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Thinking

They are not long, the days of wine and roses

Tuesday, 3 October, 2017 0 Comments

Sunday night’s mass murder in Las Vegas fills one with despair. What kind of rage or madness drives a person to do something so barbarous? Can it be detected? Treated? Which mental health checks can be done to prevent people acquiring fully automatic AR-15 style assault rifles with high capacity magazines?

As we wait for answers to all those questions, our attention should be focussed not on the killer but on his victims. They, and their families and friends, are the ones deserving sympathy and attention today. Those slaughtered were enjoying the music; they were living their lives when death was poured down upon them. To their memory, then, we dedicate Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam by Ernest Dowson, an English poet who died aged 32 in 1900. In his short life and few poems, he created vivid phrases such as “gone with the wind,” “I have been faithful… in my fashion” and “days of wine and roses”.

Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam

“The brief sum of life forbids us the hope of enduring long.” — Horace

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Ernest Dowson (1867 – 1900)


Light and darkness

Sunday, 16 July, 2017 0 Comments

“There were a billion lights out there on the horizon and I knew that all of them put together weren’t enough to light the darkness in the hearts of some men.” — Michael Connelly, The Scarecrow.

Evil and evil


Paglia on Elitist Garbage & Contemporary Feminism

Saturday, 18 March, 2017 0 Comments

Camille Paglia is in the news thanks to her new book, Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender, and Feminism. It’s a collection of her thoughts from 1990 to the present, and in an interview with Vice she argues that feminism is now dominated by educated white women at the expense of working class women and men. Snippet:

The book argues that construction workers and other working class men’s work have gone unnoticed. How has society ignored their contributions to society?

It is an absolute outrage how so many pampered, affluent, upper-middle-class professional women chronically spout snide anti-male feminist rhetoric, while they remain completely blind to the constant labor and sacrifices going on all around them as working-class men create and maintain the fabulous infrastructure that makes modern life possible in the Western world. Only a tiny number of women want to enter the trades where most of the nitty-gritty physical work is actually going on—plumbing, electricity, construction. Women have played virtually no role in the erection of those magnificent towers in every major city in the world. It’s men who operate the cranes or set the foundations or wash windows on the 85th floor. It’s men who troop out at 2:00 AM during an ice storm to restore power to neighborhoods where falling trees have brought down live wires. It’s men who mix the stinking, toxic cauldrons to spread steaming hot tar on city roofs. Last year in a nearby town, I drove by a huge, chaotic scene where emergency workers in hazmat suits were struggling with a giant pipe break, as raw sewage was pouring into the street. Of course all those workers up to their knees in a torrent of thick brown water were men! I’ve seen figures indicating that 92 per cent of people killed on the job are men—and it’s precisely because men are heroically doing most of the dangerous jobs in modern society. The bourgeois blindness of feminist leaders to low-status working-class labor by men is morally corrupt! Gay men, on the other hand, have always shown their awed admiration of working-class masculinity and fortitude. It’s no coincidence that a buff construction worker in a hard hat was one of the iconic personae of the gay disco group, the Village People, during the Studio 54 era!

The women Camille Paglia admires do not insult or denigrate men. Instead, they demand the right to show that women can match or surpass men. Her quarrel with contemporary feminism is that male-bashing is now its default mode and the fanatics are in charge. She cites the case of Kate Millett whose “life has been a series of mental breakdowns and hospitalizations.” Paglia wants women and men to be free to determine their own identities and interests “without intrusive surveillance and censorship by women with their own political agenda.”

Fearless in the face of political correctness and unapologetic in her quest for freedom Camille Paglia loves the highway and loathes the airport: “I’m a driver. I love my car, where I can be free as the wind! Air travel these days is like being caught in a mass flight of ragged, hollow-eyed refugees from war-torn Berlin.”


Barbarians And The Civilized

Friday, 10 March, 2017 0 Comments

That’s the title of a stimulating essay by the French writer Pascal Bruckner in the Winter 2017 issue of City Journal. It’s a continuation of the ideas he developed in his 2006 book La Tyrannie de la Pénitence: Essai sur le Masochisme Occidental (The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism), which was memorable for statements such as, “Europe relieves itself of the crime of the Shoah by blaming Israel, it relieves itself of the sin of colonialism by blaming the United States.”

