Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Tulsi Gabbard: Bolton on Iran must be shut down

Yeah, I know it may be creepy. But it's life, or death. Whatever. A cemetary. With a touch of red / life?

Some thoughts about Wikipedia

I subscribe to a listserve devoted to the digital humanities. Recently another subscriber asked us for our thoughts about Wikipedia. Here's my response.

* * * * *

I’ve got three core comments on Wikipedia: 1) I’ve been using it happily for years and am, for the most part, satisfied. 2) I think it’s important to note that it covers a much wider range of topics than traditional encyclopedias. 3) If I were teaching, I would probably have graduate students, and perhaps advanced undergraduates as well, involved in editing Wikipedia.

On the first point, Wikipedia is my default reference work on a wide range or topics (though not philosophy, where I first go to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). This seems to be the case for many people. Depending on what I’m interested in at the moment I may consult other sources as well, some referenced in a Wikipedia article, others from a general search. I have seen Wikipedia used a source in scholarly publications that have been peer reviewed though I don’t know, off hand, whether or not I’ve done so in any of my publications in the academic literature. But I certainly reference Wikipedia in my blog posts and in the working papers derived from them.

Depending on this and that I may consult the “Talk” page for an article and/or its edit history as well, the former more likely than the latter. For example, I have a particular interest in computational linguistics. Wikipedia has an entry for computational linguistics, but also one for natural language processing (NLP). The last time I checked (several months ago) the “Talk” pages for both articles raised the issue of the relationship between the two articles. Should they in fact be consolidated into one article or is it best to leave them as two? How do we handle the historical relationship between the two? I have no particular opinion on that issue, but I can see that it’s an important issue. Sophisticated users of Wikipedia need to know that such issues exist. Such issues also exist in more traditional reference works, but there’s no way to know about them as there is no way to “look under the hood”, so to speak, to see how the entry came about.

I’ve written one Wikipedia entry from scratch, the one for David G. Hays, the computational linguist. I hesitated about writing the article as I’m a student of his and so can hardly claim to be an unbiased source. But, he was an important figure in the development of the discipline and there was no article about him. So I wrote one. I did that several years ago and so far no one has questioned the article (I haven’t checked it in a month or three). Now maybe that’s an indication that I did a good job, but I figure it’s just as likely an indication that few people are interested in the biography of a dead founder of a rapidly changing technical subject.

I also helped the late Tim Perper on some articles about manga and anime – pervasive in Japanese popular culture and important in the wider world as well. In particular, I’m thinking about the main entry for manga. Tim was an expert on manga, the sort of person you’d want to write the main article. Manga, however, is the kind of topic that attractions legions of enthusiastic fans and, alas, enthusiasm is not an adequate substitute for intellectual sophistication and wide-ranging knowledge and experience. So I got to see a bit of what’s sometimes called “edit wars” in Wikipedia. In this case it was more like edit skirmishes. But it was annoying.

After all, anyone can become an editor at Wikipedia; there’s no a priori test of knowledge. You just create an account and go to work on entries that interest you. An enthusiastic fan can question and countermand the judgement of an expert (like Tim Perper). If editing disputes become bad enough there are mechanisms for adjudicating them, though I don’t know how good they are. For all I know the current entries for, say, Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are current battle grounds. Maybe they’re on lockdown because the fighting over the entries had been so intense. Or maybe everyone with a strong interest in those entries is in agreement. (Ha!)

On the second issue, breadth of coverage, would a traditional encyclopedia have an entry for manga? At this point, mostly likely yes (I don’t really know as I don’t consult traditional reference works any more, except for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy). But not only does Wikipedia have an entry for manga, but it has entries for various genres of manga, important creators, and important titles. The same for anime. And film. And TV.

At the moment I’m watching “Battlestar Galactica” (the new millennium remake) and “Friday Night Lights”, two very different TV series that are available for streaming. “Galactica” has a large fan base and en extensive set of Wikipedia articles which includes a substantial entry for each episode in the four-year run as well as entries for the series as a whole, an entry that covers the characters, and one that covers the space craft. There may be more entries as well. Judging from Wikipedia entries, the fan base for “Friday Night Lights” is not so large. There is an entry for each season (of four), but not entries for individual episodes. But, just as the entry for the newer version of “Battlestar Galactica” links back to the original series (from the previous millennium), so the entry for “Friday Night Lights” links back to the movie and to the book on which the movie is based.

