Monday, December 29, 2014

"Shake, Rattle, Roll", Arthur Conley, Jr.

Well, Professor Google had a lot to say about Arthur Conley, and all very interesting too. 

Not so much a one-hit-wonder after all, and good for him.  Some hits in America, regional and otherwise, and he worked a lot with Otis Redding, who had identified him as a real talent while he was regional in the Atlanta area.  He moved to Europe early on, and he was quite successful in Europe too.  Died young, the poor man, of intestinal cancer at 57. 

Why did he move to Europe?  First England and then the Netherlands?  Very interesting.  Evidently he found America too intolerant and insufficiently welcoming for a man with his racial and other characteristics.   He seems to have found that Europe was a better fit for him, he worked a lot and the tone of the reporting seems to indicate that he was probably pretty happy.  Good for him.  Being black in America is a famously difficult status to bear, and the other thing, in the 60's, was a serious complication for a man.  It required total secrecy and the general level of condemnation was high.  So yeah, Europe, let's try that.  He even changed his name over there, legally changed his name.  America can be an ungrateful place, and I think he was trying to put the experience behind him. 

Great entertainer.  RIP, brother.

Tav Falco and Panther Burns -- "Pantherman"

Still working!  Glad to hear it.  Tav Falco is good at this rock and roll game. 

Sample lyric:  when I go up on the mountain I call my black cat back . . . (repeat) . . . well my hound dog come running but my black cat, he jumped way back! 

I do appreciate the commercial impulse, but when serious minded musicians rock all the way out and stamp "No Commercial Potential" all over their product, well, I like that too. 

That Old Holiday Feeling.

I'm antsy, I've got to admit it.  I don't like the holidays, never have. 

Good cheer mandated in the legislature has never appealed to me, for one thing.  Holidays, amusement parks, even golf, I resent situations where I am required to be cheerful.  Sometimes I'm just not up to it, you know?  Should I have to apologize? 

Christmas when I was a boy was a frantic round of required socializing, and, for the adults, a time of required heavy drinking.  Our parents would buy the expected gifts for us in the usual semi-conscious, haphazard fashion, and then set out to get really loaded with relatives that they did not actually care for in real life.  It was rarely enjoyable. 

I did enjoy Christmases when my boys were little.  More than that, when they were not little anymore but were still at home, and then beyond that.  When they had kind of grown up and had mostly moved out they would still sleep over on Christmas Eve so we could all wake up together on Christmas Morning.  Maybe those were the best Christmases of all, because the dear boys showed us that they had been enjoying Christmas all along.  I'm very grateful for that.  Also, in the old days, we'd always have a houseful on Christmas for a giant dinner.  And not like my childhood family, these were friends, and some of their friends who did not have anyplace else to go.  Not like a related family at all, no, we really liked each other.  Probably, anyway.  You can never tell why people do things.  We seemed to like each other anyway. 

So enjoy your holidays, dear readers.  And if you can really enjoy your holidays deep in your heart of hearts you are way ahead of the game, I can tell you.  That would be a great blessing right there.  And it's my wish for you, enjoy this sometimes magical time.  And pay no attention at all to my occasional negativity.  I was born this way, it's not your fault. 

Happy New Year! 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Message From Your Host

I'm not very tech-savvy, so I'm sorry if there are ways that I could improve the reader experience for this blog, and those ways escape me.  I'm not a Luddite, but my ignorance may mimic the condition. 

Someone reported to me the other day that he'd had trouble leaving comments here, he thought that I was blocking him.  After a little back and forth, he tried a test comment.  It came through fine, but he got me thinking about the whole process.  As a result I have decided to, and indeed have, changed some settings that may make the blog easier to read. 

So, no more comment moderating, for now.  I turned on the moderation many years ago in response to some comments that came in the form of personal attacks on other readers.  That has not happened at all since that first burst of negativity, so maybe we'll try it with no moderation. 

I also activated the "type the magic word" feature for leaving comments.  The Help feature says that the purpose is to intercept spam.  I suppose that's a good thing, and not too much of an imposition. 

Upon reflection, I do think that the moderation feature may have discouraged people from commenting.  With that feature on, someone writes a comment and it does not appear on the page until the next day or so when I've had a chance to approve it as a "pending comment."  I'll admit that if I were the commenter I'd be wondering if it were possible for me to leave comments.  So it's off, and comments should now appear immediately. 

Thanks for your patience, dear readers. 

