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  • feedwordpress 09:00:00 on 2022/11/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , corporate crime, corporate fraud, , , , MCI, , , Worldcom   

    “Things gained through unjust fraud are never secure”*… 


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    Mischief is cyclical—it is bred in good times and uncovered in bad times…

    The bad news just keeps coming. Ten months after America’s stock market peaked, its big technology companies have suffered another rout. Hopes that the Federal Reserve might change course have been dashed; interest rates are set to rise by more than previously thought. The bond market is screaming recession. Could things get any worse? The answer is yes. Stock market booms of the sort that crested in January tend to engender fraud. Bad times like those that lie ahead reveal it.

    “There is an inverse relationship between interest rates and dishonesty,” says Carson Block, a short-seller. Quite so. A decade of ultra-low borrowing costs has encouraged companies to load up on cheap debt. And debt can hide a lot of misdeeds. They are uncovered when credit dries up. The global financial crisis of 2007-09 exposed fraud and negligence in mortgage lending. The stockmarket bust of the early 2000s unmasked the deceptions of the dotcom bonanza and the book-cooking at Enron, Worldcom and Global Crossing. Those with longer memories in Britain will recall the Polly Peck and Maxwell scandals at the end of the go-go 1980s.

    The next downturn seems likely to uncover a similar wave of corporate fraud…

    The archetypal sin revealed by recession is accounting fraud. The big scandals play out like tragic dramas: when the plot twist arrives, it seems both surprising and inevitable. No simple formula exists to sort the number-fiddlers from the rest. But the field can be narrowed by searching within the “fraud triangle” of financial pressure, opportunity and rationalization…

    As Warren Buffett has noted, “you don’t find out who’s been swimming naked until the tide goes out.” Read on for more from @TheEconomist, “A sleuth’s guide to the coming wave of corporate fraud” (a gift article: no paywall).

    * Sophocles

    ###

    As we contemplate criminality, we might recall that it was on this date in 1997 that MCI and Worldcom announced what was then the largest merger in history, valued at $37 Billion, creating the second largest telecom company in the U.S. (after ATT).

    Worldcom, the acquirer, completed the deal in 1998, then continued to grow via acquisition. MCI Worldcom (as then it was) filed for bankruptcy in 2002 (the Dot Com Bust) after an accounting scandal (as referenced above), in which several executives, including CEO Bernard Ebbers, were convicted of a scheme to inflate the company’s assets… which were ultimately acquired by Verizon.

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:00 on 2022/11/09 Permalink
    Tags: , , German History, , , , , Schicksalstag, , Song Dynasty,   

    “Comparisons are odious”*… 


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    … but sometimes instructive in the very ways that they fail…

    The innovations which make their appearance in East Asia round about the year 1000 … form such a coherent and extensive whole that we have to yield to the evidence: at this period, the Chinese world experienced a real transformation. … The analogies [with the European Renaissance] are numerous – the return to the classical tradition, the diffusion of knowledge, the upsurge of science and technology (printing, explosives, advance in seafaring techniques, the clock with escapement …), a new philosophy, and a new view of the world. … There is not a single sector of political, social or economic life in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries which does not show evidence of radical changes in comparison with earlier ages. It is not simply a matter of a change of scale (increase in population, general expansion of production, development of internal and external trade) but of a change of character. Political habits, society, the relations between town and country, and economic patterns are quite different from what they had been. … A new world had been born.

    Jacques Gernet. A History of Chinese Civilization, pp. 298-300

    Doug Jones, on what the remarkable story of the Song Dynasty can and can’t tell us about other periods…

    Scholars contemplating the sweeping economic, social, and political transformation of China under the Song dynasty (960-1279) seem compelled to draw analogies with later dramatic occurrences in Europe – with the Renaissance (as in the quote above) or with the Economic Revolution in England on the eve of the Industrial Revolution.

    The changes are dramatic. Population roughly doubles, from about 50 million to about 100 million. Cities grow. Both internal and external trade boom. The division of labor advances, with different households and different parts of the country specializing in “goods such as rice, wheat, lighting oil, candles, dyes, oranges, litchi nuts, vegetables, sugar and sugarcane, lumber, cattle, fish, sheep, paper, lacquer, textiles and iron.” In a number of fields of technology – iron production, shipbuilding – China reaches heights which the West will not attain for many centuries.

