Scanlyze

The Online Journal of Insight, Satire, Desire, Wit and Observation

Remembering Marvin Minsky

While I was working at One Laptop per Child, I noticed a small, birdlike man perched over my shoulder looking at my two screens. Hmmm he looks familiar from one of my books maybe, oh shit, it’s Marvin Minsky!

Henry, what are you doing?

!He knows my name!

This to me was roughly the equivalent of being a fair to middling painter tending to your business and suddenly Leonardo da Vinci shows up and is asking you what are you doing, by name.

SO I explained well I am doing this that and the other thing and then I said you know Marvin, 90% of what I am doing is repetitive in nature and goes in through standard in and out through standard out. When can I have an AI that can do this 90% of the work for me?

And without pausing he said. “Five years.”

Beat.

We both busted out laughing.

The same answer, I suppose, he had been giving since 1959, when he co-founded the predecessor of CSAIL, the year he became an MIT Professor and the year I was born.

I also had a long conversation with him in another instance about how AI needed to use the basic story structures of folklore in order to construct narratives about events that humans would remember and regard as credible and later I gave him a copy of Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale.

A great mind, an excellent listener and a lovely gentleman.

Copyright © 2016 Henry Edward Hardy

Marvin Minsky, Pioneer in Artificial Intelligence, Dies at 88

29 January, 2016 Posted by | AI, Artificial Intelligence, folktale, Marvin Minsky, Rememberence, scanlyze, Vladimir Propp | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Force Awakens is a snide parody of Star Wars

“The Force Awakens” is another snide Abrams parody and deconstruction of a beloved science fiction classic. Here’s why.

There is this terrible inversion of the moral and ethical underpinnings of Lucas’ shared universe.

Love doesn’t redeem. The force doesn’t protect the (mostly) innocent. Han doesn’t shoot first when necessary. Family ties are not stronger than the lure of power.

I think Abrams likes to destroy the tropes and ethics of the works he is mocking. Look at what happened to the dear old Enterprise in Abrams’ parody of Star Trek.

Enterprise NCC 1701 could go mano-a-mano with the world-eating doomsday machine in TOS but in Abrams it is disgracefully beat to shit by another Star Fleet vessel without even being able to fire a shot.

The most generous interpretation of this is that Abrams loves to use the cheap trope of the “Worf effect.”

“This monster/baddy is really terrible, see it beat the crap out of Worf.”

The ungenerous interpretation is that Abrams likes to make little kids and fans cry.

As the kid sitting behind me said, “I didn’t like to watch it because evil won.”

I like the idea of a storm trooper character and of course he would be conflicted and confused. But there is a right way and a wrong way to invoke this. The right way is in The Clone Wars, where the Clone Troopers (not Storm Troopers) despite being a clone army, are fully individuated and several like Rex particularly have become such fan favorites that they have been resuscitated for Rebels.

We literally got no backstory and no characterization for any of these Force Awakens characters other than stock tropes. Orphan–virgin birth–desert planet. Storm trooper–cowardly–can’t shoot straight. Supreme leader–inhuman and scary, appears in holo-images. The leader’s second — Cyborg==black armor==fallen Jedi, etc. That is so lazy.

Rey is a major Mary Sue by any definition, to a ridiculous and suspension of disbelief breaking degree. And actually, no that’s not okay. It means the script is operating at the level of the most self-servicing and badly written fan fiction.

Luke didn’t just magically learn to be an ace pilot without ever having flown before. Luke trained with two old Masters, Obi-Wan and Yoda. And it was a major plot point when he went tearing off before his training was complete and promptly got his ass handed to him and his hand chopped off.

Contrast Ahsoka Tano, who made major mistakes and lost the better part of two squadrons of fighters and almost lost an entire battalion of soldiers in her first commands before she gained more experience and learned to bridle her aggressive tendencies. In The Clone Wars Season I.

Star Wars The Clone War – Storm over Ryloth (The first attack)

I’m sorry but the the action scenes in Force Awakens are horrible, only better than a mediocre fan film or kids playing Star Wars in the back yard due to better production values. Truly embarrassing. Okay Rey has probably never used a light saber so that’s excusable. But Kylo Ren is supposed to be the head of the Evil neo-Sith/Dark Jedi Knights, who trained with Luke Skywalker and Supreme Leader Snoke? What an emo shlub!

