Who was Ayman al-Zawahri? Where does his death leave al-Qaida and what does it say about US counterterrorism?

Published: August 2, 2022 2.16pm BST The Conversation

Authors

  1. Haroro J. IngramSenior Research Fellow at the Program on Extremism, George Washington University
  2. Andrew MinesResearch Fellow at the Program on Extremism, George Washington University
  3. Daniel MiltonDirector of Research, United States Military Academy West Point

Disclosure statement

The views expressed by Dr. Milton are his own and not of the U.S. Military Academy, the Department of the Army, or any other agency of the U.S. Government

Andrew Mines and Haroro J. Ingram do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Ayman al-Zawahri, leader of al-Qaida and a plotter of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has been killed in a drone strike in the Afghan city of Kabul, according to the U.S. government.

Al-Zawahri was the the successor to Osama bin Laden and his death marked “one more measure of closure” to the families of those killed in the 2001 atrocities, U.S. President Joe Biden said during televised remarks on Aug. 1, 2022.

The operation came almost a year after American troops exited Afghanistan after decades of fighting there. The Conversation asked Daniel Milton, a terrorism expert at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and Haroro J. Ingram and Andrew Mines, research fellows at the George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, to explain the significance of the strike on al-Zawahri and what it says about U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan under the Taliban.

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World Happiness Report 2022

[TĐH: Finland ranks 1, Vietnam ranks 77]

WHR 2022 | CHAPTER 2 Happiness, Benevolence, and Trust During COVID-19 and Beyond

  • John F. Helliwell, Vancouver School of Economics, University of British Columbia
  • Haifang Huang, Professor, Department of Economics, University of Alberta
  • Shun Wang, Professor, KDI School of Public Policy and Management
  • Max Norton, Vancouver School of Economics, University of British Columbia

Acknowledgment: The authors are grateful for the financial support of the WHR sponsors, and especially for data from the Gallup World Poll, the Lloyd’s Register Foundation World Risk Poll, and the ICL/YouGov Data Portal. For much helpful assistance and advice we are grateful to Lara Aknin, Ragnhild Bang Nes, Chris Barrington-Leigh, Meike Bartels, Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, Liz Dunn, Martine Durand, Maja Eilertsen, Carrie Exton, Carol Graham, Jon Hall, David Halpern, Nancy Hey, Sarah Jones, Richard Layard, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Hannah Metzler, Tim Ng, Gus O’Donnell, Rachel Penrod, Julie Ray, Rajesh Srinivasan, Jeff Sachs, Grant Schellenberg, Ashley Whillans, and Meik Wiking

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MARCH 18, 2022 59 MIN READ

Forever young, beautiful and scandal-free: The rise of South Korea’s virtual influencers

Updated 31st July 2022

An image of Rozy, a virtual human created by South Korean company Sidus Studio X.

Credit: Sidus Studio X

[TĐH: Nhiều companies chế tạo nhiều “người số” (digital human) để làm “influencers” (người có ảnh hưởng) trên Internet, nói đủ thứ chuyện hấp dẫn người xem, để tạo lợi nhuận cho công ty. Các bạn đừng thấy clip của cô cậu nào xinh đẹp, ăn nói cực kì lưu loát, và nói toàn những điều hấp dẫn mà tin đó là người thật, chuyện thật. Be smart!]

Written byJessie YeungGawon Bae, CNNSeoul, South Korea

She’s got more than 130,000 followers on Instagram, where she posts photos of her globetrotting adventures. Her makeup is always impeccable, her clothes look straight off the runway. She sings, dances and models — and none of it is real.

Rozy is a South Korean “virtual influencer,” a digitally rendered human so realistic she is often mistaken for flesh and blood.

“Are you a real person?” one of her Instagram fans asks. “Are you an AI? Or a robot?”

According to the Seoul-based company that created her, Rozy is a blend of all three who straddles the real and virtual worlds.

She is “able to do everything that humans cannot … in the most human-like form,” Sidus Studio X says on its website.

That includes raking in profits for the company in the multibillion-dollar advertising and entertainment worlds.

Since her launch in 2020, Rozy has landed brand deals and sponsorships, strutted the runway in virtual fashion shows and even released two singles.

China cosmetic surgery apps: Swipe to buy a new face

And she’s not alone.

The “virtual human” industry is booming, and with it a whole new economy in which the influencers of the future are never-aging, scandal-free and digitally flawless — sparking alarm among some in a country already obsessed with unobtainable beauty standards.