J. Hines and the Boys - A Funky XMas To You

Yeah, that's what I'm talking about.  And a Funky New Year too, y'all! 

Spin Easy Time!: Mr. Fred's Christmas Poetry Corner: Fred On Fire!...

It's a Christmas tradition!  For the record:  I love the Nazz.  

Spin Easy Time!: Mr. Fred's Christmas Poetry Corner: Fred On Fire!...: Fred On Fire: A Christmas Poem Happy Birthday, Mr. Nazz! What’s this, number 2,006? or 1,995? Something like that, Did you ever think...

Parents! Encourage Your Children!

It should go without saying that parents should encourage their children in ways that will enrich their children’s lives.  It should, but so many parents instead choose to be unremittingly critical and negative that perhaps it must be said after all. 

So parents, listen up!  If your child expresses an interest in something that could generate happiness or self-esteem, and especially if your child expresses an interest in something that could lead to a marketable skill, do what you can to help them down the path to that interest.   More ambitious parents may choose to take a more active role in this process of encouragement. 

Some of you parents may wish to plant ideas in your children’s heads in the first place.  It is best to be stealthy in this enterprise, do not approach the child directly and suggest things.  No, it’s best to be oblique about it. 

Keith Richards’ grandfather used stealth to get the boy interested in guitar playing.  Keith’s grand-dad played guitar, but he wasn’t preachy about the pleasures of it.  He just hung the guitar on the wall, out of the boy’s reach.   If he caught Keith looking at it, he’d say something like, “oh, you like that?  Maybe when you can reach it we’ll do something.”  Keith climbed on a chair one day and took it down.  Grand-dad said, “if you’re so anxious, maybe we can get started.”  The rest, as they say, is history.   It’s a grandparent in this story, but you get the idea.

Keith Richards enjoys telling this story, he tells it with love.  Clearly he still appreciates what his grandfather did for him. 

I did something similar myself, and today my son is a fine piano player.  But this is not about my successes or failures as a parent.  It’s about the children! 

And hey, it’s Christmas after all! 

What better gift could a parent give a child than a little gentle guidance and encouragement that could equip the child with a life-tool that could make the child a happier, more successful adult?  The skill or the interest helps the child build confidence, and the encouragement itself can give the child a sense of self-worth.  It’s a win/win situation. 

And on the flip side of the coin, what greater harm could a parent do than to mock a child’s interest in something wholesome, or at least inoffensive?  Oh, parents, the world will knock your children down a peg or two soon enough.  No use to rush it. 

Just a Christmas idea. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Man Of The Year: Baby Doc Duvalier

A recent photo of Jean-Claude Duvalier, attempting to look non-threatening.

Son of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, and quite the little dictator in his own right, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier cut a successful path of terror and self-enrichment through Haiti back in the day.  After he was deposed in 1986 he went off to France  and retired, quietly, in circumstances that ranged from luxury to mere prosperity.  He died this year. 

It took tremendous talent to get away with all of that and then go on to enjoy a long, sometimes luxurious retirement.  He even returned to Haiti late in life.  Some people complained, but he got away with that too.  In twenty plus years of retirement he had had people in several countries trying to prosecute him, but he managed to keep them all at arm’s length and die a free man (albeit under indictment). 

So kudos, Baby Doc.  Somehow you bent the world to your will; you made the world in your image.  Those are rare things.   Man of the Year!  

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Approaching Technological Singularity

The Singularity:  “a technological singularity is a predicted point in the development of a civilization at which technological progress accelerates beyond the ability of present day humans to fully comprehend or predict.”

The singularity most under discussion these days will occur when artificial intelligence (“AI”) achieves the ability to mimic human consciousness.  The idea is all over the place.  News websites run articles about it, TV shows incorporate elements of it in their plots, and more or less serious publications like The New York Review of Books and Vanity Fair run big, almost scholarly stories about it.  Not to mention that granddaddy of cultural icons, the Terminator movies, which are all about machine intelligence run truly amok.  What, people wonder, will happen when machines outstrip us in intellectual ability?  What indeed. 

I would suggest that modern computers, the Internet and smart phones have already confused us sufficiently to fit the above definition of a technological singularity, but that’s just me.

The AI Debate

The advent of machine intelligence, in the form of primitive computers, came during World War II and immediately featured speculation about what might happen when these machines really get some wind in their sails.  Alan Turing, the father of the modern computer, was already thinking about it.  When will computers become able to mimic human intelligence?  He came up with a test that is still used today, Turing’s Test.  Human interrogators blind test a few people and one computer to see if the computer can fool them into thinking that it is one of the human test subjects.   They’re getting pretty close by this time. 

