Tuesday, September 27, 2016

SciFi Rainbow

Character Study


My Early Jazz Education 6: Dave Dysert

I started taking trumpet lessons in the fourth grade. These were group lessons, taught at school. As I recall, I was grouped with two clarinetists; I even think they were my good friends, Jackie Barto and Billy Cover, but I’m not sure of that. Why with two clarinetists? Because the clarinet, like the trumpet, is a B-flat instrument. At some point, after weeks, more likely months, I began to get behind. Don’t know why; didn’t practice, most likely.

And then my parents decided I should take private lessons, likely prompted by the teacher at school. So some guy came to house for my lessons. Don’t remember a thing about him except that he was blind. Nor do I recall how long I took lessons with him, but by the time I was in the sixth grade, I believe, I was taking lessons with Dave Dysert.

His principle instrument was the piano, but he was trained in lots of instruments, as was the norm. He gave lessons out of a studio in his basement, Saturday mornings I believe. But it doesn’t matter much.

The lessons lasted a half hour and followed the same format. At the beginning of the lesson I’d play through the material I’d been practicing for the last week. This was usually a page of exercises of one kind or another and some little tune–to make things interesting. Mr. Dysert would comment as appropriate and then he’d select the material I was to practice the following week and I’d play through it. He’d make helpful comments as I hacked my way through the material.

I was supposed to practice half-an-hour a day. And I did so, but reluctantly, very reluctantly. I forget just how my parents got me to do this, but they did. And I did, sorta.

Then one day when I was 13, I believe, Mr. Dysert couldn’t take it anymore and read me the riot act. I was stunned. I’ve long since forgotten just what he said, but not his anger. I was wasting my time and his, he told me. I had talent, more than most of his students. When I read through the material for the next week’s lesson, I played it better than most students did after they’d been practicing for a week. That surprised me–must’ve been a whole lotta’ hacking going on in the studio is all I could see.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Smoky Hotness in the Night


Obama’s Affective Trajectory in His Eulogy for Clementa Pinckney

This occurred to me while I was completing the draft to “Sharing Experience: Computation, Form, and Meaning in the Work of Literature,” originally entitled “Form, Event, and Text: Literary Study in an Age of Computation.” These are crude initial thoughts. I don’t know whether I believe them. You can download a PDF of this post at Academia.edu: https://www.academia.edu/28726228/Obamas_Affective_Trajectory_in_His_Eulogy_for_Clementa_Pinckney

Introduction: The Mechanism of Ring-Composition

I have argued the President Obama’s Eulogy for Clementa Pinckney exhibits ring composition, as follows [1]:
(1) Prologue (paragraphs 1-5)
(2) Pinckney & Church (¶6-16)
(3) Nation (¶17-20)
(X) Violation and Grace (¶21-27)
(3’) Nation (¶28-39)
(2’) Pinckney & Families (¶40-44)
(1’) Closing (¶45-48)
Such structures have a central section that is flanked by a symmetrical arrangement of units such that the first one is echoed/complemented/completed by the last, the second by the penultimate, and so forth. No one doubts the existence of such structures in small scale texts (sentences, paragraphs or stanzas) where the arrangement is typically known as chiasmus.

Large-scale deployment, in this case a text of 3000 words, is more problematic. Is the structure real or is it the product of the critic’s imagination? If it is real, is it the product conscious deliberation? If not, how could such an arrangement have just happened? Any sort of arrangement is possible if the writer consciously conceives of it, but we have little or no evidence of conscious deliberation for these texts. In the case of the Pinckney eulogy, so far as I know, Obama has said nothing about conscious deliberation [2]. So, if he didn’t consciously and deliberately create this design, where did it come from?

These notes are directed at that question.

Grace and Love

Let’s take a look at the central section, where grace enters the eulogy. Here’s five of the seven paragraphs:
23.) He didn't know he was being used by God. (Applause.) Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group – the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle. The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court – in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn't imagine that. (Applause.)

24.) The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston, under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley – (applause) – how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond – not merely with revulsion at his evil act, but with big-hearted generosity and, more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.

25.) Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood – the power of God's grace. (Applause.)

26.) This whole week, I've been reflecting on this idea of grace. (Applause.) The grace of the families who lost loved ones. The grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons. The grace described in one of my favorite hymnals – the one we all know: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. (Applause.) I once was lost, but now I'm found; was blind but now I see. (Applause.)

27.) According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It's not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God – (applause) – as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace.
In particular, note Obama’s references to the forgiveness the families of the slain showed to the unnamed killer (Dylann Roof) and his assertion, in paragraph 27, that “grace is the free and benevolent favor of God.”