Emo Kylo Ren

The following a good light saber battle. Imagine if this was the trailer for the new Star Wars movie how much cooler it would be than the Abrams parody:

Return

There’s more character development, drama, suspense, action, plot advancement and general badassery there in six minutes than in any 3 hour Abrams sludgefest.

Or a more recent example from Rebels a few weeks ago:

Inquisitors vs. Ahsoka & Kanan ᴴᴰ

Ahsoka Tano is Anakin’s former apprentice in both old and new continuity. This is her Big Damn Heroes/The Cavalry moment as we haven’t seen her in action since she left Anakin and the Jedi Order at the end of season 5 of The Clone Wars. 16 years ago in-universe time.

I’m not trope averse, I just don’t like to see them mishandled or misused.

Another negative regarding Force Awakens is the presence of the Jar-Jar expy, Finn. The prequel movies are rather derivative of the original trilogy, and Force Awakens is completely unapologetic in strip mining the tropes from the real Star Wars films.

Although the character elements have been tossed a bit we can still clearly see trope-wise, or structural analysis-wise:

FA/Original trilogy/Prequels
Rey = Luke (ground) = Anakin
Finn = C3PO = Jar-Jar
BB8 = R2D2 = R2D2
Poe Dameron = Luke (air) = Anakin
Luke = Yoda = Yoda
Mas kanata = Obi-Wan = Qui Gon Jinn
Kylo Ren = Darth Vader = General Grievous
Snoke = The Emperor = Count Dooku

I’ve read a number of articles praising the new Star Wars parody by JJ Abrams as, “inclusive” or words to that effect. Really? There is one count ’em one, black or brown face among the characters.

My issue is not with John Boyega’s portrayal of the character. He has done a good enough job with the material he was given.

However, Boyega’s character, “Finn”, shares a number of tropes and characteristics with Jar-Jar Binks, the much-derided alien from the prequel movies.

Here are some specific points of similarity between Finn and the dark-skinned alien with big lips and a faux-Carribean patois:

Cowardly? Check.
Clumsy? Check.
Fails at everything he attempts? Check.
Treated as comic relief? Check.
Lies to the other characters? Check.

Abrams has even added an old trope new to Star Wars. What’s Finn do when he finds the protagonist, Rey? As soon as the Empire arrives and they flee, he grabs Rey’s hand, twice. She even explicitly tells him not to do that, which puts this into the squicky realm of harassment.

Your Star Wars dollar is far better spent watching the old movies, even the prequels, or the excellent “The Clone Wars” or the almost-excellent “Star Wars Rebels” than this dreck.

Copyright © 2015 Henry Edward Hardy

23 December, 2015 Posted by | media, movie, review, scanlyze | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The United States fetishizes gun Violence

The United States fetishizes gun Violence

I think it is very facile to attack guns for gun violence. That model fails to account for societies like Switzerland or Finland with high gun ownership but little gun violence.

What separates the United States is the degree to which it fetishizes gun violence. The stock character of the Western hero has morphed into the hard nosed cop and now into the faceless futuristic enforcer but the plot is the same: a lone man, using violence to right wrongs in society, then conveniently riding off into the sunset. “Hiyo, Silver, away!”

American Exceptionalism is the modern version of Manifest Destiny and White Man’s Burden. All are pinioned on the Idea that American Ideas are the Best, so much Better, in fact, that extreme violence and skullduggery are justified in their lofty pursuit of a greater good only America the Beautiful can provide.

Well, where’s the beef? Where are the benefits this benevolent violence are supposed to provide? Stable governments, democracy, prosperity, pluralism, tolerance, human rights, rule of law, all that?

Shall we ask Afghanistan? Or Libya? Or Yemen? Or Somalia? Or Iraq?

How’s that workin’ for ya USA? Is that the right model for Syria? Really?

I think it is very facile to attack guns for gun violence. That model fails to account for societies like Switzerland or Finland with high gun ownership but little gun violence.

What separates the United States is the degree to which it fetishizes gun violence. The stock character of the Western hero has morphed into the hard nosed cop and now into the faceless futuristic enforcer but the plot is the same: a lone man, using violence to right wrongs in society, then conveniently riding off into the sunset. “Hiyo, Silver, away!”

American Exceptionalism is the modern version of Manifest Destiny and White Man’s Burden. All are pinioned on the Idea that American Ideas are the Best, so much Better, in fact, that extreme violence and skullduggery are justified in their lofty pursuit of a greater good only America the Beautiful can provide.

