Computers Still Learning

I was reading a piece about GPT and humor the other day (which I won't bother to look up again to link because I don't remember where I saw it and all it said is what I'm about to tell you) that said that these large language models are good at explaining jokes, but not good at making new ones. It's interesting how those are different projects. Analytical understanding of why something is funny really is different from the ability to craft an emotional experience that will provoke laughter. It's easier after the fact to process why it worked, and harder to do the thing.

Whatever Spotify is using to categorize songs is imperfect in a similar way. It likes to do 'mood' playlists, and it often produces notable failures. For example, on today's "Romantic" playlist the first song was this one:

That's a beautifully sung song, but it is not a romantic song. It's about the heartbreaking failure of a romance.

Likewise, they recently had a "Happy" playlist that headlined with this piece:

This song kind of sounds happy, because of the band's signature strategy (which I believe they adopted from the Blues Brothers) of marching through blues pieces in major chords. It's definitely not a happy song, though: it's about a man who is dying of alcoholism, and finds himself powerless to stop it.

I guess it's good that it's still easy to fool the Terminator.

Bluegrass Genocide

I realize not everyone here reads Instapundit, but here's a piece linked there (by one of Glenn's co-bloggers) that merits attention.
In his terrific Shiny Herd substack, Ted Balaker interviewed me on the mania for eugenic sterilization of those deemed “unfit to reproduce” for the first 75+ years of the 20th century. As Ted and I discussed:
“They were forced to undergo hysterectomies. Their tubes were tied and they were given vasectomies, sometimes without anesthesia.”
The scientific and political communities in America were solidly behind the project. Those performing the sterilizations were considered humanitarian heroes, and academics who questioned the idea were subject to vilification, loss of employment, and loss of academic funding. The press and political activists formed a solid phalanx to protect the pro-eugenics side....
Then I heard of the Family Planning Services Act and began to wonder if there was in 1971 a federally-funded bias toward sterilizing poor young women in Appalachia. Is this why I never had siblings and face being the sole caretaker and provider for my aging mother?

But I can only wonder because I can’t find any research or data or even articles inquiring about changes in birth and sterilization rates among women in Appalachia before/after the Family Planning Services Act took hold.

Maybe the Act didn’t make a difference at all. Or maybe it was a quiet Bluegrass Genocide....
This writer’s expression, “bluegrass genocide,” is a marvel of imagery, simplicity, and power. Nowhere to be found on the internet (till now), the term lashes an arcadian adjective to a dystopian noun. Just two words and five syllables describe a sweeping saga, imparting both sense of place and sense of horror. It starkly captures the inhumanity that, for the better part of the last century, exerted a vise grip over science, medicine, culture, politics, journalism, and public policy—the notion that experts are entitled to play God with lives in pursuit of their favored social goals. The writer’s addition of “quiet”—”a quiet Bluegrass Genocide”—makes the events described all the more vile.

Sometimes, the word “genocide” is used in a hyperbolic and, in my view, inappropriate ways, but here, the term is more than apt. 

Usually one hears about the eugenics movement in terms of the eugenics crowd's fascination with the idea of 'race,' and the desire to limit the growth of 'races' that they deemed inferior; or one hears about the sterilization of those deemed mentally inferior. Here, though, it's really often just poor folks from Appalachia; useless eaters in the eyes of the Wise of that era, I suppose.

The Great Montrose

A kind of week-late addendum to the discussion of pirates and outlaws: one of the points AVI brought up was that pirates were all but certain to be executed if caught, which might suggest that there was a particular infamy associated with their ways. Yet the greatest of all men might be executed torturously and grievously, even the Great Montrose. (Well, even Jesus.)
Montrose studied at age twelve at the college of Glasgow under William Forrett who later tutored his sons. At Glasgow, he read Xenophon and Seneca, and Tasso in translation.... The king signed a warrant for his Marquessate and appointed Montrose Lord Lieutenant of Scotland, both in 1644. A year later in 1645, the king commissioned him captain general. His military campaigns were fought quickly and used the element of surprise to overcome his opponents even when sometimes dauntingly outnumbered....

Highlanders had never before been known to combine, but Montrose knew that many of the West Highland clans, who were largely Catholic, detested Argyll and his Campbell clansmen, and none more so than the MacDonalds who with many of the other clans rallied to his summons. The Royalist allied Irish Confederates sent 2000 disciplined Irish soldiers led by Alasdair MacColla across the sea to assist him. The Irish proved to be formidable fighters.

In two campaigns, distinguished by rapidity of movement, he met and defeated his opponents in six battles....

The fiery enthusiasm of the Gordons and other clans often carried the day, but Montrose relied more upon the disciplined infantry from Ireland. His strategy at Inverlochy, and his tactics at Aberdeen, Auldearn and Kilsyth furnished models of the military art, but above all his daring and constancy marked him out as one of the greatest soldiers of the war. His career of victory was crowned by the great Battle of Kilsyth on 15 August 1645. Such was the extent of his military fame that King Louis XIV offered him the position of Marshal of France.

He fell into the power of his political enemies and was hanged, his body dismembered and buried in unhallowed ground. Years later Charles II had his body moved to a church and gave a lavish funeral, but that didn't do anything to repair the execution. Bear in mind that this is almost exactly the same time -- and the same king, Chares II -- that was rewarding Sir Henry Morgan with a knighthood and governorship of Jamaica.  

Here's a song about the Great Montrose. The particular battle is apocryphal, but of a piece with the actual battles he so frequently won.

