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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Last week of May 2024,

Let there be a verdict.
  
A verdict, not a hung jury (my concern).
 
PM UPDATE:  I watched most of the live CNN closing arguments coverage today before having to go pick up Calvin. Not clear at this point how the jury will react and find. Judge will next charge the jury and send them off for deliberations. Trump only needs one juror for a hung jury mistrial—which he will loudly then spin as total exoneration, extending from this case to all of those still pending (J6, FL Classified documents, GA election fraud). I could be wrong, but I don't see an outright unanimous "not guilty" verdict. A one-juror "reasonable doubt" holdout mistrial is all Trump really needs at this point. We'll never hear the [bleeping] end of it.

May 28th follow-up. The Don is not happy.

   
The case is now in the hands of the jury.
_________
   

Monday, May 27, 2024

Memorial Day 2024

  

Visiting Omaha Beach in 2004
 
AND, OF COURSE, THEN WE HAVE THIS SHIT
 
_________
   

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Hillsdale College whiffs, big-time

 
   
So, I just got this unsolicited fat snailmail pitch. An envelope containing a quarter-inch of fervent exhortatory materials (replete w/ ill-advised postage-paid return) urging that I contribute $$$ generously to help fight The Increasingly Menacing Evil Woke CRT DEI Marxists.

Wrong guy, peeps.  (Hmmm... what might I put in that envelope to send back?)

apropos,
"Required reading for anyone seeking to understand Christian nationalism." —Kristin Kobes Du Mez, author of Jesus and John Wayne

A propulsive account of the network of charismatic Christians that consolidated support for Donald Trump and is reshaping religion and politics in the US.


Over the last decade, the Religious Right has evolved. Some of the more extreme beliefs of American evangelicalism have begun to take hold in the mainstream. Scholar Matthew D. Taylor pulls back the curtain on a little-known movement of evangelical Christians who see themselves waging spiritual battles on a massive scale. Known as the New Apostolic Reformation, this network of leaders and believers emerged only three decades ago but now yields colossal influence, galvanizing support for Trump and far-right leaders around the world. In this groundbreaking account, Taylor explores the New Apostolic Reformation from its inception in the work of a Fuller Seminary professor, to its immense networks of apostles and prophets, to its role in the January 6 riot. Charismatic faith provided righteous fuel to the fire that day, where symbols of spiritual warfare blazed: rioters blew shofars, worship music blared, and people knelt in prayer. This vision of charismatic Christianity now animates millions, lured by Spirit-filled revival and visions of Christian supremacy.

Taylor's unprecedented access to the movement's leaders, archives, internal conference calls, and correspondence gives us an insider account of the connection between charismatic evangelicalism and hard-right rhetoric. Taylor delves into prophetic memes like the Seven Mountains Mandate, the Appeal to Heaven flag, and the Cyrus Anointing; Trump's spiritual advisor Paula White's call for "angelic reinforcements"; and Sean Feucht and Bethel Music's titanic command of worship styles across America. Throughout, Taylor maps a movement of magnetic leaders and their uncompromising beliefs--and where it might be headed next. When people long to conquer a nation for God, democracy can be brought to the brink. [Amazon blurb]
PAGE 1 SNIP
   


 
Tangentially, heard this while in the car.
 
 UPDATE

From the latest issue of Science Magazine,

Anthropologist and primatologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s impressive new book, Father Time, is a natural history that examines the biggest picture of hominim evolution in search of a small but important development in modern society: an increase in the care and nurturing of babies by men. Hrdy’s earlier works on the evolution of mothering and maternal instincts, Mother Nature (1999) and Mothers and Others (2009), also considered much of the paternal side of hominim parenting, but in her telling, the origins of her interest in fathers began with The Langurs of Abu (1977)…

In Hrdy’s analysis, men’s ancient limbic systems have been restimulated to engage more actively in childcare by modern developments that include the increased costs of educating and caring for children, women working in larger numbers, more men engaged in co-parenting, gay marriage, and the many options available to prospective parents, including in vitro fertilization, for creating hybrid families. As she has experienced in her own family, the more time men spend with babies, the more nurturing they become.

       
Ahhh... don't let the Hillsdale peeps (or Mizzou Senator Manhood Hawley) know. Oh, the Horrors!
    
UPDATE
In November, Calvin Hayden spoke to a fringe gathering of “America First” conservatives at a church in Kansas City. He told the crowd at Hope Family Fellowship Church that they were in the middle of a war between good and evil, that the Apple logo reminded him of Eve eating forbidden fruit, and that “a lot of the LGBT stuff and questioning the gender” might really be a Communist Chinese plot to “demasculinize our men and our warriors.” [ HuffPo ]
Calvin Hayden is the Sheriff of Johnson County, Kansas. Good grief.
  
UPDATE:
THE STORM IS COMING.
JASON STORM, WITH, AMONG OTHER THINGS, HIS "MANHOOD RESTORED BOOT CAMPS"
 

Another self-appointed, incoherent Christian Nationalist "Personhood Savior."
 