    With changes in the economy come changes in the relation between society and state. Taxes come to be mostly collected in cash rather than kind, Eventually revenues from taxes on commerce, including excise taxes and state monopolies, will greatly exceed those from land tax. A Council of State will put constitutional checks on the power of the emperor.

    Yet Imperial China will ultimately follow a different, less dramatic developmental pathway than Europe. Some reasons why…

    On the ways in which history doesn’t repeat itself: “A cycle of Cathay,” from @logarithmic_h.

    * Proverb

    ###

    As we listen for the rhyme, we might recall that today is Schicksalstag (“Day of Fate”) in Germany. On this date five momentous events took place: Robert Blum, a leader in the Vienna revolts, was executed in 1848; Kaiser Wilhelm II resigned, marking the end of German monarchies in 1918; the Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch failed in 1923; Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) and the Nazi antisemitic pogroms raged in 1938; and the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

    East and West Germans at the Brandenburg Gate in 1989 (source)

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:00 on 2022/11/08 Permalink
    Tags: , Arduino Cantafora, , , , , , , Postmodernism, , St. Marks Basilica,   

    “The principle of the Gothic architecture is infinity made imaginable”*… 


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    Tower Bridge in London, England, is one of the most famous structures in the Gothic Revival style. Its spires echo Islamic architecture’s minarets, pointing to the ancient exchange of cultural ideas between the West and the Middle East.

    There’s more to Gothic architecture and Gothic style than we might imagine. Roger Luckhurst explains…

    When fire devastated the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris in April 2019, the architectural historian Diana Darke noted in a Twitter post that of course everyone knew the famous twin tower and rose window of France’s finest Gothic cathedral were copied from a Syrian church in Qalb Loze, built in the fifth century. The post went viral: amplified or rebutted, triumphed or tossed.

    Darke was surprised at the reaction to what historians have established as a well-known path of influence: the East-West trade in architectural ideas. It was argued centuries ago that key defining elements of the Gothic style were borrowed from the Islamic architecture of the Middle East. The soaring pinnacles of the Palace of Westminster in London, the pointed arches of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, and the rose windows of Notre Dame all point to the influence of Islamic design.

    But from early in the 19th century, these contributions were forgotten, and Gothic became celebrated as an intrinsically Northern European style. In Britain, it was only in the revival of this medieval style of architecture that it started to be called “Gothic.” The Revivalists no longer dismissed the Gothic as a crude or barbarous form, and instead repurposed it as a national, patriotic style.

    By knowing this deeper history of some of Europe’s most iconic buildings, travelers can approach these well-known attractions with new eyes and can appreciate that the “East-West divide” isn’t as deep as we are often led to think…

    Hidden in the architecture of some of the world’s most famous buildings is a cultural exchange between Europe and the Middle East: “What is ‘Gothic’? It’s more complicated than you think,” from @TheProfRog in @NatGeo.

    * Samuel Taylor Coleridge

    ###

    As we esteem exchange, we might send well-designed birthday greetings to Arduino Cantafora; he was born on this date in 1945. An architect, painter, and writer, he became a postmodernist (in the mode of his teacher/mentor Aldo Rosi), creating designs and paintings that reached back to the Renaissance revival of Gothic themes.

    source

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:00 on 2022/11/07 Permalink
    Tags: , , election, Gore, governance, , , , , Supreme Court, ,   

    “A republic, if you can keep it”*… 


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    Democracy’s meaning has always been contested. The problem with substantive definitions of democracy, Michael Ignatieff argues, is that there’s no agreement on what democracy is nor what it should be. Democracy itself is not just an unruly contest for power, but also the site of an ongoing debate about what democracy is or should be. Yet letting that struggle become a battle between existential foes risks upending the whole democratic project…

    The problem with substantive definitions is that democrats with plenty of substantive commitment to democracy do not agree what it is or what it should be. When conservatives talk about democracy, they often express the desire to use democratic institutions to contain and control change. When liberals and progressives talk about democracy, they turn it into a vessel of aspiration into which they pour longings for civility, community, and justice.