How virtual influencers work

The CGI (computer-generated imagery) technology behind Rozy isn’t new. It is ubiquitous in today’s entertainment industry, where artists use it to craft realistic nonhuman characters in movies, computer games and music videos.

But it has only recently been used to make influencers.

Sometimes, Sidus Studio X creates an image of Rozy from head to toe using the technology, an approach that works well for her Instagram images. Other times it superimposes her head onto the body of a human model — when she models clothing, for instance.

An image of Lucy, the Korean virtual human used by Lotte Home Shopping.

An image of Lucy, the Korean virtual human used by Lotte Home Shopping. Credit: Courtesy Lotte Home Shopping

South Korean retail brand Lotte Home Shopping created its virtual influencer — Lucy, who has 78,000 Instagram followers — with software usually used for video games.

Like their real-life counterparts, virtual influencers build a following through social media, where they post snapshots of their “lives” and interact with their fans. Rozy’s account shows her “traveling” to Singapore and enjoying a glass of wine on a rooftop while her fans compliment her outfits.

Older generations might consider interacting with an artificial person somewhat odd. But experts say virtual influencers have struck a chord with younger Koreans, digital natives who spend much of their lives online.

Lee Na-kyoung, a 23-year-old living in Incheon, began following Rozy about two years ago thinking she was a real person.

Rozy followed her back, sometimes commenting on her posts, and a virtual friendship blossomed — one that has endured even after Lee found out the truth.

“We communicated like friends and I felt comfortable with her — so I don’t think of her as an AI but a real friend,” Lee said.

Dior hosts runway show in South Korea for the first time

“I love Rozy’s content,” Lee added. “She’s so pretty that I can’t believe she’s an AI.”

A profitable business

Social media doesn’t just enable virtual influencers to build a fanbase — it’s where the money rolls in.

Rozy’s Instagram, for instance, is dotted with sponsored content where she advertises skincare and fashion products.

“Many big companies in Korea want to use Rozy as a model,” said Baik Seung-yup, the CEO of Sidus Studio X. “This year, we expect to easily reach over two billion Korean won (about $1.52 million) in profit, just with Rozy.”

He added that as Rozy grew more popular, the company landed more sponsorships from luxury brands such as Chanel and Hermes, as well as magazines and other media companies. Her ads have now appeared on television, and even in offline spaces like billboards and the sides of buses.

Lotte expects similar profits this year from Lucy, who has brought in advertising offers from financial and construction companies, according to Lee Bo-hyun, the director of Lotte Home Shopping’s media business division.

The models are in high demand because they help brands reach younger consumers, experts say. Rozy’s clients include a life insurance firm and a bank — companies typically seen as old-fashioned. “But they say their image has become very young after working with Rozy,” Baik said.

It also helps that, compared to some of their real-life counterparts, these new stars are low-maintainance.

It takes Lotte and Sidus Studio X between a few hours and a couple of days to create an image of their stars, and from two days to a few weeks for a video commercial. That’s far less time and labor than is required to produce a commercial featuring real humans — where weeks or months can be spent location scouting and preparing logistics such as lighting, hair and makeup, styling, catering and post-production editing.

And, perhaps just as important: virtual influencers never age, tire or invite controversy.

Lotte decided on a virtual influencer when considering how to maximize its “show hosts,” said Lee.

South Korean men lead the world’s male beauty market. Will the West ever follow suit?

Lotte Home Shopping hires human hosts to advertise products on TV — but they “cost quite a lot,” and “there will be changes when they age,” Lee said. So, they came up with Lucy, who is “forever 29 years old.”

“Lucy is not limited to time or space,” he added. “She can appear anywhere. And there are no moral issues.”

A question about beauty

South Korea isn’t the only place to have embraced virtual influencers.

Among the world’s most famous virtual influencers are Lil Miquela, created by the co-founders of an American tech startup, who has endorsed brands including Calvin Klein and Prada and has more than 3 million Instagram followers; Lu of Magalu, created by a Brazilian retail company, with nearly 6 million Instagram followers; and FNMeka, a rapper created by music company Factory New, with more than 10 million TikTok followers.

But there’s one major difference, according to Lee Eun-hee, a professor at Inha University’s Department of Consumer Science: virtual influencers in other countries tend to reflect a diversity of ethnic backgrounds and beauty ideals.

Virtual humans elsewhere have a “uniqueness,” while “those in Korea are always made beautiful and pretty … (reflecting) the values of each country,” she added.

An image of Rozy, the virtual influencer developed by Sidus Studio X in South Korea.

