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Language guilt

Thursday, 29 September, 2016 0 Comments

The alleged crimes of the West are many and hardly a day goes by without the prosecutors discovering new examples of their oppression at the hands of Goethe and Emily Brontë, which are then paraded with the “-ism” suffix. The ensuing press release from the aggrieved will contain all the usual Stalinist/Maoist clichés: “The hegemonic power of capitalism propagates an increasing gravitation to English…”

Yes, English.

Why English? Confronting the Hydra Why English? Confronting the Hydra is a collection of essays edited by a group of remorseful scholars and English teachers, which begins with an abject apologia: “There is, indeed, huge irony in the fact this collection is written in English and published in the United Kingdom. Such is the power of the global publishing industry and the pervasiveness of English-language hegemony that this critique needs to emanate from within its very realm.”

Ah, yes, hegemony. A true trigger word. Just like “Orwellian” and “imperialism”. Talking of both, the publisher’s site has a glowing review of Why English? Confronting the Hydra by Dr. B. Kumaravadivelu, a member of the Department of Linguistics and Language Development at San José State University in California. Snippet:

“The contributors to this volume expose the Orwellian overtones that mask the linguistic imperialism that is being peddled in terms of growth, development, partnership, volunteerism, and aid. The many examples of innovation and success stories they offer give hope that resistance is not futile after all.”

This is the same Dr. B. Kumaravadivelu who, in June 2012, delivered the plenary talk at the 4th International Symposium on Teaching Chinese as a Second Language for Young Scholars at Peking University in Beijing. The title? “Global Mandarin: Promoting Chinese language and culture in an age of globalization.” Did he warn the eager cadres about the Orwellian overtones that mask Chinese linguistic imperialism now being peddled in terms of growth, development, partnership, volunteerism, and aid? Monosyllabic answers on a postcard, please.


The axis of cyber evil

Thursday, 15 September, 2016 0 Comments

On Monday, Ciaran Martin, the Director-General Cyber at GCHQ, outlined the British approach to cyber security at the Billington Cyber Security Summit in Washington DC. Very topically, he addressed email. Snippet:

“We need to make sure UK Government email is trusted, so we need to stop people spoofing our .gov.uk domain. To do that we’ve set a DMARC policy as a trial to stop emails from the wrong IP sets, or with the wrong key, from being delivered purporting to come from .gov.uk. Well they do get delivered, but they get delivered to us, not the recipient — usually members of the public. And when we first trialled it, whoever was sending 58,000 malicious emails per day from the delightfully named [email protected] isn’t doing it anymore.”

In an increasingly digitized economy, security is a critical currency. When Colin Powell wakes up and finds his hacked emails on the front pages of global media outlets, overall confidence in cyber security is greatly diminished and while his comments on Clinton and Trump might make for great merriment, we should condemn these intrusions because the cyber bell may toll for us one day, too. Just as it has done for the tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams, the gymnast Simone Biles, and the Tour de France winning cyclists Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins. Because when Ciaran Martin was speaking, the World Anti-Doping Agency was confirming that a Russian cyber espionage group known as Fancy Bear had accessed its Anti-Doping Administration and Management System database. The stolen information is now being broadcast 24/7.

People, businesses and institutions will be reluctant to share information in a digital environment they feel is fundamentally unsafe, and Ciaran Martin accepted this when he said that the internet may have transformed the way we live, “but it hasn’t completely changed our nature fostered over thousands of years. And nor are the groups who pose us harm particularly new.” They are stealing secrets, stealing money, stealing intellectual property, and they are pumping out propaganda that’s crafted to confuse and intimidate. Without naming Russia, China and North Korea specifically, he said:

We’ve got hostile states. Some of them are great powers, using cyber attacks to spy, gain major commercial and economic advantage or to pre-position for destructive attack. Others are smaller states, looking to exploit the relatively immature rules of the road in cyberspace to tweak the nose of those they see as bigger powers in a way they would and could never contemplate by traditional military means.”

Tomorrow, here, we’ll name the most hostile of these states.