    What gets missed, in either side’s definitions, is that actual democratic politics is a fierce, no-holds-barred competition for power. Those who think of democracy as a way of life risk framing partisanship as an abnormal rupture in democratic practice, when in fact partisanship is the driver of all democratic competition. When we theorize civility as the norm and competitive partisanship as a threatening exception, liberals and conservatives alike risk being hypocrites about their own partisanship or being helplessly nostalgic, bemoaning the breakdown of a comity that may have been a fantasy in the first place. It is thus a mistake, with large practical consequences, to confuse what we wish democracy could be with what it actually is.

    This elision between what democracy is and what we wish it to be occurs, in part, because the democratic theory we teach, and the civics lessons we imbibe in school, lift democracy into an abstract realm of ideal types and pious ideals that is indifferent to historical context. There is no such thing as democracy in a pure state. All actual democracies bear the contours of the historic struggles that gave them shape. While there is a family resemblance in democracy’s basic form—majority rule as the source of legitimate authority—this feature is enacted in and through institutions specific to the societies that created them. Democracy displays crucial historical variations over time and from one society to another.

    One salient feature that makes democracies differ from one another is the way each democracy has been shaped by its encounter with violence. Some democracies were born in the violence of revolution. Others that have replaced authoritarian or colonial rule with free elections have struggled to contain the violence unleashed once democracy was achieved. Encounters with violence are recurrent even in successful democracies. Violence cannot be understood as an exceptional irruption overturning democracy’s natural resting state. Many a democracy owes its birth to violence, and violent challenges to democratic order continue to defend themselves as necessary last resorts to save democracy itself.

    The modern version of democracy created by the American and French revolutions began its life… with the task of converting violence into politics. In our own time, national-liberation struggles in Africa and Asia have faced the same challenge. This has remained democracy’s core purpose ever since. When democracy achieves this, it realizes what defines it as a form of government. The prohibition of violence—whether as an instrument of politics or as an instrument of rule over citizens—and the related commitment that all coercive measures must be justified to citizens and receive their consent, are the core principles that separate democracy from all forms of authoritarian rule…

    In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, European liberals, faced with working-class and feminist demands for the right to vote, reluctantly agreed that inclusion was the best way to maintain democratic order in the face of revolutionary challenge. These classic liberals accepted as a basic premise that societies are not natural equilibria, but sites of constant social, cultural, and economic struggle, with a potential to boil over into violence. Democracy’s function was to keep conflict political and to prevent the war of all against all.

    Today, in democracies that are more diverse and pluralistic than anything nineteenth-century liberals could have imagined, the priority they placed on democracy’s role in preventing political conflict spilling over into violence is more relevant than ever. In this perspective, democracy’s ultimate purpose is peace rather than justice, or rather, sufficient justice to secure peace, defined as a minimal, constantly tested and renegotiated willingness by competing groups, factions, and parties, to obey the rules of the democratic game. When competitors accept democratic outcomes as legitimate, they accept closure, at least until the next contest starts. If they win, they do not seek to crush their opponents. If they lose, they do not seek to take revenge or seize power. Legitimacy is thus contingent and performative and always conditional on the willingness of political competitors to abide by the same rules.

    The saving grace of democracy is the possibility that losers get to become winners. Whenever a group, faction, or party believes that victory was stolen from them or that they are fated to be permanent losers, violence becomes a possibility in the democratic game. Successfully managing peaceful democratic transitions between competing elites is the sine qua non of democratic legitimacy.

    Democratic assemblies and elections have regulatory codes that restrain extremist speech, but such codes will always be vulnerable to being gamed and manipulated by scheming opportunists. Democratic systems are built to moderate political competition, but moderation sometimes surrenders to hatred. As Tocqueville warned us more than a century and a half ago, more social justice need not make us more civil.

    Neither is it the case that virtue and courage can always hold the line when institutions fail. Men and women of both parties did their duty during the insurrection at the Capitol, while others betrayed their oath of office. The result, as the Duke of Wellington famously said about the Battle of Waterloo, was the “nearest run thing you ever saw.” The most effective measures taken since the insurrection have been the holding of Congressional hearings to establish exactly what happened, so there is a true record for the future, and also the prosecution of leaders. This should discourage others from a similar course.

    Even so, it is America’s very revolutionary traditions that will continue to provide justifications for the use of violence in the defense of liberty. These traditions, whether we like it or not, will continue to give desperate and misguided citizens the belief that they must take the law into their own hands.