Beyond this, I note that I watch A LOT of streaming video, both movies and TV. And I frequently consult Wikipedia and other online resources. One observation I have is that plot summaries vary from very good to not very reliable. Writing good plot summaries is not easy. It may not require original thinking, but still, it’s not easy. This is particularly true when you’re dealing with an episode in an ongoing series that follows two or three strands of action. When you write the summary, do you summarize each strand of action in a single ‘lump’ or do you interleave the strands in the say they are presented in the episode? Off hand I’d prefer to see the latter, but I don’t know what I’d think if I actually got that – nor have I kept notes on just how it’s done in case after case after case (I’ve followed 10s of them in the past decade or so).

Which brings me to the third point, if I were still teaching I’d involve students in editing Wikipedia. I know that others have done this, I’m thinking in particular of feminists who are concerned about entries for women, though, alas, I can offer no citations. Still, I’m thinking that writing plot summaries for this that or the other would be a useful thing to do, and something within the capacities of graduate students and advanced undergraduates. Not only could they do it, but doing it would be a good way of teaching them to focus on just what happens in a story. But how would you do it?

For example, I’d like to see plot summaries for each episode of “Friday Night Lights”. What kind of course would provide a rationale for doing that? Obviously a course devoted to the series. Would I want to teach such a course? I don’t know. At the moment I’ve finished watching the first of four seasons; that’s 22 episodes. I find it hard to justify teaching a course, at whatever level, devoted entirely to that series, though I have no trouble imagining a detailed discussion of each episode. But how do you discuss some 80 or 90 episodes of one TV series in a course with, say, 12 to 30 sessions? Does that make any kind of sense at all? And you can repeat the question for any number of TV series, anime series, whatever?

What about the Harry Potter novels, or Stephen King? Of course, one can dismiss these materials as mere popular culture. I’m not sure that is wise.

There’s some kind of opportunity here, but I’m not at all sure of what it is, in detail.

"Everything is subjective? – Really? Do we want to do down that rabbit hole?

No, I don't think we do, though it's all to 'ready at hand' for many humanists.

One thing we should do is read John Searle on objectivity and subjectivity. Alas, that's likely to make things a bit complicated. But the issue is an important one, so we should be willing to shoulder the complexity. See, e.g., these posts:

Monday, January 14, 2019

Some interesting throw-ups that no longer exist because the "canvas" on which thye've been painted has been demolished [Jersey City]

On the primacy of music

As chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (2003–2009), he created the largest programs in the endowment’s history, several of which, including the Big Read, Operation Homecoming, and Poetry Out Loud, continue as major presences in American cultural life. For many years, Gioia served on Image’s editorial advisory board, and he has been a guest lecturer for the Seattle Pacific University MFA program in creative writing. In 2010 he won the prestigious Laetare Medal from Notre Dame. Last year, he was appointed the Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at the University of Southern California—his first regular teaching post.
What he says about music:
Image: I once heard you say that if you could only have one art form, it would be music. Why?

Dana Gioia: I could give you reasons, but that would suggest that my response is rational. It isn’t. My choice of music is simply a deep emotional preference. I like the physicality of music. It is a strange art—not only profoundly beautiful, but also communal, portable, invisible, and repeatable. Its most common form is song, a universal human art that also includes poetry.

Image: As a young man, you intended to be a composer. What led to your discovery of poetry as your vocation?

DG: I started taking piano lessons at six, and I eventually also learned to play the clarinet and saxophone. During my teenage years, music was my ruling passion. At nineteen I went to Vienna to study music and German. But living abroad for the first time, I changed direction. I reluctantly realized that I lacked the passion to be a truly fine composer. I was also out of sympathy with the dull and academic twelve-tone aesthetic then still dominant. Meanwhile, I became fascinated with poetry. I found myself spending most of my time reading and writing. Poetry chose me. I couldn’t resist it.

Image: What does it mean to be a poet in a post-literate world? Or to be a librettist in an age where opera is a struggling art form?

DG: It doesn’t bother me much. I wasn’t drawn to poetry or opera because of their popularity. It was their beauty and excitement that drew me. Of course, I would like these arts to have larger audiences, but the value of an art isn’t in the size of its audience. It’s in the truth and splendor of its existence.

All that being said, let me observe that a post-print world is not a bad place for poetry. Poetry is an art that predates writing. It’s essentially an auditory art. A poet today has the potential to speak directly to an audience—through public readings, radio broadcasts, recordings, and the internet. Most people may not want to read poetry, but they do like to hear good poems recited well. I’ve always written mostly for the ear, and I find large and responsive audiences all over the country. The current cultural situation is tough on novelists and critics, but it isn’t all that bad for poets.