In “Barbarians and the Civilized”, Pascal Bruckner argues that “The civilized man must constantly look barbarism in the face, to remember where he comes from, what he has escaped — and what he could become again.” Snippet:

“Today, being civilized means knowing that we are potentially barbarian. Woe to the brutes who think they’re civilized and close themselves in the infernal tourniquet of their certitudes. It would be good to inject in others the poison that has long gnawed away at us: shame. A little guilty conscience in Teheran, Riyadh, Karachi, Moscow, Beijing, Havana, Caracas, Algiers, Harare, and Islamabad would do these governments and their peoples considerable good. The finest gift that Europe could give the world would be the spirit of critical examination that it discovered and that has saved it from many perils. It is the best remedy against arbitrary violence and the violation of human rights.”

Since Le Sanglot de l’Homme blanc (The White Man’s Tears), Pascal Bruckner has fought valiantly against the anti-Western and pro-Third-World sentimentalism of the Left in the West. His Resistance continues.


Ataraxia: The perfect word for dealing with our times

Tuesday, 7 March, 2017 0 Comments

The Greek philosophers Pyrrho and Epicurus used the word “ataraxia” (ἀταραξία) to describe a state of mind characterized by freedom from fear. Ataraxia, say the Epicurians, is the only possible state of happiness. The robust tranquility it brings empowers a person to live without worrying about the afterlife. Furthermore, it helps you to avoid politics and vexatious people; it enables you to surround yourself with affectionate friends; it opens your eyes to the fact that the things we needs to be happy are few and that pain seldom lasts long, and, most importantly, it makes you an affectionate, virtuous person. Truly, ataraxia is the word we’ve been looking for.

The cousins Nicolas and Oliver Jutzi founded vandy films in Lausanne last year. They share “the same passion for the exhilaration of large open spaces” and that’s reflected in their beautiful ATARAXIA short, which is about a runner friend who achieves an “incredible state of freedom… during long alpine outings.”


Halloween: The evening of the witch

Monday, 31 October, 2016 0 Comments

The Three Witches are characters in William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth and they first appear in Act 1.1, where they greet the brave Scottish general with the grim prophecy that he shall be king. Together, they represent chaos, conflict and impending doom, and the spell they cast on Elizabethan Era audiences continues to echo down the centuries as young readers of J.K. Rowling’s popular witchcraft books will know.

Much of our fascination with witches comes from the belief in their ability to bestride the borders between the natural and the supernatural, which is part of the aura of Halloween. It’s not all that long ago when homes and barns were blessed on All Hallows’ Eve to protect people and livestock from witches, who were believed to accompany malignant spirits as they wandered the earth this night.


Strong structures, solid foundations

Sunday, 10 April, 2016 0 Comments

“We depend on our surroundings obliquely to embody the moods and ideas we respect and then to remind us of them. We look to our buildings to hold us, like a kind of psychological mould, to a helpful vision of ourselves. We arrange around us material forms which communicate to us what we need — but are at constant risk of forgetting what we need — within.” Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness

The tower


Learning about machine learning

Tuesday, 15 March, 2016 0 Comments

On Friday, here, we watched Stephen Wolfram speak about the next language. What it’s going to be is undefined, but if we want computers to do increasingly complex things, a shared language will be required. This “code” will express our needs, our wishes, in a way machines can understand. Wolfram’s profound belief is that coding for this future has a philosophical, humanistic, perhaps, divine, purpose. Most people, however, see it in a more prosaic light: learning about the “soul of the machine” is about getting a job.

Enrollment in machine learning classes is soaring in the US, and universities are scrambling to add classes to meet an unprecedented demand writes Jamie Beckett in an NVIDIA blog post. At Carnegie Mellon University’s Machine Learning Department, enrollment in ‘Introduction to Machine Learning’ has jumped nearly 600 percent in the past five years. Applicants to its machine learning Ph.D. program have doubled in six years and the university has added its first undergraduate course on the topic. At the University of California, Berkeley, enrollment in ‘Introduction to Machine Learning,’ has nearly tripled in less than two years says Beckett.