Future sex with gynoids and guynoids

Wednesday, 3 August, 2016 0 Comments

The word “gynoid” was used by Gwyneth Jones in her 1985 novel Divine Endurance to describe a female robot slave character in a futuristic China. Does this mean, then, that the male equivalent is a “guynoid”? Not quite. Gynoid is created from the Ancient Greek prefix gyno– (of or pertaining to women or the female reproductive system) + android, a Greek word used to refer to robotic humanoids regardless of gender. However, the Greek prefix “andr-” means man in the masculine sense and because of this android is used to describe male-styled robots. Given the established etymology, it’s going to be a battle to replace androids with guynoids.

All this is by way of saying that sex with robots is very much in the news. Let’s take three of today’s headlines, starting with The New Scientist. “Could sex robots and virtual reality treat paedophilia?The Daily Mirror is more of a mass-market publication: “Expert to publish ‘how to build your own sex robot’ handbook after Scarlett Johansson lookalike success,” while The South China Morning Post brings us back to the gynoid world of Gwyneth Jones: “Sex and robots: How mechanical dolls may press all the right buttons for lonesome guys.”

Actually, that last headline is quite topical in light of the work being done by Kathleen Richardson, a Senior Research Fellow in the Ethics of Robotics at De Montfort University in Leicester. Last September, she published a position paper titled “The Asymmetrical ‘Relationship’: Parallels Between Prostitution and the Development of Sex Robots.” Snippet:

“Following in the footsteps of ethical robot campaigns, I propose to launch a campaign against sex robots, so that issues in prostitution can be discussed more widely in the field of robotics. I have to tried to show how human lifeworlds of gender and sexuality are inflected in making of sex robots, and that these robots will contribute to gendered inequalities found in the sex industry.”

The debate about the gendering of robots and the sexualized personification of machines is on.

Ex Machina


Chinese parking robot meets commenting bot

Monday, 30 May, 2016 0 Comments

With typical modesty, The People’s Daily trumpets that “China’s most fantastic parking robot amazes the world.” And, indeed, this automated guided vehicle (AGV) robot, which uses laser navigation, delivers very impressive results.

The technology was developed by Guangzhou-based Yee Fung Automation Technology Co, which has a state-sponsored English-language web presence that’s adorned with the Golden Gate Bridge and cryptic English: “in order to visit customer for regularly and supply to maintain for customer by freely, We set up net of service for all of city in china with staff of parmanent.” Pointing that out, however, is sure to anger “seethru”, a Party bot, who added this comment to The People’s Daily article:

“We are starting to read more and more innovations and inventions coming out of China which should kill the myth perpetuated by ignorant and racist Westerners that Chinese people are incapable of original thought and creativity.”

Many informed and cosmopolitan Westerners are convinced that Chinese people are capable of original thought and creativity, but they will keep pointing to awkward facts about the political scientists and law experts fleeing to America as Beijing’s grip on freedoms in China intensifies under President Xi Jinping.


Those robot slackers

Friday, 29 April, 2016 1 Comment

The state-run China Daily, which has the largest print circulation of any English-language newspaper in the People’s Republic, has come up with one of the great headlines from the front-lines of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: “Robots must do more than just playing sports.” They’re slacking already!

What’s intriguing is that the story, however, is that it contains nothing to support the demand asserted in the headline. “Premier Li Keqiang visited a town in Chengdu, capital of Southwest China’s Sichuan province, on Monday, during which he played badminton with a robot,” is how it begins, and the final paragraph is a classic example of socialist-realist reporting:

“Early in 2011, Zhejiang University developed Wu and Kong, two special sporting droids, which could play table tennis with each other and with human players. In that sport, the robots need to recognize the ball more precisely than in playing badminton. Instead of a technological breakthrough, the droid that plays badminton in Chengdu can be better called a good, practical model that uses these technologies.”