Image: Duke Ellington objected to his music being labeled jazz, since he just considered it music. This led me to wonder if you are bothered by the term “New Formalism” being applied to your poetry.

DG: I have never liked the term “New Formalism.” It was coined in the 1980s as a criticism of the new poetry being written by younger poets that employed rhyme, meter, and narrative. I understand the necessity of labels in a crowded and complex culture, but labels always entail an element of simplification, especially when the terms offer an easy dichotomy.

I have always written both in form and free verse. It seems self-evident to me that a poet should be free to use whatever techniques the poem demands. My work falls almost evenly into thirds—one third of it is written in free verse, one third in rhyme and meter, and one third in meter without rhyme. I do believe that all good art is in some sense formal. Every element in a work of art should contribute to its overall expressive effect. That is what form means. Whether the form is regular or irregular, symmetrical or asymmetrical is merely a means of achieving the necessary integrity of the work.
Do I go with music? Can't say, but obviously I'm sympathetic.

Fashion and art cycles

Peter Klimek, Robert Kreuzbauer, Stefan Thurner, Fashion and art cycles are driven by counter-dominance signals of elite competition: quantitative evidence from music styles, 10 Jan 2019, arXiv:1901.03114v1 [physics.soc-ph]
Abstract: Human symbol systems such as art and fashion styles emerge from complex social processes that govern the continuous re-organization of modern societies. They provide a signaling scheme that allows members of an elite to distinguish themselves from the rest of society. Efforts to understand the dynamics of art and fashion cycles have been based on 'bottom-up' and 'top down' theories. According to 'top down' theories, elite members signal their superior status by introducing new symbols (e.g., fashion styles), which are adopted by low-status groups. In response to this adoption, elite members would need to introduce new symbols to signal their status. According to many 'bottom-up' theories, style cycles evolve from lower classes and follow an essentially random pattern. We propose an alternative explanation based on counter-dominance signaling. There, elite members want others to imitate their symbols; changes only occur when outsider groups successfully challenge the elite by introducing signals that contrast those endorsed by the elite. We investigate these mechanisms using a dynamic network approach on data containing almost 8 million musical albums released between 1956 and 2015. The network systematically quantifies artistic similarities of competing musical styles and their changes over time. We formulate empirical tests for whether new symbols are introduced by current elite members (top-down), randomness (bottom-up) or by peripheral groups through counter-dominance signals. We find clear evidence that counter-dominance-signaling drives changes in musical styles. This provides a quantitative, completely data-driven answer to a century-old debate about the nature of the underlying social dynamics of fashion cycles.
A note on their method:
Empirical tests are then needed to determine which model mechanism best describe s the actual evolution of musical styles. To this end we developed a method to quantify musical styles by determining each style’s typical instrumentation. From a dataset containing almost eight million albums that have been released since 1950, we extracted information about a user - created taxonomy of fifteen musical genres, 422 musical styles, and 570 different instruments. The instruments that are typically associated with a given genre (or style) were shown to be a suitable approximation to formally describe the characteristics of a style [ 29 ]. Therefore, the similarity between styles can be quantified through the similarity of their instrumentation. For instance, in Figure 1A we show an example of four different musical styles (blue circles) that are linked to five instruments (green squares). Here a link indicates that the instrument is (typically) featured in a release belonging to that style. The higher the overlap in instruments between two styles, the higher is their similarity and the thicker is the line that connects the styles in Figure 1A.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

From the diary of a (graffiti) writer in Moscow


11 a.m. Walk to Red Square, passing by the Kremlin and St. Basil’s Cathedral. Then to the new Zaryadye Park, designed by a New York-based architecture firm. It’s a totally different design aesthetic than the rest of Moscow.

1:30 p.m. Meet with local graffiti artist Cozek, who I consider to have the best style in Moscow. His crew, ADED (All Day Every Day), has been tapped for a collaboration with the fashion label Off-White that’s scheduled to release next week at KM20, a fashion-forward shop in town. We discuss how artists can leverage working with designer brands to benefit their careers. Cozek also has a collaboration with a furniture company debuting next week at the Cosmoscow art fair, and he was hired as the curator for Social Club, a new restaurant and private club opening next week in Patriarch Ponds. He wants to commission me to paint a mural at the restaurant while I’m in town.