That strikes me as being like a mother’s love for a child and that love is mediated by the attachment system, as analyzed by John Bowlby and his students [3]. In an essay on Coleridge’s “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” I show how Coleridge activated the attachment in tracing the relations between himself, his friends, and the natural world [4]. Obama, I believe, is doing the same thing in this eulogy.

Now consider these three paragraphs, the last before the eulogy’s final phase, where Obama sings “Amazing Grace” and rings the names of those who’d been slain:
42.) Reverend Pinckney once said, "Across the South, we have a deep appreciation of history – we haven't always had a deep appreciation of each other's history." (Applause.) What is true in the South is true for America. Clem understood that justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other. [...] He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind – but, more importantly, an open heart.

43.) That's what I've felt this week – an open heart. That, more than any particular policy or analysis, is what's called upon right now, I think – what a friend of mine, the writer Marilyn Robinson, calls “that reservoir of goodness, beyond, and of another kind, that we are able to do each other in the ordinary cause of things.”

44.) That reservoir of goodness. If we can find that grace, anything is possible. (Applause.) If we can tap that grace, everything can change. (Applause.)
Now he’s telling us what he feels, that he has “an open heart.” He is no longer talking about what happened a few days ago, nor about God’s relation to humans, but about himself, here and now, and about what we must all do, now and in the future.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Swamp Things: A Tale of Two Cities (Jersey City and New York)


Hierarchy and Equality: The Essential Tension in Human Nature

I'd originally published a longer version of this essay on The Valve in 2010, where it accumulated various comments and addenda. I first republshed it here specifically in connection with my work on The Greatest Man in Siam. It's the section, Egalitarianism and Hierarchy, that's directly relevant, but you may want to read the sections on Shakespeare and Greene as well. I'm now bumping it to top top of the cue as I'm thinking about literary morphology.

The purpose of this essay is to consider some recent developments in, shall we evolutionary psychology, as it's called, and to argue that these developments indicate that human nature contains within it an essential tension that may well be one of the drivers of history. I begin with the psychology and then move to literature, first Much Ado About Nothing, and then a comparison between Greene’s Pandosto and Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. I conclude with a modest gesture toward Marx.

Egalitarianism and Hierarchy

Let us consider Christopher Boehm’s Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior (1999), which speaks to issues of class and equality. Boehm is interested in accounting for the apparent egalitarian behavior of hunter-gatherer bands, the most basic form of human social organization. While individuals can assume a leadership role for specific occasions, e.g. a hunt, there are no permanent leaders in such bands. Boehm does not argue that such bands are egalitarian utopias; on the contrary, primitive egalitarianism is uneasy and fraught with tension. But it is real.

Boehm finds this puzzling because, in all likelihood, our immediate primate ancestors had well-developed status hierarchies. Boehm ends up adopting the notion that the hierarchical behavioral patterns of our primate heritage are overlain, but not eradicated or replaced, by a more recent egalitarian social regime. Other than suggesting that this more recent regime is genetic Boehm has little to say about it.

Independently, Alan Fiske has been arguing that that humans have four different modes of social behavior (The Four Elementary Forms of Sociality: Framework for a Unified Theory of Social Relations. Psychological Review, 99, 689-723, 1992, PDF; here’s a briefer online presentation). In communal sharing, all members of a social group are treated as being equivalent. For example, if one member of a family is honored, the honor accrues to the whole family. Authority ranking is what the name implies; individual with different ranks in a hierarchy have different rights and obligations. In equality matching people work to maintain some kind of balance among them. Finally, there is market pricing, in which interactions are mediated by quantitative market mechanisms (p. 692) and which, on that account does not seem as basic as the other three (cf. Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought, 2008, p. 409) and which will, accordingly, play no role in my analysis. In Fiske’s analysis not only are relationships between different people mediated by different modes, but different aspects of a relationship between two individuals can be mediated by different modes.

It is not entirely to me just how these two conceptions are aligned. Boehm’s phylogenetically older system seems to be Fiske’s authority ranking mode, while his newer system seems to encompass communal sharing and equality matching as well. Market pricing has no obvious place in Boehm’s analysis. In any event, this is not the place to examine the relationship between these two conceptions. What is important for our purposes is that both Boehm and Fiske argue that human social interaction is mediated by distinctly different behavioral systems and that there is at least an approximate alignment between their conceptions.

Conceptual Metaphor Wiki Online

Available HERE as of August 2016.

