Ten days ago, a satirical German TV program played a two-minute video set to the tune of the 1984 Nena song Irgendwie, Irgendwo, Irgendwann with lyrics and images uncomplimentary to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. At first the video didn't make a big splash. But Turkey summoned the German ambassador the next day to complain, which made the news, which spurred the creators of the video to post Turkish- and English-subtitled versions which have since gotten jede Menge hits. Turkish for Streisand effect is Streisand etkisi.
The video grabs me for a bunch of reasons, not least because it makes me remember a friend who I miss dearly, who really loved the Nena song. And somehow lyrics about Erdoğan having journalists jailed and so on are all the more striking when set to the tune of what was a dreamy love song. The original begins in B minor, the new version in D minor; I wonder whether that was to give it a different feel or just to accommodate the range of the vocalist.
Germany's ambassador made clear to Turkey that her government respects freedom of expression and would not ban the video.
This comes on the heels of another musical jab at a politician (well, a wannabe politician) that I find no less striking (although for different qualities): Iggy Jackson's bass accompaniment to I‑don't-care-to-name-who's performances of the word China. Is music powerful, or what. This year's World Chess Candidates Tournament is almost over. One more round of games will be played tomorrow. The winner gets to challenge Magnus Carlsen later in the year. From the tournament's rules:
There's a fair chance that rule 3.7b will determine the outcome this time. Funny thing about rule 3.7b: it has the same effect if you change "total number of wins" to "total number of losses". (Yes, I am easily amused.)
Anish Giri has drawn every game so far, 13 draws in a row. Comments on the match have included jokes like these (which I need to quote today, as they will lose their potency should Giri not draw his game tomorrow):
Who is Giri's favorite rapper?
What does Giri do in his spare time?I love these bars (and the next few that continue in the same vein). They've gotten me through some hard times. It suffices just to recall them in my mind (not that I can clearly imagine all the voices in canon). About a guitarist I like, another guitarist I like said, "He saved my life." I know what he means. A couple days ago, a Korean news agency said that Lee Sedol would like a rematch with AlphaGo. But Lee Sedol's Wikipedia page says
Lee confessed after the match "As a professional Go player, I never want to play this kind of match again. I endured the match because I accepted it."I'm wondering about that quote. It's supposedly from a Korean language news article. Google Translate didn't confirm the quotation, but did render another sentence as
The artificial intelligence computer industry, but gotta have formed a consensus will break down long before humans go coriander, badukgye In such circumstances did not perceive any notice.About AlphaGo's move 37 in the match's second game, three-time European Go champion Fan Hui said, "It's not a human move. I've never seen a human play this move. ... So beautiful. So beautiful." Maybe in another lifetime I'll play Go and will understand. In the meantime, I'm loving Google Translate's way with words. I've never seen a person say a consensus will break down long before humans go coriander. So beautiful. So beautiful. A dream I had this afternoon.
A band I like was giving a concert. I didn't have a ticket but I knew that a friend of mine did, someone I hadn't seen in a while. I went to the venue about an hour before showtime hoping to run into my friend. And sometimes you can run into bandmembers that way.
There was no doorman. You could walk in without a ticket, and I did. I ran into a different friend, someone I also hadn't seen in a long time. He had brought a big framed autographed photo of the band and was hanging it on the wall. He told me this was the pre‑show date, which I'd mistaken for the actual show. The band had booked two dates: tomorrow night they'd be the band performing, tonight they were the band not performing. Tonight's pre‑show drew a thinner crowd, diehard fans who came to see and be seen by other diehard fans.
I never ran into the friend I was hoping to see. The last game of Garry Kasparov's historic match against Deep Blue in 1997 was over really fast. It surprised the hell out of me (and millions of other people following the match). And it saddened me, not so much because a human champion had lost to a machine (which was bound to happen sooner or later) but rather because the decisive game just wasn't great chess.
Nothing like that happened in Lee Sedol's match against AlphaGo. Every game was hard‑fought.