2:30 p.m. Cozek gives me a tour of the space. The venue is beautifully designed and he invites me to choose any wall I want. All of the walls are exposed concrete, and if you paint it, there’s no going back. I seem more concerned about that than he does. I’m drawn to a horizontal wall that would be perfect for my work, but also recognize I have an 80-foot mural to paint and have my return flight scheduled for the end of the week. It would be great real estate, as this place will cater to Moscow society, but I’m reluctant to bite off more than I can chew with my limited time in town. [...]


12 p.m. Return to Winzavod to work on the mural. Many of today’s well-known street artists travel with an assistant, if not a team, to help bring their vision to life. Some artists are hands-on, while others don’t even touch the wall themselves. You can call me a perfectionist, or perhaps a masochist, but I typically travel alone, and create my works solely with my own two hands from start to finish. Which, admittedly, is not always most efficient. [...]


10 a.m. After breakfast, head to Winzavod intent on finishing my mural. After all of the letters are filled in, I repaint the background with a fresh coat of black, cleaning up all of the over-spray and dust that accumulated on the wall over the past few days. Once that’s done, it takes hours to refine the edges of the letters, pushing and pulling lines a quarter of an inch — making straight lines straighter and freehanding curves that could easily be mistaken for computer vectors.

Modern art [FDR]

Saturday, January 12, 2019

What do her Democratic colleagues in the House think of AOC?

Obviously, some don't like her anti-establishment ways. From Politico:
Democratic leaders are upset that she railed against their new set of House rules on Twitter the first week of the new Congress. Rank and file are peeved that there’s a grassroots movement to try to win her a top committee post they feel she doesn’t deserve.

Even some progressives who admire AOC, as she’s nicknamed, told POLITICO that they worry she’s not using her notoriety effectively.

“She needs to decide: Does she want to be an effective legislator or just continue being a Twitter star?” said one House Democrat who’s in lockstep with Ocasio Cortez’s ideology. “There’s a difference between being an activist and a lawmaker in Congress.”

It’s an open question whether Ocasio-Cortez can be checked. She’s barely been in Congress a week and is better known than almost any other House member other than Nancy Pelosi and John Lewis. A media throng follows her every move, and she can command a national audience practically at will.

None of that came playing by the usual rules: Indeed, Ocasio-Cortez’s willingness to take on her party establishment with unconventional guerrilla tactics is what got her here. It’s earned her icon status on the progressive left, it’s where the 29-year-old freshman derives her power — and, by every indication, it’s how she thinks she can pull the Democratic Party in her direction.
See this twitter thread for commentary on that article:

Come on in

AI in China

Read the whole thread.

Benjamin Wittes on collusion and obstruction of justice centered on Trump

The public understanding of and debate over the Mueller investigation rests on several discrete premises that I believe should be reexamined. The first is the sharp line between the investigation of “collusion” and the investigation of obstruction of justice. The second is the sharp line between the counter-intelligence components of the investigation and the criminal components. The third and most fundamental is the notion that the investigation was, in the first place, an investigation of the Trump campaign and figures associated with it.

These premises are deeply embedded throughout the public discussion. When Bill Barr challenges what he imagines to be the predicate for the obstruction investigation, he is reflecting one of them. When any number of commentators (including Mikhaila Fogel and me on Lawfare last month) describe separate investigative cones for obstruction and collusion, they are reflecting it. When the president’s lawyers agree to have their client answer questions on collusion but draw a line at obstruction, they are reflecting it too.

But I think, and the Times’s story certainly suggests, that the story may be more complicated than that, the lines fuzzier, and the internal understanding of the investigation very different along all three of these axes from the ones the public has imbibed.
Yada yada yada... And in conclusion:
First, if this analysis is correct, it mostly—though not entirely—answers the question of the legal basis of the obstruction investigation. The president’s lawyers, Barr in his memo, and any number of conservative commentators have all argued that Mueller cannot reasonably be investigating obstruction offenses based on the president’s actions within his Article II powers in firing Comey; such actions, they contend, cannot possibly violate the obstruction laws. While this position is disputed, a great many other commentators, including me, have scratched their heads about Mueller’s obstruction theory.

But if the predicate for the investigation was rooted in substantial part in counterintelligence authorities—that is, if the theory was not just that the president may have violated the criminal law but also that he acted in a fashion that may constitute a threat to national security—that particular legal puzzle goes away. After all, the FBI doesn’t need a possible criminal violation to open a national security investigation.

The problem does not entirely go away, because as the Times reports, the probe was partly predicated as a criminal matter as well. So the question of Mueller’s criminal theory is still there. But the weight on it is dramatically less. [...]