    Democracy is fragile, because it is a sacred thing vital to our liberty, easily lost, easily damaged, and like all such sacred things dependent for its survival on prosaic, daily acts of faith and sacrifice that are made in its defense.

    In the end, there are simply no guarantees of democratic order. There is only the inherited belief—transmitted across generations among citizens and politicians alike, reproduced election after election, vote after vote, year after year, in speeches, classrooms, media outlets, civics courses, and all the various fora that a free society uses to figure out what it is doing—that violence can kill democracy and that violence endangers everyone, especially those who would use it to defend democracy itself…

    “The establishment of our new Government seemed to be the last great experiment, for promoting human happiness, by reasonable compact, in civil Society” – George Washington, in a 1790 letter to Catherine Sawbridge Macauley.

    Eminently worth reading in full: “The Politics of Enemies,” from @M_Ignatieff in @JoDemocracy.

    See also: “America Can Have Democracy or Political Violence. Not Both” (gift article from the New York Times— no pay wall).

    * Benjamin Franklin, in response to a question from Elizabeth Willing Powel as he walked out of Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention in 1787

    ###

    As we cope with conflict, we might recall that on this day in 2000, the U.S. presidential election ended in a statistical tie between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush, only to be settled on December 12 by the U.S. Supreme Court after a bitter legal dispute.

    As the Supreme Court debated, protesters gathered.

    source

     
  • feedwordpress 08:00:00 on 2022/11/06 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , Punk Rock, , , ,   

    “The function of small corner shops in maintaining cities as viable social institutions does not appear in the Washington consensus. The possibility that corner shops may do better at safeguarding social cohesion than mass imprisonment is considered outlandish – if it is considered at all.”*… 


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    For decades, globalist neoliberalism (and here) has driven the policies and practices and political, commercial, and financial leaders and institutions across the developed– and given development policy, the developing– world. Rana Foroohar argues that its time may be up; geography is retaking the upper hand…

    For most of the last 40 years, U.S. policymakers acted as if the world were flat. Steeped in the dominant strain of neoliberal economic thinking, they assumed that capital, goods, and people would go wherever they would be the most productive for everyone. If companies created jobs overseas, where it was cheapest to do so, domestic employment losses would be outweighed by consumer benefits. And if governments lowered trade barriers and deregulated capital markets, money would flow where it was needed most. Policymakers didn’t have to take geography into account, since the invisible hand was at work everywhere. Place, in other words, didn’t matter.

    U.S. administrations from both parties have until quite recently pursued policies based on these broad assumptions—deregulating global finance, striking trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, welcoming China into the World Trade Organization (WTO), and not only allowing but encouraging American manufacturers to move much of their production overseas. Free-market globalism was of course pushed in large part by the powerful multinational companies best positioned to exploit it (companies that, of course, donated equally to politicians from both major U.S. parties to ensure that they would see the virtues of neoliberalism). It became a kind of crusade to spread this new American creed around the globe, delivering the thrill of fast fashion and ever-cheaper electronic gadgets to consumers everywhere. American goods, in effect, would represent American goodness. They would advertise American philosophical values, the liberalism tucked inside neoliberalism. The idea was that other countries, delighted by the fruits of American-style capitalism, would be moved to become “free” like the United States.

    By some measures, the results of these policies were tremendously beneficial: American consumers in particular enjoyed the fruits of cheap foreign manufacturing while billions of people were lifted out of poverty, especially in developing countries. As emerging markets joined the free-market system, global inequality declined, and a new global middle class was born. How free it was politically, of course, depended on the country.

    But neoliberal policies also created immense inequalities within countries and led to sometimes destabilizing capital flows between them. Money can move much faster than goods or people, which invites risky financial speculation. (The number of financial crises has grown substantially since the 1980s.) What is more, neoliberal policies caused the global economy to become dangerously untethered from national politics. Through much of the 1990s, these tectonic shifts were partly obscured in the United States by falling prices, increased consumer debt, and low interest rates. By the year 2000, however, the regional inequalities wrought by neoliberalism had become impossible to ignore. While coastal U.S. cities prospered, many parts of the Midwest, the Northeast, and the South were experiencing catastrophic job losses. Average incomes among U.S. states began to diverge, having converged throughout the 1990s…

    Since the beginning of the neoliberal era, a handful of economists had pushed back against the received wisdom of the field. Karl Polanyi, an Austro-Hungarian economic historian, critiqued classical economic views as early as 1944, arguing that totally free markets were a utopian myth. Scholars of the postwar period, including Joseph Stiglitz, Dani Rodrik, Raghuram Rajan, Simon Johnson, and Daron Acemoglu, also understood that place mattered. As Stiglitz, who grew up in the Rust Belt, once told me, “It was obvious if you were raised in a place like Gary, Indiana, that markets aren’t always efficient.” 