I don't play Go, I have to take experts' word for the quality of the games themselves, but I'm grateful to Lee Sedol for how he played this match. I'll never forget his joy after winning game four, the grace with which he accepted defeat in other games, and the overall dignity he brought to the proceedings.
In 1997, Garry Kasparov said he was at a disadvantage because the Deep Blue team had been able to study his games while he hadn't been given a chance to study Deep Blue's.
A journalist asked Lee Sedol whether he felt "information asymmetry" with respect to opponents' playing histories had put him at a disadvantage in his match against AlphaGo. The essence of Lee Sedol's response was, No—I lost because I didn't play better than I did. I've always liked Keith Emerson's music. There are pieces by The Nice, ELP, and in Emerson's movie scores that I just love. He and Frank Zappa are the only musicians who appear in my dreams (at least, that I remember).
Emerson is widely known for his technical skill and his showmanship. His theatrics put a lot of people off, but I ignored all that in the same way I ignored what makeup or costumes David Bowie wore. Technical proficiency of course matters, but I now appreciate Emerson just as much for his talent as a composer.
The guy was bold, at times to the point of being reckless. He arranged a piece of Alberto Ginastera's music in 1973, put time and money into rehearsing and recording it with his band, and only afterwards looked into getting permission to release the record. The publisher refused, saying that Ginastera didn't like his music "tampered with"—but put Emerson in touch with Ginastera so he could ask for himself.
Emerson had arguably tampered with Ginastera's music. A movement from a piano concerto was rendered in screaming Hammond organ, synth, bass guitar, and drums. Emerson's previous arrangements of classical music had often been denounced as crude and vulgar; he was understandably scared to meet Ginastera and play this for him. But Ginastera loved it, saying that no one else had ever captured the essence of his music like that. In recalling that meeting, Emerson said, "I could've fallen through the floor. Nothing else mattered to me. The other criticisms of the band meant absolutely nothing." Of course when the record came out, Robert Christgau sneered at how "Certified Classical Composer Alberto Ginastera—who gets royalties, after all—attests to their [ELP's] sensitivity on the jacket".
Time has been kinder to Emerson's music than it has been to many reviews of it. Rolling Stone said this about Tarkus:
The melodic themes are incapable of capturing our allegiance, and the piece itself has no palpable purpose or justification for itself. Here's just one more example of a sound and fury, signifying nothing.Well. People are still covering Tarkus 45 years later, in versions so good they make me cry. Notable renditions on YouTube:
When Emerson first presented Tarkus to his bandmates, Greg Lake didn't want to play it. "It's just not commercial," Lake said. I stayed up last night to watch all of game 3 in the match between Google DeepMind's AlphaGo and Lee Sedol, one of the world's best Go players. Lee Sedol lost the game and thus the match, although play will continue with two more games over the next few days.
Nobody, neither in the AI nor the Go communities, expected to see a machine beat a top player this soon.
I don't understand Go but those who do say that Lee Sedol played well. And although he seemed hurt by his losses he upheld a high standard of dignity and sportsmanship at all times. He bowed to his opponent before each game despite the program's inability to appreciate the gesture.
Andrew Okun, President of the American Go Association, summed up the crowd's feelings after Lee Sedol lost the first game:
The mood in the place as the game came to an end was pindrop‑quiet. There was nobody rejoicing, including the DeepMind team, they were just sitting there silent.I get the sadness, although I think that in the long run computers will be a net benefit to the game. There's concern about players using computers to cheat at Go, but I suspect that hazard will be outweighed by the value of insights and novelties that programs will bring. Computers didn't kill chess; a strong field of eight players just started a match to determine who will next challenge Magnus Carlsen.
When Lee Sedol lost, I tried to imagine how I'd feel if and when I get to see programs stop losing at Hex. I've written about the respect and affection Hex players have for the current champion. But along with sadness felt at seeing him lose there would be the chance to see what play beyond his level would look like. I very much hope the DeepMind team turns their attention to Hex. If nothing else, it would give the game publicity that I think it deserves. I wish Hex had been listed in xkcd #1002, which has been reposted a bit in the wake of AlphaGo's victory. The hairy ball theorem,
whose essence was the theme of a posting here a couple years ago,
has one of the best redirect notices ever on its Wikipedia page, to wit:
"Hairy balls" redirects here. For the mayor of Fort Wayne, see Harry Baals. Three decades ago, the USA had a Republican president who advocated for and signed the UN Convention against Torture. From Article II:
No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.Bush and Cheney threw that out the window, although they tried to finesse it by redefining torture.