An image of Rozy, the virtual influencer developed by Sidus Studio X in South Korea. Credit: Sidus Studio X

And in South Korea — often dubbed the “plastic surgery capital of the world” for its booming $10.7 billion industry — there are concerns that virtual influencers could further fuel unrealistic beauty standards.

Younger Koreans have begun pushing back against these ideals in recent years, sparking a movement in 2018 dubbed “escaping the corset.”

This ‘imperfect’ virtual influencer is challenging beauty standards in China

But ideas of what is popularly considered beautiful in the country remain narrow; for women, this usually means a petite figure with large eyes, a small face and pale, clear skin.

And these features are shared by most of the country’s virtual influencers; Lucy has perfect skin, long glossy hair, a slender jaw and a perky nose. Rozy has full lips, long legs and a flat stomach peeking out under her crop tops.

Lee Eun-hee warned that virtual influencers like Rozy and Lucy could be making Korea’s already demanding beauty standards even more unattainable — and heightening the demand for plastic surgery or cosmetic products among women seeking to emulate them.

“Real women want to become like them, and men want to date people of the same appearance,” she said.

An image of Lucy, the Korean virtual human used by Lotte Home Shopping.

An image of Lucy, the Korean virtual human used by Lotte Home Shopping. Credit: Courtesy Lotte Home Shopping

The creators of Rozy and Lucy reject such criticism.

Lotte representative Lee Bo-hyun said they had tried to make Lucy more than just a “pretty image” by crafting an elaborate back story and personality. She studied industrial design, and works in car design. She posts about her job and interests, such as her love for animals and kimbap — rice rolls wrapped in seaweed. In this way, “Lucy is striving to have a good influence in society,” Lee said, adding: “She’s giving a message to the public to ‘do what you want to do according to your beliefs.'”

Baik, the Sidus Studio X CEO, said Rozy isn’t what “anyone would call beautiful” and that the firm had deliberately tried to make her appearance unique and veer away from traditional Korean norms. He pointed to the freckles on her cheeks and her wide-set eyes.

“Rozy shows people the importance of inner confidence,” he added. “There are other virtual humans that are so pretty … but I made Rozy to show that you can still be beautiful (even without a conventionally attractive face).”

‘Digital blackface’

But concerns go beyond Korean beauty standards. Elsewhere in the world there is debate over the ethics of marketing products to consumers who don’t realize the models aren’t human, as well as the risk of cultural appropriation when creating influencers of different ethnicities — labeled by some as “digital blackface.

Facebook and Instagram’s parent company Meta, which has more than 200 virtual influencers on its platforms, has acknowledged the risks.

‘Beauty is freedom’: The North Korean millennials wearing makeup to rebel against the state

“Like any disruptive technology, synthetic media has the potential for both good and harm. Issues of representation, cultural appropriation and expressive liberty are already a growing concern,” the company said in a blog post.

“To help brands navigate the ethical quandaries of this emerging medium and avoid potential hazards, (Meta) is working with partners to develop an ethical framework to guide the use of (virtual influencers).”

But one thing appears clear: the industry is here to stay. As interest in the digital world booms — ranging from the metaverse and virtual reality technologies to digital currencies — companies say virtual influencers are the next frontier.

An image of Rozy, the virtual influencer developed by Sidus Studio X in South Korea.

An image of Rozy, the virtual influencer developed by Sidus Studio X in South Korea. Credit: Sidus Studio X

Lotte is hoping Lucy will move from advertising to entertainment, perhaps by appearing in a television drama. The firm is also working on a virtual human that will appeal to shoppers in their 40s to 60s.

Sidus Studio X has big ambitions, too; Rozy will launch her own cosmetics brand in August, as well as an NFT (non-fungible token), and the firm hopes to create a virtual pop trio to take on the music charts.

Baik points out that most fans don’t meet real celebrities in person, only seeing them on screens. So “there is no big difference between virtual humans and the real-life celebrities they like,” he said.

“We want to change perceptions of how people think of virtual humans,” Baik added. “What we do isn’t to take away people’s jobs, but to do things that humans can’t do, such as work 24 hours or make unique content like walking in the sky.

Cho Eun-young contributed to this report.

As the World Burns

Jul 25, 2022 RICHARD HAASS Project Syndicate

Even before Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his war against Ukraine and set off a global scramble for fossil fuels, the battle against climate change was being lost. With national leaders and international diplomacy proving ineffective, is there any hope of saving ourselves?

NEW YORK – It is often said that no one wins a war, just that some lose less than others. Russia’s war against Ukraine promises to be no exception. One clear loser is already evident: the planet.