Part of the discussion is Moore’s Law, which hypothesized that the capabilities of computer chips will double every two or three years.  This is actually what has been happening for some time now, and the signs are that the progress will continue apace.  But for how long?  Will this tendency go on indefinitely?  If it does continue to grow at that pace AI will achieve capabilities that we can only guess at, and very likely this will happen in our lifetimes.   (Not mine, perhaps, but probably yours.) 

There is a very active debate in progress regarding this impending breakthrough.  Many talented scientists and tech geniuses are understandably fascinated by the prospect of machines that can think like people do.   The discussion is very heavy on “when,” and the “if” seems to be a given.  On one side are people who are very gung ho about the coming breakthrough in machine intelligence, the coming singularity.  Call them the Utopians ; they are also being referred to as “Singularitarians.”  On the other hand are the Cassandras, the nay sayers.   In the middle are many people who range from mere curiosity to a mild but active interest.  The curve is surprisingly flat; both extremes contain lots of people and the middle is only slightly more populous.  This is an area where opinions can be very, very strong.

The Singularitarians make amazing claims for the potential benefits of machines that can mimic the thought process of people.  Ray Kurzweill is a big time Utopian in this debate.  He claims that the Twenty-First Century alone will see 20,000 years of progress rolled into a mere hundred years.   Peter Diamandis, another Singularitarian, says that AI will achieve “exponential price-performance curves” and provide “plenty of clean water, food, and energy for all earthlings as well as decent educations and adequate health care.”  (In his book, “Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think.”)  Speculation about the coming changes and benefits are really wild, including the prediction that machine intelligence will marry with human intelligence and spread throughout the universe.  That seems like a stretch.  I’ll spare you a full reading of some of the famous techies that are waxing poetic about this new computer revolution.

There is a big push going on right now to bring about this singularity, to design and build computers that will mimic the human thought process with almost supernatural levels of power.  Many of our great minds are at work in the area.  There is actually a Singularity University in Silicon Valley.  It is located at the NASA Ames Research Center, no less, and it is funded by Google, Cisco Systems, Genentech, Nokia, and G.E.  Yes, I did say Nokia.  Their Nokia Research Center Cambridge at M.I.T. in Massachusetts is also working on the problem. 

The nay-sayers are a high powered bunch too.  They include such luminaries as Stephen Hawking, who has been all over the news in the last year warning that machine intelligence is coming, that it may not have our best interests at heart, and that it may indeed have the capacity and the inclination to do away with all of humanity.  That got my attention. 

Nick Bostrom of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford is worried too.  He is afraid that “human labor and intelligence will become obsolete.”  If we're lucky, the machines won’t bother to get rid of us all, but they may just allow us to live out in the woods somewhere as long as we are quiet and don’t make any trouble.  He points out, rightly I think, that it will be very hard to program goals into these new machines, goals that will not allow for any mischief.  It is, he says, “quite difficult to specify a goal of what we want in English, let alone computer code.”  He has a point there, doesn’t he?  I’d go further and suggest that if the machine were to actually think like a human being it could easily decide to disregard instructions in any case. 

Human Thinking and Behavior Are Messy

 The problem here is that the current discussion is about computers that will actually think with a naturalistic human thought process, ones that will be “fluent in the full scope of human experience” including “unusual but illustrative analogies and metaphors.”  (Mitch Kapor).  And the stated goal is to create such machines.   I believe that that is not only undesirable, but also impossible.  A machine intelligence will always be a machine. 

I think that the real danger here is that a true artificial intelligence could become a true machine entity of some new kind.  That it could become self-aware and that it could come to possess certain negative human characteristics, like ego, self-interest and the instinct for self-preservation.   Not to mention free will and autonomy.

This new machine entity would almost certainly not exhibit any of the sometimes messy intangibles of true human thinking.  Human consciousness includes components such as altruism, empathy, sentimentality, nostalgia, love, and the willingness to cooperate.  It is unlikely that a machine intelligence would develop these things on its own, and if they were programmed into the machine it could easily reject them out of growing self-interest or because they seemed ridiculous.

I wouldn't be surprised at all if a self-aware, self-interested, self-duplicating machine intelligence decided to just get rid of us as a bunch of ridiculous anachronisms.   What could we add to the new prosperity?  Humor?  Drama?  What could be more ridiculous to a machine than humor or drama?  And our life-support would be an expensive, unnecessary budget item. 