    This view, that location plays a role in determining economic outcomes, is only just beginning to land in policy circles, but a growing body of research supports it. From the work of Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman to that of Raj Chetty and Thomas Philippon, there is now a consensus among scholars that geographically specific factors such as the quality of public health, education, and drinking water have important economic implications. That might seem intuitive or even obvious to most people, but it has only recently gained broad acceptance among mainstream economists. As Peter Orszag, who served as President Barack Obama’s budget director, told me, “If you ask a normal human being, ‘Does it matter where you are?’ they would start from the presumption that ‘Yes, where you live and where you work and who you’re surrounded by matters a ton.’ It’s like Econ 101 has just gone off the path for the last 40 to 50 years, and we’re all little islands atomized into perfectly rational calculating machines. And policy has just drifted along with this thinking.” He added, “The Economics 101 approach, which is place-agnostic, has clearly failed.”

    The importance of place has become even more evident since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic decoupling of the United States and China, and Russia’s war in Ukraine. Globalization has crested and begun to recede. In its place, a more regionalized and even localized world is taking shape. Faced with rising political discontent at home and geopolitical tensions abroad, governments and businesses alike are increasingly focused on resilience in addition to efficiency. In the coming post-neoliberal world, production and consumption will be more closely connected within countries and regions, labor will gain power relative to capital, and politics will have a greater impact on economic outcomes than it has for half a century. If all politics is local, the same could soon be true for economics…

    All economics is local: “After Neoliberalism,” from @RanaForoohar in @ForeignAffairs. Eminently worth reading in full (and contemplating the consequences of this all-too-plausible shift for addressing global issues like change change and the migration it is sure to drive).

    John Gray

    ###

    As we re-scope, we might recall that it was on this date in 1975 that prescient objectors, the Sex Pistols, made their live debut at St Martin’s School Of Art in central London, supporting a band called Bazooka Joe, which included Stuart Goddard (the future Adam Ant).  The Pistols’ performance lasted 10 minutes.

     source

     
  • feedwordpress 08:00:00 on 2022/08/09 Permalink
    Tags: , crypto, , , , , , , , transhumanism, transhumanists,   

    “The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust.”*… 


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    Here I had tried a straightforward extrapolation of technology, and found myself precipitated over an abyss. It’s a problem we face every time we consider the creation of intelligences greater than our own. When this happens, human history will have reached a kind of singularity — a place where extrapolation breaks down and new models must be applied — and the world will pass beyond our understanding.

    Vernor Vinge, True Names and Other Dangers

    The once-vibrant transhumanist movement doesn’t capture as much attention as it used to; but as George Dvorsky explains, its ideas are far from dead. Indeed, they helped seed the Futurist movements that are so prominent today (and here and here)…

    [On the heels of 9/11] transhumanism made a lot of sense to me, as it seemed to represent the logical next step in our evolution, albeit an evolution guided by humans and not Darwinian selection. As a cultural and intellectual movement, transhumanism seeks to improve the human condition by developing, promoting, and disseminating technologies that significantly augment our cognitive, physical, and psychological capabilities. When I first stumbled upon the movement, the technological enablers of transhumanism were starting to come into focus: genomics, cybernetics, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology. These tools carried the potential to radically transform our species, leading to humans with augmented intelligence and memory, unlimited lifespans, and entirely new physical and cognitive capabilities. And as a nascent Buddhist, it meant a lot to me that transhumanism held the potential to alleviate a considerable amount of suffering through the elimination of disease, infirmary, mental disorders, and the ravages of aging.

    The idea that humans would transition to a posthuman state seemed both inevitable and desirable, but, having an apparently functional brain, I immediately recognized the potential for tremendous harm.

    The term “transhumanism” popped into existence during the 20th century, but the idea has been around for a lot longer than that.