For those interested in how robotics and artificial intelligence are viewed in Beijing, China Daily is required reading. It informs us that on Tuesday President Xi Jinping visited the Institute of Advanced Technology in University of Science and Technology of China in Heifei, and was greeted by a pair of human-like robots developed by the institute. “The two life-like robots named ‘Xiao Man’ and ‘Jia Jia’ interacted with Xi when he approached them during the inspection,” we learn. “‘Hello Mr. President. I am Xiao Man. We have been looking forward to your visit,'” Xiao Man said. “‘I’m very happy to see you, dear President, I wish you happiness every day,'” said Jia Jia, who has been dubbed ‘robot goddess’ for her good-looks.”

This is all to the good, but they must do more than just playing sports.

Jia Jia


Meanwhile, in China

Wednesday, 8 July, 2015 0 Comments

The world is worried about Greece becoming a Cuba on the Med, with ouzo instead of rum and olives in place of bananas, but there’s an even bigger problem on the horizon: China. The rout in Shanghai is far more troubling than the drama in Athens. Consider:

“A stock market crash there has seen $3.2 trillion wiped from the value of Chinese shares in just three weeks, triggering an emergency response from the government and warnings of ‘monstrous’ public disorder. . . . In an extraordinary move, the People’s Bank of China has begun lending money to investors to buy shares in the flailing market.”

That’s from a report filed Down Under yesterday titled Chinese chaos worse than Greece. In an echo of 1929, the writer notes: “Underscoring growing jitters amid the three-week sell-off, police in Beijing detained a man on Sunday for allegedly spreading a rumour online that a person jumped to their death in the city’s financial district due to China’s precarious stock markets.”

Today, those “precarious stock markets” have moved into the danger zone and the air is filled with talk of China’s “Black Wednesday”. The Sydney Morning Herald has a rolling blog on the situation titled, rather worryingly, China panic grows. Snippets:

“Losses on the ASX have accelerated again on the early slump in Shanghai, and the Aussie dollar just hit its next six-year low, showing that the Chinese turmoil is starting to affect local investor sentiment.”

“China’s securities regulator says “panic sentiment” has set in mainland sharemarkets, contributing to an ‘irrational’ sell-off that has defied the government’s urgent attempts to stem the market freefall.”

“I’ve never seen this kind of slump before. I don’t think anyone has. Liquidity is totally depleted,” said Du Changchun, an analyst at Northeast Securities.”

Update: The SMH blog is now titled “China panic spreads”. It’s a “developing story”.


April 65th and the clocks are striking thirteen

Thursday, 4 June, 2015 0 Comments

As has been pointed out here before, Nineteen Eighty-Four starts with one of the greatest first lines in literature: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” George Orwell’s dystopian novel is set in Airstrip One (Great Britain), which is governed by a corrupt elite of English Socialists who persecute independent thinking as “thoughtcrime”, as the regime’s invented language, Newspeak, puts it.

In China, contemplating the political significance of today’s date, 4 June, is a thoughtcrime and references are harshly suppressed, as are alternative ways of rendering it, such as April 65th and May 35th. On this day in 1989, Chinese tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square and the army opened fire on democracy protesters, killing hundreds. Despite threats by the Communist Party, the bloodshed of 4 June 1989 is being commemorated in Hong Kong today. The minimum that the rest of us can do is keep the memory of the date alive and recall the bravery of the Tank Man.

Freedom


The Year of the Caprinae

Thursday, 19 February, 2015 0 Comments

Hundreds of millions of Chinese people are celebrating the Lunar New Year holiday with their families. Today, they’re bidding farewell to the Year of the Horse but we’re not quite sure what it is that they’re welcoming. The New Year’s name is defined by the character 羊, which can mean either sheep or goat. Thing is, the goat is a member of the Bovidae family and is closely related to the sheep as both are members of the subfamily Caprinae. That being the case, we’re going with sheep. For the occasion, then, this is from Songs of Innocence by William Blake.

The Shepherd

How sweet is the shepherd’s sweet lot!
From the morn to the evening he strays;
He shall follow his sheep all the day,
And his tongue shall be filled with praise.

For he hears the lambs’ innocent call,
And he hears the ewes’ tender reply;
He is watchful while they are in peace,
For they know when their shepherd is nigh.