Machine intelligence will arrive as any number of separately constructed and programmed entities, and isn’t there a real element of danger in the fact that all of these machines will be able to communicate with each other and could choose to join forces in the name of self-interest?  That would be logical after all, and machines are nothing if not logical. 

So, I’m dubious about this whole thing.  I’m not going to get too nervous about it though, I’m sure that you’ll agree that other issues are making greater demands on our worrying time.  And a “Bengazi!!!” to you too.

Uncredited quotes in this post are from “Enthusiasts and Skeptics Debate Artificial Intelligence,” by Kurt Anderson, a recent article that appeared in Vanity Fair Magazine. 

Also of interest:  “AI May Doom the Human Race within a Century, Oxford Professor Says,” an interview with Nick Bostrom of the Oxford Future of Humanity Institute that appeared in August, 2014 on Huffington Post doc com. 

Also check out the movie:  “Colossus:  The Forbin Project.”  Computers such as those envisioned here are created and it all goes to hell faster than you can say “Jack Robinson.”  

Saturday, December 6, 2014

My Wedding Speech

I went to a nice wedding last week, as something slightly more than an invited guest.  The groom is from Singapore, and he speaks no Thai.  There were a lot of traditional, ceremonial things before the wedding, and I was stationed at his elbow to explain what people were asking him and feed him lines in Thai, sometimes just be the lawyer and speak for him.  It was a lot of fun.  None of it was rocket science, so I could handle it okay.  I know something about Thai people, and I've learned to keep things light and just have fun. 

I was told on the way that I was to give a little speech at some point, ten minutes or so, please make it a little bit funny.  Okay, I can do that.  I made some notes and ran through it a few times, but in the event the opportunity never came up.  Here's the gist of what I was going to say:

"(Greetings and thanks, etc.)  I've been asked to say a few words, and I guess I do know a little bit about marriage.  From the husband's point of view, of course.

My standard advice to young husbands is to practice in the mirror, look in the mirror and make a nice, relaxed smile and say, "yes, dear," over and over again until it becomes second nature, "yes, dear."  I say this because the husband's most important job is making his wife happy.  If the wife is happy, the husband is happy.

I think this works in both directions, and it's really a selfish act.  You make your spouse happy as a good way to make yourself happy.

Love is a simple thing, but it's never easy.  The hard part is learning enough about your spouse to find out how to make them happy.  Men are not famous for understanding women, and I'm not sure that women are any better at understanding men.  But it's important to try.  Find out what your spouse likes, find out what they need.  And then do your best to do those things, to make sure that your spouse gets the things that they like and need.

I said it's hard, maybe it's very hard.  I saw a book one time, "Everything That Men Know About Women."   When you opened the book, all of the pages were blank.  So you both have your work cut out for you, and I wish you the best of luck and success."

The bride is a fellow prof at the law faculty of my university, and I've known her for years.  She's a very nice young woman, she has a great temperament and she is a lovely woman in every way.  It was quite a relief to meet the groom.  These Thai weddings are a lot of work for the bride and groom, and he took the whole experience very good naturedly and with great patience.  I like them both, and actually I think they have a good shot.  I think they'll be fine.  Good luck! 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Arthur Conley - Sweet Soul Music (HQ)

There's another version up on the 'Tube that has a lot more hits, and it's great too, it's a really nice performance video.  I highly recommend it.  I shared this one because the sound quality is much better, and doesn't Mr. Conley look like a fine young man in the promo pictures? 

(This one is in HD, so it might crap out.  If it does, look up the other one.)

For one thing, this is a great song.  Arthur Conley, Jr., a one hit wonder I suppose, I don't know his regional history.  Maybe I'll ask Professor Google.

But the point is, this is a paean to the great soul singers of the day, and the only singer mentioned in this song that remains alive today is Sam Hicks of Sam & Dave.  The rest, including Mr. Conley himself, are dead, dead, dead, Mr. Conley earlier than most.  So, an age has well and truly past and gone.

And what has replaced it?  I'll leave it for others to say.  Otherwise I'll start to sound like an old man chasing kids off of his lawn.  Maybe there are artists working today who are as great as Otis or James Brown, not to mention 'Trane and Miles, maybe, I suppose that it could happen.  It's not my call.  Those with greater wit than me by far can analyze the situation.  I hope that the answers are not too depressing.