___
   
A personal Father Time note:
I have a lot of shortcomings. Failing to be a consistently devoted father is not among them.
CODA
   
Tom Nichols has released a 2nd edition of his excellent book "The Death of Expertise.
  
   
Well worth your time. I've written him up previously.
 
A bit more Tom:
________
  


Wednesday, May 15, 2024

nullius in verba;

nonetheless, strive hard to maintain an attitude of curiosity and humility—what Zen Buddhism refers to as a “beginner’s mind.”
  
...We are not just helpless victims of fate but are the agents in charge of our own narrative, for better or worse, victorious or defeatist. This forceful shaping of our attitudes to events beyond our control has profound consequences for well-being and sickness…

How experience comes into the world has been an abiding mystery since the earliest days of recorded thought. Aristotle warned his readers more than two thousand years ago that “to attain any assured knowledge about the soul is one of the most difficult things in the world.” Mind is radically different from the stuff that makes up the brain and everything else. Quantum mechanics and general relativity, the periodic table of chemical elements, the endless strings of ATGC nucleotides that make up our genes—these appear to describe the physical, not the mental (I write “appear to” as quantum mechanics demonstrates that there are no observer-independent events, opening the door for consciousness to enter, at the ground level of reality). Yet we awaken every day to our subjective world of experiences.

The intellectual position that has garnered the most respect in contemporary Anglo-American philosophy departments is the ever more strident denigration or even outright denial of subjectivity. What is real is people talking obsessively about their experiences and acting on them; there is nothing above and beyond these speech acts and other intended or actual behaviors. The feeling part of consciousness, called phenomenal consciousness, is a big illusion. Philosophers in the know dispense with the “awful painfulness of my toothache” in the manner that Ebenezer Scrooge dealt with Christmas: “Bah! Humbug!” Furthermore, free will, our ability to deliberate about an upcoming fork in the road and to decide which path to take, is also thrown under this “illusion” bus. This rejection of the reality of lived experience constitutes a mind-boggling repudiation of what is immediately and indubitably given to us. It is also profoundly antihumanist, depriving us of those attributes that make us different from machines—indeed, equating us with machines.

It’s an absurd adjuration, akin to Cotard’s delusion, a rare psychiatric disorder in which able-bodied patients, often severely depressed, vehemently insist that some of their limbs are missing, that their bodies are rotting from the inside, or even that they are dead. When confronted with the fact that they are having a conversation, right now, with their doctor, they do admit that the situation is a bit baffling, but the fact is that they are dead, and that’s all there is to it. So it is with some contemporary thinkers who insist, against the evidence of their own senses, that experiences don’t exist. Truly astounding—gaslighting all of us into believing that our experiences are fake!

Fortunately, consciousness can’t be cancelled forever. The mental, having refused to yield, is returning with a vengeance. Indeed, the wheel is turning back to much more ancient understandings of experience, including idealism, the proposition that ultimately even matter and energy are mental manifestations, and panpsychism, the school of thought that all creatures, and perhaps even matter itself, are ensouled, that it feels-like-something to be anything, not just a human or even a bat. Modern science is supporting aspects of this remarkable turn of events…

What about nonhuman, artificial minds, rivaling or even exceeding ours? This topic is treated last. Sentient machines have been a recurring theme in science fiction. In 2022, this topic burst into public view with the startling claim by a Google software engineer that the company’s “large language model” was sentient and had to be considered a person with associated legal rights. The linguistic skills and knowledge of these models and their competitors, most famously ChatGPT and GPT-4 by OpenAI, trained on a vast trove of books and online documents far beyond what any human can read in a lifetime, are astonishing by the standards of even a few of years ago. They write summaries, emails, jokes, (bad) poetry, computer code, letters of recommendation, and dialogue indistinguishable from human-generated material, including plausible-sounding fabrications. They are evolving at an astounding pace and will transform society in fundamental ways.

These chatbots seemingly constitute living proof of the dominant narrative of liquid modernity: the mind is software that can be as readily embodied within silicon wafers as it is within flesh, echoing a pernicious Cartesian dualism. Smart money in Silicon Valley thinks so, most engineers and many philosophers think so, and popular movies and TV shows reinforce this belief.

Against the grain, integrated information theory radically disagrees with this functionalist view. It argues from first principles that digital computers can (in principle) do everything that humans can do, eventually even faster and better. But they can never be what humans are. Intelligence is computable, but consciousness is not. This is not because the brain possesses any supernatural properties. The critical difference between brains and digital computers is at the hardware level, where the rubber meets the road—that is, where action potentials are relayed to tens of thousands of recipient neurons versus packets of electrons shuttled back and forth among a handful of transistors. As we’ll see, the integrated information of digital computers is negligible. And that makes all the difference.

It means that these machines will never be sentient, no matter how intelligent they become. Furthermore, that they will never possess what we have: the ability to deliberate over an upcoming choice and freely decide.