William Blake (1757 — 1827)

Year of the Sheep


TAG Heuer + Xiaomi

Wednesday, 7 January, 2015 0 Comments

Silke Koltrowitz, reporting for Reuters: “TAG Heuer is pushing ahead with plans for a smartwatch to more directly compete with the likes of the Apple Watch and may make acquisitions to help drive the strategy, its head said on Tuesday.”

Matt Richman, an up-and-coming tech blogger, is not buying it: “TAG Heuer’s smartwatch won’t sell. There’s no market for it,” he wrote. His reasoning: “In order to have even a chance of being as feature-rich as Apple Watch, then, TAG’s smartwatch will have to pair with an Android phone. However, TAG wearers aren’t Android users. Rich people buy TAG watches, but rich people don’t buy Android phones.”

But what if rich people were to buy those “Apple of China” phones? In his predictions for 2015, Fred Wilson noted: “Xiaomi will spend some of the $1.1bn they just raised coming to the US. This will bring a strong player in the non-google android sector into the US market and legitimize a ‘third mobile OS’ in the western world. The good news for developers is developing for non-google android is not much different than developing for google android.”

TAG Heuer and Xiaomi? Matt Richman points out that Jony Ive, the Senior Vice President of Design at Apple, said, “Switzerland is fucked,” but China and Switzerland might not be so easy to dismiss.

Xiaomi


English vs. Chinese

Thursday, 20 November, 2014 0 Comments

Sarah Fay interviews Ha Jin for the Paris Review. His books are banned in China because he writes about “taboo subjects”. And there’s another reason he’s unpopular with the authorities: “I write in English, which is viewed as a betrayal of my mother tongue.” Talking of language, here he compares Chinese with English:

“English has more flexibility. It’s a very plastic, very shapeable, very expressive language. In that sense it feels quite natural. The Chinese language is less natural. Written Chinese is not supposed to represent natural speech, and there are many different spoken dialects that correspond to the single written language. The written word will be the same in all dialects, but in speech it is a hundred different words. The written language is like Latin in that sense; it doesn’t have a natural rhythm. The way people talk — you can’t represent that. The accents and the nongrammatical units, you can’t do it. You can’t write in dialect, like you can in English, using a character to represent a certain sound, because each character has a fixed meaning.

When the first emperor wanted to unify the country, one of the major policies was to create one system of written signs. By force, brutal force, he eliminated all the other scripts. One script became the official script. All the others were banned. And those who used other scripts were punished severely. And then the meanings of all the characters, over the centuries, had to be kept uniform as a part of the political apparatus. So from the very beginning the written word was a powerful political tool.”

Read the whole thing and give thanks for the freedom that allows you to read it.


Martin Jacques: The voice of Beijing

Wednesday, 1 October, 2014 1 Comment

Cometh the hour, cometh the apologia for totalitarianism via the Guardian. “China is Hong Kong’s future — not its enemy” writes the dependable apparatchik, Martin Jacques. Much better than his vile defence of the indefensible are the comments it attracts:

IntravenousDeMilo: “The cheque from the National People’s Congress is in the post, Martin.”

Steve Chan: “Maybe next time Mr Jacques would write an article called ‘North Korea is the World’s future’. I am looking forward to reading it in The Guardian.”

goldenbowl: “Utter tosh, Martin. Hong Kong has an identity of its own and shouldn’t tie its future to China exclusively. The truth of the matter is that no reasonable person can think of at least one valid reason why Hongkongers shouldn’t be allowed to elect their own government. These are educated and civilised people, a territory with stable institutions, the kind of rule of law the PRC cannot even dream of in a hundred years. Oh, but your old waxworks friends in Zhongnanhai don’t approve of it.”

WendellGeeStrikes: “It really wouldn’t surprise me if we got an article praising Stalin from Jacques, it really wouldn’t, such is the pathetic depths this man goes.”

Desmond Miles:“China is Hong Kong’s future — not its enemy
Turkey was the Armenians’ future — and yet its enemy. It is entirely possible your future is held by a monstrous enemy. Just ask the Tibetans.”