* * * * *

MetaNet Metaphor Wiki


The ongoing objective of the MetaNet Project is to systematize metaphor analysis in a computational way. As part of this work, MetaNet has developed formal representations of metaphors as mappings from one domain (the Source domain) to another (the Target domain). Both Source and Target domains are represented as frames, which are schematic representations of different kinds of experiences, objects, and events. Using this formalization, MetaNet has built a large repository of networks of interrelated metaphors, as well as networks of semantic frames that act as source and target domains of metaphors.


This MetaNet wiki contains a searchable, publicly-accessible subset of the full MetaNet metaphor and frame repository; this beta-version will be revised and expanded on an ongoing basis.
  • The list of currently available metaphors can be found here: Metaphors
  • The list of currently available frames can be found here: Frames
  • Definitions of commonly used terms, and descriptions of the different fields found on the metaphor and frame pages can be found here: Glossary
By selecting an individual frame or metaphor from this list, you can view its internal structure, along with its specified relations to other frames and metaphors within the network. Because this is only a subset of the full repository, some of the links on these pages (links in red) are not live links.

While none of the pages are editable, viewers are invited to leave comments using the 'Discussion' tab for a given page.

Further information

The MetaNet Metaphor Wiki is currently housed at the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley, California.

Further information about the MetaNet project, as well as links to selected publications can be accessed via the MetaNet webpage: https://metanet.icsi.berkeley.edu/metanet/

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Storefront, the old neighborhood (Bergen-Lafayette, NJ)


The end of cinema, NOT!

David Bordwell has a column about that film journalism favorite, the article proclaiming the end of cinema. He observes, quite rightly, that it's become a cliché unrelated to reality. The whole article is worth reading, but check this out:
In talking about “our” cinema, I’ve been too glib, though this angle fits with an assumption of the death-knoll critics (“Movies as We Know Them”). Of course, Jacobs, Raftery, and Burr all acknowledge that Hollywood isn’t making movies just for us; it’s a world industry. People elsewhere (many recently arrived in the local equivalent of the middle class) seem keen to participate in American popular culture, with fashion, music, TV, and websites. Hollywood entertainment, lame as it often is, is part of being cosmopolitan.

Still, maybe it’s time to admit that we don’t own Hollywood. Maybe we never did, but it seems clear that with globalization “our” popular cinema is becoming something else–not exactly “theirs,” but not wholly ours either. Now You See Me 2 may have attracted only mild interest here: little cultural chitchat, except maybe among magicians, and $65 million box office (less than Lt. Robin Crusoe, USN). But it garnered $266 million internationally. Nearly a hundred million of that came from China, perhaps partly owing to long stretches set in Macau and short stretches featuring Jay Chou Kit-lun. And the director was Asian-American Jon M. Chu. ...

This won’t stop. One of the most astonishing and puzzling facts of contemporary cinema gets almost no press, maybe because it contravenes the death-of-film narrative. Over the last ten years, there has been a huge rise in the number of feature films.

In 2001, the world produced about 3800 features annually. The number passed 4000 in 2002, passed 5000 in 2007, and passed 6000 in 2011. In 2014, IHS estimates, over 7300 feature films were made in the world. There are now fifteen countries that produce over 100 features a year. As a result, only 18% of the world’s features come from North America. The boom took place despite the rise of home video, cable, satellite, DVD, Blu-ray, VOD, and streaming. And it happened despite the fact that American blockbusters rule nearly every national market. This may be a bubble, or it may be genuine growth. In any case, we ought to investigate the reasons that a great many people around the world stubbornly persist in making two-hour films. They don’t appear to care if We sense a summer slump.

Two Current Flicks: Kubo and the Two Strings, The Magnificent Seven

On Thursday I saw Kubo and the Two Strings. I saw The Magnificent Seven yesterday (Friday). They are very different films, obviously. Seven is live-action and a remake of a remake. Kubo is stop-time animation and utterly original. I liked them both, though the Tomatometer (@ Rotten Tomatoes, natch) puts Kuba at 97% and Seven at 64%, which is fair.

The Magnificient Seven looks good; Denzel is fine in the lead. It’s your standard action flick, with guts, grit, special effects bursting all over the damn place and gorgeous wide shots of the West. But it’s no Mad Max: Fury Road. And it’s probably not as good as the Yule Brenner The Magnificient Seven (1960), its immediate model, or the 1954 Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa. I’ve seen both, but that was so long ago that I can’t claim to make a live comparison with the current film.

I was particularly paying attention to the music. Like, many I’m sure, I was wondering if there would be anything on the sound track as catchy as the soaring Elmer Bernstein theme that we all know so well, with that driving rhythmic riff behind a theme that doesn’t soar so much as it sweeps the horizon. There isn’t, but there is a theme that is obviously modeled after Bernstein’s–and they surely know that we recognize that–and, interestingly, Bernstein’s rhythm riff actually appears in this film, several times. And then, at the very end, as the roll the credits, we get Bernstein’s theme. Clever.

