Awhile back I attended a week-long retreat with Tsoknyi Rinpoche in upstate New York, and the guy I ended up sharing a room with turned out to be this brilliant painter, writer, and creator of theatrical events called Douglass Truth. He has a new show coming up, with performances so far only out west, but with any luck there will be some East Coast dates at some point, because the trailer is so much fun. Check out his artwork here.
Impossible to determine on the face of it whether the below is genuine or a parody. But in fact it’s real. Wyatt is the son of one of the four Koch Brothers (Bill). And he’s actually wearing a shirt covered in bags of money! … Entirely appropriate of course as the American people’s supposed representatives in Washington have just seen fit to transfer yet more of it — much, much more of it — to people like him, the super-rich.
Note the one made up entirely of what appear to be pink handcuffs. ?! All in all, good to know someone out there is designing louder than loud pajamas which can be worn in the boardroom and … on the yacht.
Oh, and in the “discotecha” (discothequa? discotekka?) …
We have to take the lightness wherever it comes from these days…
Trump is getting seriously trolled… After some folks in The Netherlands put together a comedic video response to his “America First” inaugural refrain, other European nations have been following suit, and there are currently seven with videos up. The hope is that they will all contribute eventually. You can follow the developments here.
Stewart and Colbert have become the great comedy duo of our time, say I. May they help you through this last (can it really be?) day of the general election of 2016. I think most of us probably couldn’t take many more at all…
The country and culture of course have some big big problems which will not be vanishing anytime soon, but this particular, execrable, phase at least ends (hopefully) today. So for now smile, and … take it away guys! —
I found this interview between Jon Stewart and his Egyptian counterpart of sorts, Bassem Youssef, somehow a little encouraging. One of the remarkable things about Jon is his ability to make substantive points in areas and venues where most others would founder. Part of this stems from the disarming capacity of good comedy, but obviously this isn’t enough. Genuineness is needed too, and sharp intelligence, and together they produce his mastery of tone and tact, in evidence here for instance at 10:26:
I’ll tell you this: it [satire] doesn’t get me into the kind of trouble it gets you into. I get in trouble, but nowhere near what happens to you. … I do Bassem’s job in a country that has carved out already – it is settled law, satire is settled law. Governments have realized that … if your regime is not strong enough to handle a joke, then you don’t have a regime. [wild applause]
Because … you have to be able to handle anything – a joke is a joke. You may say that is an insult, and they say, you know, there’s an expression – I don’t know if you have it – “adding insult to injury.” Yes, maybe it is an insult, but it is not an injury. A joke has never ridden a motorcycle into a crowd with a baton. A joke has never shot tear gas into a group of people in a park. It’s just talk. [applause]
So … what Bassem is doing, and this is what is so inspiring to me – [to Bassem] and I know you don’t like it when I talk like this – he is showing that satire can still be relevant, that it can carve out space in a country for people to express themselves. Because that’s all democracy is, is the ability to express yourself and be heard. You won’t always win, but you can’t confuse tyranny with losing elections. It’s just the opportunity to be heard, and for the majority to respect the minority, whatever they may say, however they may do it. [applause] This is what you do.
Just after this, Bassem brings up his experience of living in America and becoming acquainted with Fox News: “I was wondering in which pit of hell they do their editorials…. The amount of hate, and stereotyping, and profiling …”
But Jon interrupts, saying: “But I always see it as fear. I always see it for what it is…. It’s fear. Everything is conspiracy, there [are] monsters around every corner.”
And I think this in fact is one of his secrets, why so many public figures far from him in political views enjoy coming onto his show: he maintains a fundamental, genuine respect for people he disagrees with. Being able, for example, to see the fear beneath manifestations of aggression or even hatred, he protects himself from falling into aggression and hatred in turn. Instead, you can see in such interactions some kind of basic empathy still operating, which he uses to explore further where such negative thoughts and actions are coming from. This is one of the things that really sets Jon Stewart apart for me.
All of which enables, too, the heartwarming moment when the Jewish Stewart is praised by Bassem Youssef, on Egyptian television, for being known as a defender of the human rights of Muslims.
The only little detail in this that jars is the gratuitous label at one point. Otherwise, it’s one minute and thirty-eight seconds of potent antidepressant animated brilliance. But how do they keep it together recording this? …
… and remind us just how utterly human is language.
Why is language understanding/production so stupendously difficult to inculcate in a machine/software? Consider the various levels:
1) A language’s sound system is never simply a one-to-one mapping from symbol to a set of articulations, because sounds are always affected by their surrounding context too, in all kinds of ways. We’re almost entirely unconscious of this as we speak, but software must explicitly calculate everything. So every form of assimilation, say – whether it be forward-looking (anticipatory coarticulation), or as it were backward-looking (perseverative) – represents an additional syllabic possibility, and as English contains many homophones (though not even nearly as many as, say, Japanese), software has to come up with higher-level criteria in order to select one over another. Leading to:
2) All the intricacies of morphosyntax, which represent a creative capacity fundamentally irreducible to sets of algorithmic procedure.
3) But then, at the same time as a machine is grappling with all of that, it comes up against the semantic component of language, which again is an unthinkably more sophisticated system than a mere cataloguing of potential meanings word-by-word and phrase-by-phrase, involving intricacies within intricacies of nuance – figuration, irony, suggestion, metaphor, and on and on…
4) And even this isn’t the end of a poor machine’s travails, because semantics then shades into the level of language known as pragmatics, which involves everything connected to context (personal, social, cultural), and cohesiveness and reference internal to the entire current discourse – in short, a multitude of different kinds of understanding between people which don’t need to be explicitly expressed.
The end result of all these layers of difficulty?
We quickly go from: “…I expect some degeneration. Human Computer Interactions are prone to error, frustration, and often amusement. Humorous incongruities arise and superiority humor emerges as we take pleasure in the mistakes, misunderstandings, and limitations of software and machines.”
To: “I think that the generation human computer interactions airport to wherever castration in the office at and if you have to call me at either white and Terrier already and we have urgent that we take pleasure in the Patriot understanding on limitations of software and leaking.”