hate them. Big deal… you could be forgiven if you moved on to read something else, maybe the bit about Trump snubbing the White House Correspondence Dinner or Fox News using a phony “Swedish defense advisor” to curry favor with the President.

But if you choose to read this article, it reveals something else. It reveals how the Leave campaign in the Brexit vote received assistance provided by artificial intelligence software to build profiles of up to a million voters and create highly targeted campaigns on social media.

Back when the nightmare of the machines taking over was first discovered in the science fiction literature, it was usually envisioned as a clean break: First the humans are in charge, but then comes Judgment Day and the machines take over.

Reality is a lot messier, for both humans and machines. There is no clean break. The ever increasing power of the machines is harnessed by ever more reckless humans, manipulating humanity in unexpected ways. Machines manipulating elections or referenda at the bidding of sinister humans… in many ways, that is the worst of possible worlds.

It makes you feel helpless, for one: You realize that nothing you can do on social media, nothing you can say in your blog will amount to one iota, as the machines have an infinitely greater capacity to analyze data and assess outcomes.

And it also makes you fearful. AI (for now) has no compassion or conscience. It will lie or make up “fake news” without remorse. It will (for now) do its masters’ bidding, even if those masters are sociopaths.

So no, folks, don’t delude yourselves. Judgment Day may already be here. It’s just coming one little data point, one neural network, one deep learning algorithm at a time.

 Posted by at 9:03 am
Feb 112017
 

For the second time in a row, I am seeing a report on CTV about the protests against the Trudeau government’s decision to scrap electoral reform. Their coverage suggests that these are significant protests, representing widespread anger among Canadians.

They aren’t. Let me be generous: Although CTV’s cameraman did his darnedest best to make the crowd appear bigger than it really was, there were maybe a couple of dozen people, tops, behind this young gentleman leading the protest.

Mr. Rae told his followers, by the way, that “Mr. Trudeau does not get to decide what is and what isn’t an issue for Canadians.” Forgive me Mr. Rae, but you are wrong. Mr. Trudeau, the duly elected prime minister of Canada with a majority government, does get to decide what is and isn’t an issue for Canadians. In turn, we Canadians do get to decide whether or not we wish to keep Mr. Trudeau and his government after the next elections.

Meanwhile, I am actually happy that Mr. Trudeau listened not to loud-mouthed protesters but to the facts and was willing to spend some of his political capital to make the right decision. While first-past-the-post has its shortcomings, it is not inherently worse than other electoral systems, and it is absolutely better than any system that involves, e.g., party lists, legislators that do not represent a specific constituency. And messing with the electoral system could very well have established a precedent that, in the long run, might lead to American-style gerrymandering.

But I still don’t understand what CTV’s game is, pretending that these protests are more significant than they really are. I am, in fact, questioning the journalistic integrity behind the decision to give these minuscule protests disproportionate coverage.

 Posted by at 6:17 pm
Jan 302017
 

It appears that we are entering the era of flawed democracies.

Our country, Canada, remains firmly in the category of full democracy. But that is no longer true south of the border. In an annual survey by The Economist, the United States slid down the list (and this is based on data from 2016, before Trump’s inauguration). It is now one of the leading flawed democracies, with a democracy score virtually identical to that of Japan.

And even as the number of full and flawed democracies, put together, remains roughly the same (80 in 2008, 75 in 2016 if I counted correctly), the number of full democracies is rapidly shrinking. There were 28 full democracies on the list back in 2008; by 2016, this number shrank to 19, a more than 30% decrease in just eight years.

Meanwhile, the examples of India and Mongolia demonstrate that democracy is not just a privilege for the rich. These countries are decidedly third world economies with GDP per capita roughly one tenth that of Canada or the US, yet they manage to maintain democracies no more flawed than the regimes on the eastern fringes of the European Union, such as Hungary or Romania.

 Posted by at 10:20 am
Jan 292017
 

I promised myself not to blog about politics for a while, but events being what they are, I cannot keep my damn mouth shut or my damn fingers not typing.

These two screen captures speak for themselves.

First, the number of Americans killed by terrorists from the seven Muslim-majority countries that are on Mr. President, Generalissimo, smartest-man-in-the-world Donald J. Trump’s traveler ban:

Next, the number of Americans killed by terrorists from three Muslim-majority countries that are not on the Generalissimo’s oh-so-perfect list to protect Americans:

The difference? As many pointed out, these three countries that are not on Trump’s list have one thing in common: business ties with the Trump empire.

Dear Trump supporters, tell me again how your beloved Tweety Orangeface, heading the bestest and least corruptest American government ever, is draining the swamp and protecting Americans?