Second, if it is correct that the FBI’s principle interest in obstruction was not as a discrete criminal fact pattern but as a national security threat, this significantly blurs the distinction between the obstruction and collusion aspects of the investigation. In this construction, obstruction was not a problem distinct from collusion, as has been generally imagined. Rather, in this construction, obstruction was the collusion, or at least part of it. The obstruction of justice statutes become, in this understanding, merely one set of statutes investigators might think about using to deal with a national security risk—specifically, the risk of a person on the U.S. side coordinating with or supporting Russian activity by shutting down the investigation.

It was about Russia. It was always about Russia. Full stop.

Friday, January 11, 2019

The VC wisdom of funding undergraduate education in creative industries

Daniel Davis on Creative arts and investing in systems at Crooked Timber:
The thing about the arts industries is that they’re very hits-driven; talking about what happens to the median person going into them is always going to massively underestimate the value of the system as a whole. They share this characteristic with pharmaceuticals and, famously, the oil industry (as the wildcatter proverb has it, “part of the cost of a gusher is the dry holes you drilled”). You can’t tell ex ante which spotty undergraduate is going to turn into a claymation genius and retrospectively justify the last decade of investment. Importantly, nor can they. As far as I can see, if you were to set it up without subsidy, you would most likely get too few people going into the creative arts, as they would rationally decide that they were more likely to be one of the ones that didn’t make it than one of the Nick Parks.

This is really not all that unorthodox; it’s just the application of venture capital thinking to what people are (wrongly in my opinion) analysing as a debt problem. The undergraduate education subsidy system ought to be thought of as one where the government makes loads and loads of smallish VC investments, effectively buying a roughly 30% shareholding for a five figure investment, with diversification across an entire undergraduate cohort every year. If you’re given that sort of an opportunity, then obviously you go for some moonshots, particularly when you’re the government of a country that famously does very well in creative industries compared to its peers.

But it’s actually possible to push this line of thinking somewhat further into a general point about arts funding, making use of the fact noted two paragraphs ago that not only is it impossible for an outsider to pick winners, it’s usually very difficult for the artists themselves. Where I think that leads to is the conclusion that when you’re looking at the rate of return on arts subsidies, there is no coherent way to measure ROI at any level more disaggregated than the entire system.
Check out my post, Chaos in the Movie Biz: A Review of Hollywood Economics.

Friday Fotos: Miscellany from the current stack

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Will AOC win the internets?

Kara Swisher, NYTimes:
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has done live conversations that include both cooking tips and policy pronouncements, has posted stories of her congressional experience the way others post vacation or holiday or food photos and has clapped back expertly in pithy tweets at whatever gets dished out at her by the right.

What she is doing is significant for politics, because of one key thing: She has made digital depictions of herself seem very analog. In other words, she is perfectly human online.

The ability to take your message and yourself directly to people is perhaps one of this era’s most important talents. In this, as much as she’d hate to admit it, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is following in the footsteps of President Trump.
In contrast:
What’s interesting about Mr. Trump’s digital efforts is that even though he is always online, he is not Extremely Online. Rather than fully engaging with the platforms and employing their nifty audio and video tools, he has stuck to text, using his own set of locutions and his own distinctive voice. While at first this made him seem, to many supporters at least, more authentic than the average politician, it is now making him look more and more like a giant cartoon bobblehead. The internet is not making him more of a person.

And while he spouts outward, turning into an online megaphone, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez listens, takes everything in and reacts. Both methods work. And she is the only one who can keep up with him online. The joint response by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer to Mr. Trump’s wall speech turned into a very funny mom-and-dad-sure-are-mad meme, while Senator Lindsey Graham looked like a feckless spinning top as he pinged from faux indignation at some of Mr. Trump’s acts to adulation.
A lot's been written about the internet and communication and politics and, in particular, about Twitter, especially since 45 has proven so devastatingly effective in his use of Twitter. I've not read much of that because, well, there's lots to read, and not much time. But this op-ed is hands-down the most interesting thing I've read in this general area.
It would be a mistake to dismiss their practices as just noise. Because, as Mr. Warzel noted correctly, they are controlling the narrative by doing this so effectively. “It’s agenda-setting,” he wrote, whether we’re talking about the wall (Mr. Trump) or taxing the rich (Ms. Ocasio-Cortez). “Constant content creation forces your opponent to respond to you.” It means you are creating the news.

While there is a danger in that, it’s probably the way it’s going to be from here on out, and those who can do it well are more likely to get the attention in this very dissonant world.