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UN General Assembly declares access to clean and healthy environment a universal human right

28 July 2022

Climate and Environment UN NEWS

With 161 votes in favour, and eight abstentions*, the UN General Assembly adopted a historic resolution on Thursday, declaring access to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, a universal human right.

The resolution, based on a similar text adopted last year by the Human Rights Council, calls upon States, international organisations, and business enterprises to scale up efforts to ensure a healthy environment for all. 

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, welcomed the ‘historic’ decision and said the landmark development demonstrates that Member States can come together in the collective fight against the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.

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People’s Republic of China in International Organizations

Home

U.S.-CHINA ECONOMIC AND SECURITY REVIEW COMMISSION

07/18/2022

Summary:

This publication identifies Chinese nationals serving in leadership positions in key international organizations (see full list below). Top leadership positions are broadly defined as positions at the board of directors and senior management team level. The Commission’s work on this subject is informed by the enduring relevance to the Commission’s charter regarding the nature and implications of Chinese participation in international governmental organizations.

The full document can be found here >>.

This publication documents Chinese nationals serving in leadership roles in the following organizations:

  • Chinese Heads of International Organizations
  • UN Principal Organs
  • UN Funds and Programs
  • UN Specialized Agencies
  • Other UN Entities and Bodies
  • International Trade and Financial Institutions
  • Other International Organizations

The data are current as of July 18, 2022, and will be updated on a semi-annual basis. Readers and researchers who find this useful can send comments, updates and corrects, or suggestions for additional organizations or areas the Commission may want to consider in future updates of this work to contact@uscc.gov.

Topics: 

Foreign Affairs

PRC Representation in International Organizations >>

Council on Foreign Relations – Daily News Brief July 25, 2022

Image Daily News BriefJuly 25, 2022
Top of the Agenda

EU Approves Vaccine for Monkeypox in Wake of WHO Emergency DeclarationThe European Union (EU) followed Canada and the United States in approving Bavarian Nordic’s smallpox vaccine for use against monkeypox (Reuters), the Danish drugmaker said. The step comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern and urged countries to step up their disease surveillance and response efforts.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus overruled an inconclusive WHO panel of advisors to make the declaration, saying “too little” is understood (NYT) about the current outbreak. More than sixteen thousand monkeypox cases have been reported in seventy-five countries since early May. Vaccines have been made available in some countries, though their global supply is relatively small (Vox).
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Vietnam’s ‘coral grave’ at Nha Trang Bay a wake-up call on climate change destruction

Just 1 per cent of Vietnam’s corals are in a healthy state while the rest face multiple threats to survival, say scientistsLocal activists are leading conservation efforts even as climate change, human activities continue to cause coral bleaching and decay

Sen Nguyen

Sen Nguyen

Published: 11:00am, 24 Jul, 2022, SCMP

Local authorities have restricted swimming and diving in the Nha Trang Bay marine reserve until it fully inspected the area. File photo: AFP

Local authorities have restricted swimming and diving in the Nha Trang Bay marine reserve until it fully inspected the area. File photo: AFP

Grim footage of dead corals at a Vietnamese marine reserve, as far as the eye can see, has reignited calls for better environmental action as even a two-year pandemic pause in tourism has done little to help the ecosystem recover.

Last month, pictures and videos of dead coral stretching hundreds of square metres at Hon Mun Island struck the public’s nerve and prompted local authorities to restrict swimming and diving in the marine reserve until it fully inspected the area. The dead reef is situated in Nha Trang Bay, the first of 16 Marine Protected Areas in Vietnam.

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The Abraham Accords and the Genesis of I2U2

The quadrilateral grouping was popularly dubbed as the “West Asian Quad” until last year, has now graduated to become “I2U2″. The signing of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) between India and the UAE, the ongoing talks of an FTA between India and Israel, coupled with the already existing FTA between the UAE and Israel, can help this grouping triangulate the economic partnership.

Written by Guest

Updated: July 22, 2022 3:47:03 pm Financialexpress.com

I2U2 leaders focus on food security and clean energy; UAE to invest 2 bn in food parksUnder the framework of four nation grouping I2U2, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had announced its decision to invest USD 2 billion to develop a series of integrated food parks across India. (File image)

By Harsh Kumar Upadhayay

The signing of the Abraham Accords and the subsequent normalisation of formal diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE, followed by Israel and Bahrain, have reconfigured the political alignments of West Asia. In a world which is passing through uncertain times, characterized by power rivalries, armed conflicts, the looming fear of food crisis coupled with pessimistic market sentiments in a post-pandemic era, the Abraham Accords have not only created opportunities for bilateral engagements between the countries of West Asia but also have led to the creation of a Quadrilateral cooperative framework between India, Israel, the United States and the United Arab Emirates.