Kubo and the Two Strings is the best-looking film I’ve seen since, well, Mad Max: Fury Road. Yes, better looking that Pixar, which looks plastic and fruity by comparison. LAIKA has combined stop-motion animation with now-tradition 3D CGI to achieve a look that is haunting, glowing, and restful (if not serene) as the occasion requires.

The story is an adventure quest. Young Kubo lives with his (declining) mother in a cliff-top cave near a village. During the day he goes to the village square where he tells stories while strumming his shamisen as paper forms itself into origami figures that act out a story. Well, perhaps it’s THE story, one he tells over and over. It’s the story of his father, who died so long ago that Kubo has little memory of him.

And then, one day, he stays in town after dark–something his mother told him never to do. And so his quest begins. He is under attack and the only way he can save himself is by finding the armor he tells about in his story. The story is perhaps a bit complex, and the metaphysical shape of this world is a bit obscure (the evil is there, but its clear why), but in the end it’s a riff out of the old ouroboros, a snake swallowing its tail.

Here’s how they did it:

Friday, September 23, 2016

Chicago's Millennium Park the summer It Opened (2004)

I bought my first camera, a Canon PowerShot A75, so I could take these photos.






In psychology, the times they are a changin'

Andrew Gelman has a long and very interesting post on the replication crisis in psychology, including a chronology of the major events that goes back to the 1960s (the passage is full of hyperlinks in the original:
1960s-1970s: Paul Meehl argues that the standard paradigm of experimental psychology doesn’t work, that “a zealous and clever investigator can slowly wend his way through a tenuous nomological network, performing a long series of related experiments which appear to the uncritical reader as a fine example of ‘an integrated research program,’ without ever once refuting or corroborating so much as a single strand of the network.”

Psychologists all knew who Paul Meehl was, but they pretty much ignored his warnings. For example, Robert Rosenthal wrote an influential paper on the “file drawer problem” but if anything this distracts from the larger problems of the find-statistical-signficance-any-way-you-can-and-declare-victory paradigm.

1960s: Jacob Cohen studies statistical power, spreading the idea that design and data collection are central to good research in psychology, and culminating in his book, Statistical Power Analysis for the Behavioral Sciences, The research community incorporates Cohen’s methods and terminology into its practice but sidesteps the most important issue by drastically overestimating real-world effect sizes....
2011: Various episodes of scientific misconduct hit the news. Diederik Stapel is kicked out of the pscyhology department at Tilburg University and Marc Hauser leaves the psychology department at Harvard. These and other episodes bring attention to the Retraction Watch blog. I see a connection between scientific fraud, sloppiness, and plain old incompetence: in all cases I see researchers who are true believers in their hypotheses, which in turn are vague enough to support any evidence thrown at them. Recall Clarke’s Law.

2012: Gregory Francis publishes “Too good to be true,” leading off a series of papers arguing that repeated statistically significant results (that is, standard practice in published psychology papers) can be a sign of selection bias. PubPeer starts up.

2013: Katherine Button, John Ioannidis, Claire Mokrysz, Brian Nosek, Jonathan Flint, Emma Robinson, and Marcus Munafo publish the article, “Power failure: Why small sample size undermines the reliability of neuroscience,” which closes the loop from Cohen’s power analysis to Meehl’s more general despair, with the connection being selection and overestimates of effect sizes....

Also, the replication movement gains steam and a series of high-profile failed replications come out. First there’s the entirely unsurprising lack of replication of Bem’s ESP work—Bem himself wrote a paper claiming successful replication, but his meta-analysis included various studies that were not replications at all—and then came the unsuccessful replications of embodied cognition, ego depletion, and various other respected findings from social pscyhology.

2015: Many different concerns with research quality and the scientific publication process converge in the “power pose” research of Dana Carney, Amy Cuddy, and Andy Yap, which received adoring media coverage but which suffered from the now-familiar problems of massive uncontrolled researcher degrees of freedom (see this discussion by Uri Simonsohn), and which failed to reappear in a replication attempt by Eva Ranehill, Anna Dreber, Magnus Johannesson, Susanne Leiberg, Sunhae Sul, and Roberto Weber....

2016: Brian Nosek and others organize a large collaborative replication project. Lots of prominent studies don’t replicate. The replication project gets lots of attention among scientists and in the news, moving psychology, and maybe scientific research, down a notch when it comes to public trust. There are some rearguard attempts to pooh-pooh the failed replication but they are not convincing.