Well, where’s the beef? Where are the benefits this benevolent violence are supposed to provide? Stable governments, democracy, prosperity, pluralism, tolerance, human rights, rule of law, all that?

Shall we ask Afghanistan? Or Libya? Or Yemen? Or Somalia? Or Iraq?

How’s that workin’ for ya USA? Is that the right model for Syria? Really?

Copyright © 2015 Henry Edward Hardy

30 October, 2015 Posted by | Afghanistan, anthropology, foreign policy, gun, Iraq, Libya, media, nonviolence, policy, scanlyze, Somalia, Syria, United States, violence, Where's the beef? | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On Cultural Appropriation

On Cultural Appropriation

I have done some looking about on google books. The earliest book defining the term “cultural appropriation” which I found is Borrowed Power: Essays on Cultural Appropriation by Bruce H. Ziff, Pratima V. Rao, Rutgers University Press, 1997.

They define cultural appropriation as “the taking–from a culture that is not one’s own–of intellectual property, cultural expressions or artifacts, history and ways of knowledge.”

They give eight specific examples, one of which is, “Jazz, blues, soul, rap, and other musical forms emanating out of the Black musical experience in America are adopted by white musicians and audiences as part of a mainstream musical tradition.”

In order to understand why cultural appropriation is in some ways a good thing, let’s talk about jazz.

Let’s assume along with the authors that jazz developed through “cultural appropriation.”

Let’s talk about jazz instruments, say for a group with drums, bass, guitar, saxophone and piano.

Where did these instruments come from and how?

The drum kit derives from military drums used by marching bands on occasions where they were seated and not marching. The double bass derives from the 16th century violone, an Italian instrument. The guitar derives from the oud, brought from North Africa to Spain, where frets were added and it became the lute (from Arabic “Al’ud”). The saxophone was invented by Belgian musical instrument designer Adophe Sax in 1846. It too, came via military marching bands. The pianoforte, today generally called a “piano,” was invented by Italian instrument maker Bartolomeo Cristofori di Francesco around 1700.

So what about jazz? What were the precursors of jazz, and how did these instruments come together to make a typical ensemble instrumentation?

Public festivals were held in New Orleans at Place Congo featuring African-style drumming and dance until 1843. The origin of folk blues isn’t well understood, but certainly it contains both African elements, such as polyphony, syncopation, and call-and-response, and the “blues scale” as well as European elements, such as church hymns, 4/4 time, and the 12 tone scale and triadic harmonies. The cakewalk derived from African-American versions of popular tunes combined with a dance derived from the Seminole Nation in the 1880’s. Ragtime derived from dancehall music provided by pianists both black such as William Hogan and white, such as William Krell.

How did these musical strains come together with those instruments to create jazz? What is now sometimes called Dixieland, or traditional jazz, started in New Orleans in the early 1900’s. One important event cited was the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, when many military units were demobilized in New Orleans and military band members hocked their instruments. That’s one way military band instruments such as the tuba (replacing double bass) and saxophone (replacing clarinet) came into prominence in Dixieland.

I could go on but I hope you get the point. Jazz would not exist without “cultural appropriation” as defined by Ziff and Rao, and that it is in some ways a good thing when cultures interact and borrow from each other, even when the power dynamics are severely skewed, it helps to normalize the situation by bringing the two cultures together and creating shared cultural norms and values.

Copyright © 2015 Henry Edward Hardy

30 October, 2015 Posted by | anthropology, cultural appropriation, history, jazz, music, scanlyze | , , , , , | Leave a comment

What the EU’s “austerity” for Greece has really meant

Let’s talk about what the EU’s “austerity” for Greece has really meant.

There have been a series of loans from international and national institutions to cover liabilities of those who would be hurt by a default on Greek bonds. It hasn’t reduced Greece’s debt or improved its balance of payments. Coupled with the imposed cuts in benefits and increase in taxes in Greece, rather than encouraging growth, the German Empire, oh excuse me, rather, EU, has forced the collapse of the Greek economy as a way of imposing collective punishment on the people of Greece, while shifting the burden of a Greek default from private investors to EU taxpayers.

Copyright © 2015 Henry Edward Hardy

7 July, 2015 Posted by | capitalism, EU, Germany, Greece, politics, scanlyze | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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