    The quest for immortality has always been a part of our history, and it probably always will be. The Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh is the earliest written example, while the Fountain of Youth—the literal Fountain of Youth—was the obsession of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León.

    Notions that humans could somehow be modified or enhanced appeared during the European Enlightenment of the 18th century, with French philosopher Denis Diderot arguing that humans might someday redesign themselves into a multitude of types “whose future and final organic structure it’s impossible to predict,” as he wrote in D’Alembert’s Dream

    The Russian cosmists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries foreshadowed modern transhumanism, as they ruminated on space travel, physical rejuvenation, immortality, and the possibility of bringing the dead back to life, the latter being a portend to cryonics—a staple of modern transhumanist thinking. From the 1920s through to the 1950s, thinkers such as British biologist J. B. S. Haldane, Irish scientist J. D. Bernal, and British biologist Julian Huxley (who popularized the term “transhumanism” in a 1957 essay) were openly advocating for such things as artificial wombs, human clones, cybernetic implants, biological enhancements, and space exploration.

    It wasn’t until the 1990s, however, that a cohesive transhumanist movement emerged, a development largely brought about by—you guessed it—the internet…

    [There follows a brisk and helpful history of transhumanist thought, then an account of the recent past, and present…]

    Some of the transhumanist groups that emerged in the 1990s and 2000s still exist or evolved into new forms, and while a strong pro-transhumanist subculture remains, the larger public seems detached and largely disinterested. But that’s not to say that these groups, or the transhumanist movement in general, didn’t have an impact…

    “I think the movements had mainly an impact as intellectual salons where blue-sky discussions made people find important issues they later dug into professionally,” said Sandberg. He pointed to Oxford University philosopher and transhumanist Nick Bostrom, who “discovered the importance of existential risk for thinking about the long-term future,” which resulted in an entirely new research direction. The Center for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge and the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford are the direct results of Bostrom’s work. Sandberg also cited artificial intelligence theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky, who “refined thinking about AI that led to the AI safety community forming,” and also the transhumanist “cryptoanarchists” who “did the groundwork for the cryptocurrency world,” he added. Indeed, Vitalik Buterin, a co-founder of Ethereum, subscribes to transhumanist thinking, and his father, Dmitry, used to attend our meetings at the Toronto Transhumanist Association…

    Intellectual history: “What Ever Happened to the Transhumanists?,” from @dvorsky.

    See also: “The Heaven of the Transhumanists” from @GenofMod (source of the image above).

    Donna Haraway

    ###

    As we muse on mortality, we might send carefully-calculated birthday greetings to Marvin Minsky; he was born on this date in 1927.  A biochemist and cognitive scientist by training, he was founding director of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Project (the MIT AI Lab).  Minsky authored several widely-used texts, and made many contributions to AI, cognitive psychology, mathematics, computational linguistics, robotics, and optics.  He holds several patents, including those for the first neural-network simulator (SNARC, 1951), the first head-mounted graphical display, the first confocal scanning microscope, and the LOGO “turtle” device (with his friend and frequent collaborator Seymour Papert).  His other inventions include mechanical hands and the “Muse” synthesizer.

     source

     
  • feedwordpress 08:00:00 on 2022/08/08 Permalink
    Tags: "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini, beach movies, bikini, Brian Hyland, , Cursing, , , , , novelty song, , surf movies, teen culture, , vulgarity   

    “The sort of twee person who thinks swearing is in any way a sign of a lack of education or a lack of verbal interest is just a f–king lunatic”*… 


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    Scene from The New Art and Mystery of Gossiping, Being a Genuine Account of All the Women’s Clubs in and about the City and Suburbs of London, c.1760. [British Library]

    Rude words are a constant; but, as Suzannah Lipscomb explains, their ability to cause offense is in flux…

    I stumbled upon this question as a historical consultant for a new drama set in the 16th century, when I needed to assess whether certain curse words in the script would have been familiar to the Tudors. The revelation – given away in the title of Melissa Mohr’s wonderful book Holy Sh*t – is that all swear words concern what is sacred or what is scatological. In the Middle Ages, the worst words had been about what was holy; by the 18th century they were about bodily functions. The 16th century was a period when what was considered obscene was in flux.