Obama ended torture as a policy but failed to hold anyone to account in the interest of "looking forward, not backward". Adam Smith described the problem with that kind of approach:
In countries where great crimes frequently pass unpunished, the most atrocious actions become almost familiar, and cease to impress the people with that horror which is universally felt in countries where an exact administration of justice takes place.More recently, Trump noticed that being pro-torture gets cheers from his crowds. As is his wont, he turned up the volume and eschewed even any veneer of dignity. That didn't just trouble those of us who find torture abhorrent; it also bothered those who are amenable to torture but felt Trump was embracing it too plainly and emphatically.
A bunch of GOP "national security leaders" published an open letter about Trump last week which included the telling sentence (my italics)
His embrace of the expansive use of torture is inexcusable.Former Assistant US Attorney Andrew C. McCarthy wasn't among those who signed the letter—but in an essay he posted yesterday, he bemoaned how Trump has promised to "liberally use interrogation tactics more extreme than" the kind that he was OK with:
For a number of years in the mid‑aughts, we debated the merits vel non of waterboarding. I defended the legality of this interrogation method — in the restrained practice of the CIA, not as cruelly administered historically — mostly based on a strict interpretation of the federal torture statute. ...I am especially impressed with the distinction he draws between cruelty as it was practiced in the past and the CIA's kinder, gentler waterboarding.
McCarthy's essay blames the indecency of Donald Trump on moral decay in society. He's troubled by the kind of culture that runs TV commercials for Viagra during baseball games. Well. Trump does reflect certain aspects of society. And it is indeed unpresidential to brag about one's dick size during a debate. But as to how we got to the point where a candidate gets cheered for being pro‑torture, I hold waterboarding defenders like Andrew McCarthy more responsible than those who have dared to speak openly about sexual matters.
It's not a done deal that Trump will be the GOP nominee. But it's looking like either him or Cruz, who would also like to bring back waterboarding. I close with a joke I found on Language Log:
Whether a Joshua tree flowers in any given year is a function of rainfall, the age of the tree, and the luck of the draw. When they do flower, it's at this time of year. Several J‑trees on my street are in the act this year.
To my eye, the coolest‑looking Joshua trees are those that grew exceptionally tall before branching. And so I'm pleased to report that the one Joshua tree on my lot is proceeding with another year of flower‑free, branch‑free growth. Rather than post a pic of the flower it doesn't have, I refer to a photo on Wikipedia which, I trust, illustrates the appeal of a specimen that took its time before branching. Steel pipe sold in the USA comes in standard diameters, e.g. ½", ¾", ... . But the nominal size is neither the outside diameter nor the inside diameter. (A co-worker pointed this out to me, circa 1992; it amused him greatly.) Amazingly, the stated length of a piece of pipe usually refers to its actual length.
Pants that fit me are labeled with waist sizes two to three inches smaller than what my waist actually measures. Inseam sizes on the other hand tend to be fairly accurate. It was a nice warm day today. I went climbing this afternoon. My buddy's dog was with us and I think she had no idea it was Super Tuesday.
The Boston Globe ran an editorial last week urging everyone to vote against Trump. Unaffiliated voters can vote in either party's primary in Massachusetts and the Globe said it was everyone's duty to help stop Trump from even being nominated. I disagree. The best time for Trump to lose is in November. As a blog I read put it, The Republican Party is an abusive drunk and deserves to wake up in a pool of its own vomit.
So it has come to this. Trump is loathsome and would be a horrible president. But if his ascendency is tearing the GOP to shreds, well it couldn't have happened to a nicer party. The obvious downside to his being the likely nominee is that he could win the general election—but I think he has a better chance of losing than Rubio or Cruz does and I don't want either of them to be president either.