Quote: “In the old days, you had to take an introductory computer class so you’d know how to use a computer at work,” said Lynne E. Parker, division director for the Information and Intelligent Systems Division at the National Science Foundation. “Today, students are recognizing that whatever their chosen field, there’s going to be some automation of the knowledge work — and that’s machine learning.”

Note: Coursera is offering Machine Learning Foundations: A Case Study Approach.

machine learning


Halloween

Saturday, 31 October, 2015 0 Comments

Last autumn, the flames of our bonfire burned brightly at twilight. Sparks flew high into the indigo sky and merged with falling stars. We tossed fire into the face of winter and sprinkled ourselves with holy water afterwards.

Halloween


Tyler talks to Thiel

Tuesday, 7 April, 2015 0 Comments

“Conversations with Tyler” is an event series hosted by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in which the economist Tyler Cowen talks to thought leaders about their ideas. He kicks off with Peter Thiel and the subjects range from stagnation to company names to chess to the “Straussian Christ.”

TYLER COWEN: You were born in Germany. You are fluent in German. That’s part of your background. How do you think that’s influenced your worldview, what I would call your implicit theology, how the different pieces of Peter Thiel’s ideas fit together? What’s the role there, and do you still sometimes dream in German?

PETER THIEL: I think of Germany as always incredibly pessimistic, but very comfortable. It is this very big contrast. I’m not sure pessimism is generally that helpful an attitude to have, but the German pessimism is probably a helpful corrective, in the midst of the hyper-optimism that permeates Silicon Valley.

If you are a mildly pessimistic person, you might do well in a place where people are insanely optimistic. If you are a mildly optimistic person, you would do well in a place where people are insanely pessimistic, like, say, Germany.

TYLER COWEN: In the back room, we were talking about Japan, and a recent trip of yours to Japan. Maybe you would like to relate some of what you were saying?

PETER THIEL: They always want you to say things that are sort of contrarian and surprising, and so they asked me at this discussion I was giving in Japan. And the answer that I came up with, which was both flattering to the audience, but somewhat disturbing from our perspective, was I think we always think of Japan as this hyper-imitative, noncreative culture of extreme conformity.

But then it’s an indictment of the West, where I think Japan is no longer the Japan of the Meiji Restoration of the 1870s, or the Japan of the cheap plastic imitation toys of the 1950s. It’s a country that no longer thinks it can get that much by copying the West. There’s probably still some narrow interest in IT and software. Outside of that, I think they are copying the US and Western Europe less and less.

People aren’t even learning English that much anymore. They’re speaking less English than they were 15, 20 years ago. The golf courses are all getting shut down and converted to solar farms or something; people don’t even want to play golf anymore. I think we need to take this as a real critique of our society, very seriously, that they’re finding less that’s desirable to imitate in the US or Western Europe.


Working with Beansprock and SAFFiR

Friday, 6 February, 2015 0 Comments

As we come to the end of our week of looking at developments in the emerging robotics/AI area, all signs indicate that the subject is moving from the technology pages to the mainstream. A sample of today’s headlines from Al Jazeera, Slate and Reuters: Hotel staffed by robots to open in Japan, Automated journalism is no longer science fiction, China to have most robots in world by 2017, an on and on and on.

Where is all this taking us? Well, take a look at Beansprock, a machine learning-based job search platform. Slogan: “Our artificial intelligence evaluates thousands of new tech jobs while you sleep and emails you only the best one.” When it knows a user’s skills, Beansprock can then predict which jobs are a match and which ones are not. The focus is on the tech industry in San Francisco, Boston and New York, and the company claims that it’s processing tens of thousands of job postings every day. Long term, the founders hope to expand the platform to include non-technical jobs.

Another example: “It’s what we call the hybrid force: humans and robots working together.” The person being quoted there by The Verge is the program manager at the US Navy’s Office of Naval Research. Thomas McKenna was speaking at the unveiling of the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR). What can it can that humans cannot? Well, it’s loaded with sensors such as infrared stereo-vision and laser light detectors, which enable it to find its target through thick smoke. The creators imagine a future where human-robot hybrid teams will work together as first responders when fires break out. This, then, is the near future. It’s a world where robotics and AI will be working for us and with us.