    The most offensive words still used God’s name: God’s blood, God’s wounds, God’s bones, death, flesh, foot, heart, arms, nails, body, sides, guts, tongue, eyes. A statute of 1606 forbade the use of words that ‘iestingly or prophanely’ spoke the name of God in plays. Damn and hell were early modern variations of such blasphemous oaths (bloody came later), as were the euphemistic asseverations, gad, gog and egad.

    Many words we consider, at best, crude were medieval common-or-garden words of description – arse, shit, fart, bollocks, prick, piss, turd – and were not considered obscene. To say ‘I’m going to piss’ was the equivalent of saying ‘I’m going to wee’ today and was politer than the new 16th-century vulgarity, ‘I’m going to take a leak’. Putting body parts or products where they shouldn’t normally be created delightfully defiant phrases such as ‘turd in your teeth’, which appears in the 1509 compendium of the Oxford don John Stanbridge. Non-literal uses of these words – which is what tends to be required for swearing – like ‘take the piss’, ‘on the piss’, ‘piss off’ – all seem to be 20th-century flourishes. For the latter, the Tudors would have substituted something diabolical – ‘the devil rot thee’ – or epidemiological – ‘a pox on you’.

    But the scatological was starting to become obscene. Sard, swive, and fuck were all slightly rude words for sexual intercourse. An early recorded use of the f-word was a piece of marginalia by an anonymous monk writing in 1528 in a manuscript copy of Cicero’s De officiis (a treatise on moral philosophy). The inscription reads: ‘O d fuckin Abbot’. Given that the use of the f-word as an intensifier didn’t catch on for another three centuries, this is likely a punchy comment on the abbot’s immoral behaviour…

    The chronicles of cursing: “Explicit Content,” from @sixteenthCgirl.

    See also: “I’ve been accused of vulgarity. I say that’s bullshit” and “All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry.”

    * Stephen Fry

    ###

    As we choose our words, we might recall that it was on this date in 1960 that “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini” hit #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. A novelty song written by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss and first released in June 1960 by Brian Hyland, it tells the tale of a shy young lady wearing her new swimsuit for the first time. Hyland’s recording also sailed up the charts in the rest of the Anglophone world, and subsequent versions topped the charts in France and Germany.

    The tune is believed to have had a broader impact: the bikini had been introduced over a decade before, but hadn’t found wide acceptance; after Hyland’s hit two-pieces began to fly off the racks… and teen “surf movies” became the rage.

    source

     
  • feedwordpress 08:00:00 on 2022/08/07 Permalink
    Tags: acid rain, algae bloom, , , , , , , , , pee, , protein, revolving door, , , , Theophilus Van Kannel, , urine   

    “Most things are never meant”*… 


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    A coastal engineer collects a concentrated sample of algae and bacteria on Lake Erie in Toledo, Ohio

    Protein-packed diets add excess nitrogen to the environment through urine, rivaling pollution from agricultural fertilizers…

    In the U.S., people eat more protein than they need to. And though it might not be bad for human health, this excess does pose a problem for the country’s waterways. The nation’s wastewater is laden with the leftovers from protein digestion: nitrogen compounds that can feed toxic algal blooms and pollute the air and drinking water. This source of nitrogen pollution even rivals that from fertilizers washed off of fields growing food crops, new research suggests.

    When we overconsume protein—whether it comes from lentils, supplements or steak—our body breaks the excess down into urea, a nitrogen-containing compound that exits the body via urine and ultimately ends up in sewage… the majority of nitrogen pollution present in wastewater—some 67 to 100 percent—is a by-product of what people consume…

    Once it enters the environment, the nitrogen in urea can trigger a spectrum of ecological impacts known as the “nitrogen cascade.” Under certain chemical conditions, and in the presence of particular microbes, urea can break down to form gases of oxidized nitrogen. These gases reach the atmosphere, where nitrous oxide (N2O) can contribute to warming via the greenhouse effect and nitrogen oxides (NOx) can cause acid rain. Other times, algae and cyanobacteria, photosynthetic bacteria also called blue-green algae, feed on urea directly. The nitrogen helps them grow much faster than they would normally, clogging vital water supplies with blooms that can produce toxins that are harmful to humans, other animals and plants. And when the algae eventually die, the problem is not over. Microorganisms that feast on dead algae use up oxygen in the water, leading to “dead zones,” where many aquatic species simply cannot survive, in rivers, lakes and oceans. Blooms from Puget Sound to Tampa, Fla., have caused large fish die-offs…

    If it’s not one thing, it’s another: “Eating Too Much Protein Makes Pee a Problem Pollutant in the U.S.,” from Sasha Warren (@space_for_sasha) in @sciam.