Love Doesn't Equal Love

The Orthosphere objects to the current formulation.
A neighbor flies a colorful flag. “Love is Love” it proclaims. Since it is merely a dogmatic assertion with no argument provided, it seems somehow aggressive. Worse. It is aggressive. Like all other utterances, it must be understood in context. In context, it is a poke in the eye of anyone favoring heterosexual adult romantic love. Ironically, that kind of love one is welcome to attack. In that case, perhaps the slogan should be “Love is Oppressive.” ...

The image on the flag is of a central huge rainbow-colored clenched fist surrounded by little open palms with love hearts on them. I know of no symbolism whereby balling up your first means love.

The rhetorical flourish of the bumper sticker that simply says " = " was the point at which I realized that they were going to win this fight. It's simple, requires no explanation, and although it is quite terribly wrong one needs a thousand words to explain why. They didn't need any words at all. 

The gay marriage thing has worked out a lot better than I feared it would, given that it represented a massive change to a fundamental social organization. It hasn't, as far as I can tell, caused any problems at all. I don't mention this to re-open that fight, which was lost and fortunately has not been as destructive as we warned that it might be. 

Rather, the point is just to clarify that the mathematical expression of equality is not the right use of the notion of equality in politics or in the personal relationships between individuals. Love is not love: think of any two people you love, and you'll find the differences immediately. I love my mother; I loved my father. The content of the emotional relationship was quite different, for me and for everyone who has ever loved. It's not a 1=1, A=A case, love; it is neither mathematical nor strictly logical.

When we talk about citizens being equal, we don't mean that they're exactly alike or even roughly equivalent. It is not a case like 2+2=2x2=4x1. One citizen may be an astronaut and a Ph.D.; the other one may be a crackhead. They are definitely not equals in most respects. There is only one way in which they really are equals, which is that they were alike endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights that the government's sole legitimate purpose is to protect. In that way, they really are equals: and they are equals not because of any qualities of their own, but because the endowment from on high was bestowed equally upon them.

We see something similar in the same field: "Transwomen are women." To set aside the empirical truth of that proposition entirely, I am struck by the fact that the statement itself is logically self-refuting. Two categories are being discussed, W and tW. We instantly know that they are not the same category; tW is at best a subset of W. (Many would argue it isn't even that, empirically, but that issue is being set aside here.) There are definitely members of the set W that aren't members of tW. That being the case, the sets are not "equal" -- here the term is used in its strict mathematical sense -- but distinct. The assertion that tW=W on the lines that A=A is obviously false. 

The clever rhetorical destruction of distinctions is not the font of justice, nor wisdom, nor right. It is, if anything, their enemy. Justice is more likely to be found in careful, disciplined thought and reason. I mean no one any harm by saying this; it is not an expression of malice, let alone hatred. It is simply my duty as a philosopher to stand up for clarity of thought.

RIP Pat Robertson

Pat Robertson has died at the age of 93. Robertson is a sept of the Clan Donnachaidh, my own, which is indeed sometimes called Clan Robertson. As such I always thought of him as a distant relative. 

On days like this I am always taken a bit aback by the hateful speech that pours out of the mouths of people who I know think of themselves as tolerant, thoughtful, and decent. Indeed, mostly they are; they just aren’t immune to hate, even though in most contexts they would regard hate as the greatest of evils. 

Cowboy Fire/Rescue

In tonight’s episode, Grim rescues some horses that had found their way out onto a twisty mountain road in the middle of the night.

We were on our way back from rappeling training in Transylvania County when I saw some beautiful white horses (grey, technically) kicking up their heels in the storm. They weren't hard to herd home. A little push and they showed me the way to the gap they'd forced in their fence. Another push and they ran back in. I fixed their fence as well as I could with bare hands.

This morning I contacted one of our firefighters who lives in the part of the district. He said that he knows the family and will let them know to take care of the fence. Hopefully that sets it right.

Cracking more code

We're thinking of doing a banh mi smorgasbord for a July 4th weekend BBQ. I got a cookbook in the mail and tried its recipe, and sure enough, lovely porpoise-shaped crusty rolls for sandwiches.

All I accomplished today was the roll, not any of the recipes for pâté or one of the Vietnamese-style sausages or cold cuts. So I just made a basic ham sandwich with garden tomatoes and sweet pickles. For the spread I used ordinary mayo tarted up with some homemade sweet hot chile sauce, which was great.

My lurking neighbor makes a fabulous wild-yeast sourdough that's nice and chewy, really my favorite bread. I don't know how to make that kind of lovely artisanal bread yet, but it turns out that all the basic instant-yeast breads are pretty easy. For banh mi, you don't really want a seriously crusty, chewy bread anyway.

I tried to order some Kaiser rolls through the mail but thought I had failed, so I found a recipe and ingredients and was about to try them next. Today, however, a dozen Kaiser rolls arrived, so we'll need to work through those before I bake. My lurking neighbors having absconded to their Oklahoma cabin for several weeks, I don't have as much help eating this stuff as I might usually have. They really need to get back here. Anyway, we're going to make hamburgers this week with some of the rolls, and in the meantime have found room in our tiny freezer for the rest. We don't trust ourselves with a big freezer. We've seen what happens.

First X-Ray of a Single Atom

There are size limits to knowledge; for example, we can’t say much about the world as it exists smaller than the electron scale because electrons are the smallest things we know how to manipulate. Thus, an electron microscope works on stuff electrons bounce off of, but not on stuff so small that they push it out of the way. 

Here’s a size limit being transcended. Pretty neat stuff.