Late 2016: We have now reached the “emperor has no clothes” phase. When seemingly solid findings in social psychology turn out not to replicate, we’re no longer surprised.
Gelman notes, however, that though the problems had been noticed long ago, it wasn't until quite recently the discipline started to see a crisis in its foundations. The rest of the post looks at two things: 1) the way the epistemological and methodological foundations of psychology have changed, and 2) how the rise of social media has taken the discussion outside the formal literature, which is to some extent controlled by the old guard.

On the first:
A paradigm that should’ve been dead back in the 1960s when Meehl was writing on all this, but which in the wake of Simonsohn, Button et al., Nosek et al., is certainly dead today. It’s the paradigm of the open-ended theory, of publication in top journals and promotion in the popular and business press, based on “p less than .05” results obtained using abundant researcher degrees of freedom. It’s the paradigm of the theory that in the words of sociologist Jeremy Freese, is “more vampirical than empirical—unable to be killed by mere data.” It’s the paradigm followed by Roy Baumeister and John Bargh, two prominent social psychologists who were on the wrong end of some replication failures and just can’t handle it.

I’m not saying that none of Fiske’s work would replicate or that most of it won’t replicate or even that a third of it won’t replicate. I have no idea; I’ve done no survey. I’m saying that the approach to research demonstrated by Fiske in her response to criticism of that work of hers is an style that, ten years ago, was standard in psychology but is not so much anymore. So again, her discomfort with the modern world is understandable.
On the second:
Fiske is annoyed with social media, and I can understand that. She’s sitting at the top of traditional media. She can publish an article in the APS Observer and get all this discussion without having to go through peer review; she has the power to approve articles for the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; work by herself and har colleagues is featured in national newspapers, TV, radio, and even Ted talks, or so I’ve heard. Top-down media are Susan Fiske’s friend. Social media, though, she has no control over. That’s must be frustrating, and as a successful practioner of traditional media myself (yes, I too have published in scholarly journals), I too can get annoyed when newcomers circumvent the traditional channels of publication. People such as Fiske and myself spend our professional lives building up a small fortune of coin in the form of publications and citations, and it’s painful to see that devalued, or to think that there’s another sort of scrip in circulation that can buy things that our old-school money cannot.

But let’s forget about careers for a moment and instead talk science.

When it comes to pointing out errors in published work, social media have been necessary. There just has been no reasonable alternative. Yes, it’s sometimes possible to publish peer-reviewed letters in journals criticizing published work, but it can be a huge amount of effort. Journals and authors often apply massive resistance to bury criticisms.
H/t Alex Tabarrok.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Someone to watch over me


23 Big Macs for 2016: More special sauce for the elite few

Back in 2013 I did a series of articles on the MacArthur Fellows Program (collected as The Genius Chronicles) arguing that the Academy of Big Mac (aka the MacArthur Foundation) was copping out by giving the majority of its awards to people who don’t really need them because they had secure employment at prestigious institutions. If they wanted to be true to their original mandate, to seek out those not normally graced by the award fairies, they should avoid those institutions entirely. But they don’t listen. How could they? They’ve got to feed the vanity of the elite institutions on which they depend for advice, personnel, and approval.

Back in 1992 Anne Matthews wrote a full-dress review of the program for The New York Times Magazine, “The MacArthur Truffle Hunt,” in which she observed: “Officials at other foundations note the MacArthur fellows program has never really decided if its job is to reward creativity or to stimulate it, if it wants to be an American Nobel Prize or a fairy godmother to talents unappreciated by mainstream society.” Their solution seems to have been to aim for the Nobels while appearing to be a fairy godmother. So they favor those firmly entrenched in elite institutions, spawning ground for Nobels, but who have not yet reached the highest levels in those institutions, though some of them are pretty high indeed, with named professorships.

They’ve just announced their class of 2016 and they’re following true to form: 23 awards, of which 13 go to people who have lifetime employment at good universities. That’s 57%. They may well be fine and innovative people, probably are, but why not give those awards to people who work temp gigs, fast-food or low to mid-level office gigs, any kind of make-do gig, to support their creative efforts in the evenings and on weekends? Why not? Because it’s too hard to find them, requires too much imagination and a taste for risk, that’s why.

Waffle Tallies

Here’s the Big Mac “waffle” tally (awards to people with secure gigs) for the last four years:

2013: 63%
2014: 52%
2015: 54%
2016: 57%

MacArthur Fellowships: Let the Geniuses Free – This is the original post in the series and tallies the winners for 2013.