    * Philip Larkin, “Going, Going” (in High Windows)

    ###

    As we deliberate on our diets, we might recall that it was on this date in 1888 that Theophilus Van Kannel received a patent for the revolving door, a design that came to characterize the entrances of (then-proliferating) skyscrapers and that earned him induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. But lest we think him “all work,” his other notable invention was the popular (at least in the early 20th century) amusement park ride “Witching Waves.”

    Theophilus Van Kannel’s patent drawing for a revolving door, 1888 [source]
    Theophilus Van Kannel [source]
     
  • feedwordpress 08:00:00 on 2022/08/06 Permalink
    Tags: album covers, , , Barbara Cooney, , chlidrens books, , , , , ,   

    “I suppose illustration tends to live in the streets, rather than in the hermetically sealed atmosphere of the museum, and consequently it has come to be taken less seriously”*… 


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    From “How Punch Magazine Changed Everything,” one of the essays in the collection

    From illustrator, writer, and educator Philip Kennedy, 175 stories “illustrating” 175 years of illustration…

    Illustration is a fascinating subject and yet its history is rarely told. This project aims to champion the medium and bring some inspiration, insight and knowledge to readers everywhere.

    Illustration Chronicles explores a history of illustration through the images, illustrators and events of the past 175 years. Every few months the site picks a topic [e.g., Music, Animals, Satire, History] to explore. These topics inspire the types of work that get selected and once a piece has been chosen, the year it was made gets marked off the project timeline.

    To learn more about Illustration Chronicles you can read a more detailed introduction here

    Take a look at the fascinating work-in-progress: “Illustration Chronicles,” from @philipkennedy.

    * master illustrator Quentin Blake

    ###

    As we delight in drawing, we might send carefully-limned birthday greetings to Barbara Cooney; she was born on this date in 1917. An illustrator and writer, primarily of children’s books, she received two Caldecott Medals for her work on Chanticleer and the Fox (1958) and Ox-Cart Man (1979), and a National Book Award for Miss Rumphius (1982). Her books have been translated into 10 languages.

    source

     
  • feedwordpress 08:00:00 on 2022/08/05 Permalink
    Tags: acoustic kitty, animaltraining, Bob Haldeman, , , , Richard Nixon, security services, smoking gun, , spying, tapes, transcript, , Watergate, Watergate scandal, Watergate tapes   

    “Knowledge of means without knowledge of ends is animal training”*… 


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    Spy vs.Spy

    According to a March 1967 report entitled “Views on Trained Cats [Redacted] for [Redacted] Use,” the CIA stuffed a real, live cat with electronic spying equipment and attempted to train it to spy on America’s Cold War rivals.  The report states that Acoustic Kitty (as the project is commonly known) was a “remarkable scientific achievement.” Unfortunately, the report also states that the continued use of live cats as eavesdropping devices “would not be practical.”

    According to Victor Marchetti [an ex-Deputy Director of the CIA]: “A lot of money was spent. They slit the cat open, put batteries in him, wired him up. The tail was used as an antenna. They made a monstrosity. They tested him and tested him. They found he would walk off the job when he got hungry, so they put another wire in to override that. Finally they’re ready. They took it out to a park and pointed it at a park bench and said, ‘Listen to those two guys…’ They put him out of the van, and a taxi comes and runs him over. There they were, sitting in the van with all those dials, and the cat was dead!”…

    Acoustic Kitty

    For more on animal training adventures in the security services, see “The CIA’s Most Highly-Trained Spies Weren’t Even Human.”

    Steve Martin

    ###

    As we study subterfuge, we might recall that it was on this date in 1974 that transcripts of the audiotaped White House conversations between President Richard Nixon and Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman were released to the public. Considered at the time a “smoking gun,” the transcripts confirmed Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate cover-up– and precipitated Nixon’s resignation three days later.

    Transcripts of the Watergate tapes arriving on Capitol Hill to be turned over to the House Judiciary Committee.

    source

     
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