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China’s “containment” policy against America

PacNet #38 –  July 21, 2022


China’s “containment” policy against America

By Denny Roy


Denny Roy (RoyD@EastWestCenter.org) is a senior fellow at the East-West Center, Honolulu. He specializes in strategic and international security issues in the Asia-Pacific region.
Chinese officials and government media constantly decry what they call the US “containment” policy against China. They allege that Washington’s intention is to prevent China from becoming relatively stronger or more globally influential, lest Beijing impede the pursuit of the US agenda in international affairs.
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Ukraine war: why Moscow could go nuclear over Kyiv’s ‘threats’ to Crimea

Published: July 20, 2022 10.35am BST The Conversation

Authors

  1. Stefan WolffProfessor of International Security, University of Birmingham
  2. Tatyana MalyarenkoProfessor of International Relations, National University Odesa Law Academy

Disclosure statement

Stefan Wolff receives funding from the United States Institute of Peace. He is a past recipient of grants from the Economic and Social Research Council of the UK, the British Academy, the NATO Science for Peace Programme, the EU Framework Programmes 6 and 7 and Horizon 2020, as well as the EU’s Jean Monnet Programme. He is a Senior Research Fellow of the Foreign Policy Centre in London and Co-Coordinator of the OSCE Network of Think Tanks and Academic Institutions.

Tatyana Malyarenko receives funding from the Volkswagen Stiftung and IOS Regensburg, Germany, and the Jean Monnet Programme of the European Union (Jean Monnet project Towards a More Secure Digital Europe: Multi-level Governance for Countering Online Disinformation and Hybrid Threats, 2020-2022) managed by the Ukrainian Institute for Crisis Management and Conflict Resolution, Mariupol, Ukraine

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University of Birmingham provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation UK.

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Pedestrians pass a mural depicting a Russian soldier, the Russian flag and double-headed eagle coat of arms as well as the 'Z' military symbol, on the side of a building in Simferopol, Crimea.
Crimea has been an important strategic outpost for Russia during the war. EPA-EFE/stringer

 

As the war in Ukraine is about to head into its sixth month, the ferocity with which it is fought shows no signs of abating – neither on the battlefield, nor in the rhetoric emerging from Moscow and Kyiv.

Russian attacks continue to target Ukrainian cities such as Vinnytsia in western Ukraine that are far away from the front lines and those like Mykolaiv and Odesa that are of high strategic value in the battle over control of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.

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 How South Korea is transforming into a top global arms exporter

JULY 14, 2022 | FP Situation Report

By Robbie Gramer and Jack Detsch

Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! 

Before we get to our regularly scheduled programming, if you haven’t done so already, take a few minutes to marvel at the new high-definition imagery coming out of deep space, courtesy of the James Webb telescope.Alright, back to more earthly matters, here’s what’s on tap for the day: How South Korea is becoming a top global arms exporter, a new report warns of laggard U.S. missile defense capabilities, and Congress sours on F-16 sales to Turkey.

The Business of Booms Is Booming in South Korea

There’s been a not-so-quiet revolution taking place in South Korea in recent years, and it’s all about the defense industry.Since former President Moon Jae-in first took power in 2017, South Korea has turbocharged its arms sales abroad, positioning the country to become one of the world’s leading arms exporters and vastly outpacing the rest of the world in increasing the volume of its arms exports. Under the new conservative government, led by Yoon Suk-yeol, that trend shows no signs of slowing down.
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NuScale’s Small Modular Nuclear Reactor Passes Biggest Hurdle Yet

James Conca, Forbes

May 15, 2018,06:00am EDT

NRC just completed their Phase 1 review of NuScale’s Small Modular Nuclear Reactor. The small size... [+] of its Power Module means it can be factory-built and shipped by truck, deceasing construction costs enormously.

NRC just completed their Phase 1 review of NuScale’s Small Modular Nuclear Reactor. The small size… [+]

NUSCALE

NuScale Power is on track to build the first small modular nuclear reactor in America faster than expected.

Two weeks ago, NuScale’s small modular nuclear reactor design completed the Phase 1 review of its design certification application (DCA) by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That’s a huge deal because Phase 1 is the most intensive phase of the review, taking more hours and effort than the remaining five phases combined.

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