 Posted by at 10:17 am
Jan 202017
 

It is well known that the despicable Biff Tannen character from the Back to the Future movies was based on a certain real-life despicable mogul by the name of Donald J. Trump. In particular, the “rich Biff” of 1985, having established a casino and real estate empire after receiving a sports almanac from the future back in 1955, was modeled after everyone’s favorite Trump.

In light of this and today’s historic events, it is only appropriate to imagine how the real-life Biff, I mean Trump, would have fared in one of the movies’ iconic scenes:

I hate manure…

Yes, I know it is more than a little crass to share this tweet. Even so, it is far less distasteful than the many racist caricatures that followed Obama’s inauguration and frankly, it makes it a lot easier to deal with this historic day.

 Posted by at 4:24 pm
Jan 142017
 

So here is another thing I don’t expect to see from Donald Trump: Publishing an article in the highly respected multidisciplinary journal Science.

His predecessor, the still sitting Barack Obama did just that: his article about “The irreversible momentum of clean energy” was published yesterday, January 13, 2017. In it, he makes the case that economic growth does not depend on energy-related emissions, and that combating climate change does not require accepting lower growth or a reduced standard of living.

 Posted by at 9:33 pm
Jan 142017
 

I just saw this US Defense Department video about a swarm of high speed drones released at altitude by an F/A-18. The drones communicated with each other, self-organized, and went on to execute predetermined tasks autonomously.

In case anyone is wondering why I worry about the future of AI, this is a perfect demonstration.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department is also continuing its trials of the Sea Hunter, a 132-ft, 145-ton unmanned, autonomous vessel designed to hunt submarines.

Don’t worry, the brave new world is coming…

 Posted by at 9:22 pm
Jan 102017
 

I just finished listening to Obama’s farewell address.

Now why do I have the feeling that this may be the very last time in my life that I’ll be hearing an American President preach goodness and decency instead of contempt and hate? Uplifting thoughts instead of fear and loathing?

Meanwhile, there appears to be a multitude of clowns on the Interwebs who think repealing Obamacare is okay, because they are insured through the Affordable Care Act:

What can I say? Enjoy your improved healthcare starting next month, folks. Glad I live in pinko commie Canada where we have had decent (albeit far from perfect) medicare for half a century. Of course once Trump, along with his BFF Putin, manage to blow up the world, none of this will matter anymore.

 Posted by at 10:05 pm
Jan 082017
 

Here is a quote from one of my favorite novels, Jack London’s Smoke Bellew:

“The world’s gone smash. There’s nothin’ regular an’ uniform no more. The multiplication table’s gone loco. Two is eight, nine is eleven, and two-times-two is eight hundred an’ forty-six—an’—an’ a half. Anything is everything, an’ nothing’s all, an’ twice all is cold-cream, milk-shakes, an’ calico horses.”

Why this particular quote? Because I was reading about Trump’s infamous medical report, prepared by a Harold N. Bornstein, MD, from the great city of New York. The doctor is real, but the medical report is… weird (reproduced below.) Apparently, Mr. Trump tests positive for everything.

But what is even weirder is the doctor himself and his Web site. Once a respectable site advertising a family practice, today it redirects to a site that sells an annoying teddy bear.

I kid you not. A site that sells “The Original Annoying Happy Birthday Teddy, the bear that never stops singing ‘Happy Birthday to you…'”.

So perhaps that explains why I think that anything is everything, an’ nothing’s all, an’ twice all is cold-cream, milk-shakes, an’ calico horses.

Or maybe I got high on something without realizing it.

I mean… is there anything about America’s esteemed President-Elect that is not a boldfaced lie?

 Posted by at 1:14 am
Jan 042017
 

The Emperor has no clothes.

Sycophants praise his choices. The lush fabric. The elegant, fashionable tailoring. The beautiful stitching.

Yet the Emperor has no clothes.

Unfortunately, even his critics no longer acknowledge this fact. They criticize his clothes. They question his taste in garments. They reject the gaudy colors. They ridicule the bad workmanship.

But none have the courage to tell the world the truth: This Emperor is naked.

And thus it came that the lessons of history are once again forgotten, and all its mistakes are yet again set to be repeated.

 Posted by at 1:34 pm
Dec 232016
 

Last night, after I watched the final episode of an amazing Brazilian television series, 3% (yes, that’s the title) on Netflix, I felt compelled to listen to the immortal song Aquarela do Brasil, especially the Geoff Muldaur version that was the title song for Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil.

As I was listening to the song, I realized that along with Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again, it’s one of the songs I’d like to listen to when the world comes to an end.

Runner-ups include Nena’s 99 Luftballons and Anita Kelsey’s version (known from the film Dark City) of Sway (¿Quién será?)

As to why I am thinking about the end of the world…

 Posted by at 12:26 pm