The brain is the most complex piece of self-organized, active matter in the known universe. By no coincidence, it is also the organ of consciousness. Unlike scientific advances in genomics or astrophysics, progress in understanding the brain and the mind directly relates to who we are, our strengths and infirmities, how we can live a contented life, and whether we partake of some larger, ultimate reality. Humanity is not condemned to walk around forever in an epistemological fog—we can know, and we will know.

Koch, Christof. Then I Am Myself the World (pp. 14-21). Basic Books. Kindle Edition. 
BLURB
—Bernardo Kastrup, Executive Director, Essentia Foundation
 
 Click link, read on. Christof Koch is involved with this Foundation.
 
Interesting.
 
UPDATE
 
Christof's book is a gold mine of illuminating quotes.
 

 Coheres wonderfully in many ways with Brian Klaas's Flukes.

Also apropos, "Sentience," anyone?

I can see that Dr. Christof's book themes may require several posts to do all of the implications justice. Toward that end see also
  

"THE PERCEPTION BOX?"
 

It's a metaphor. Who is Elizabeth Koch?
 
You buyin' this?
  

OK. Unequivocal declarative sentence "truth claim" (assertion of fact). Perception is an Illusion.
Well, what of the sensory inputs and outputs converging and culminating in that claim? Bit of a quibble perhaps wafts up.

Whatever. Also relevant in line with factors adverse to clear, logical thinking: Claude Steiner's "Script Theory."
 
All of this stuff goes to my chronic Jones going to so-called "Deliberation Science."
 
Also, I am reminded of my episodic David J. Linden riffs. 

   
A DIGRESSION (SORT OF)
   
Didn't see this coming. But, oddly, it resonates broadly with the current topic.
 
 
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened.
—T. S. Eliot, Burnt Norton

 
I ran across this disarming mind-bender "SciFi" miniseries on Apple TV+. Hmmm... Perception Box, Quantum Superposition Cube? Stay with me here...
 
Another book comes to mindm re: "Dark Matter."
   
Click
An ordinary family man, geologist, and Mormon, Soren Johansson has always believed he’ll be reunited with his loved ones after death in an eternal hereafter. Then, he dies. Soren wakes to find himself cast by a God he has never heard of into a Hell whose dimensions he can barely grasp: a vast library he can only escape from by finding the book that contains the story of his life...
A fun read.
 
UPDATE: TAKE IT BACK TO THE TOP
"...We are not just helpless victims of fate but are the agents in charge of our own narrative, for better or worse, victorious or defeatist. This forceful shaping of our attitudes to events beyond our control has profound consequences for well-being and sickness…"
Agents in charge? What would Sapolsky say? 
 
 
"Two Cheers for Uncertainty?"
 
More to come...
_________
   

Monday, May 13, 2024

Ranger

  
In January 2018 our son was working in Sacramento for his Baltimore-based company, staying with us in Antioch CA (East Bay, Contra Costa County, Antioch). Driving home through Sacramento Delta back roads late one night, he almost ran over this stray dog, a 70 lb chocolate lab mix. No tags, no chip, piece of raggedy rope for a "collar."  We tried assiduously to find an owner. No luck.
 
He's been with Cheryl and I ever since. "Ranger." Great, amiable dog, but increasingly aggressive with other critters. We moved to Baltimore in 2019, and have had recurrent frantic Code Red Great Escape episodes involving him, notwithstanding our constant vigilance.
 
Last week while a painting contractor crew was here working on our house exterior, one of them left a side gate unlatched. Ranger, having been cooped up in his travel crate all day, got loose when I let him out to pee, and attacked my nearby neighbor's 18 yr old cat Monty. We are aghast. Monty had to be put down. Our neighbors were way more gracious than the episode warranted. Chris, Carrie, we are SO sorry.

Friday, May 10, 2024

A G4 solar storm ensues

  
A couple of months ago, The New Yorker's journalistic ninja Kathryn Schulz wrote about the adverse potentials posed by solar storm eruptions.

Well, this weekend, here we are.
What a Major Solar Storm Could Do to Our Planet
Disturbances on the sun may have the potential to devastate our power grid and communication systems. When the next big storm arrives, will we be prepared for it?
By Kathryn Schulz
February 26, 2024
 
...Regular, Earth-based weather is such a fundamental part of our lives that we are almost always aware of it and very often obsessed with it; it is the subject of everything from idle chitchat to impassioned political debate. By contrast, most people have no idea that there is weather in outer space, let alone what its fluctuations might mean for our planet. That’s because, unlike everyday weather, you can’t experience space weather directly. It doesn’t make you hot or cold, doesn’t flood yoYou are probably familiar with the Earth’s magnetic field, which makes all life here possible by deflecting dangerous radiation from outer space. If you could see that field, it would look like a relatively tidy series of rings surrounding our planet, flowing out at the South Pole and reëntering at the North. The solar magnetic field does not look like that. That’s largely because, although the sun is three hundred thousand times more massive than the Earth, no part of it is solid. Instead, it is made of plasma, that strange and mesmerizing fourth state of matter. (Heat up a liquid and it turns into a gas. Heat up a gas and it turns into a plasma, a glowing slurry of electrically charged particles.) As a result, the sun doesn’t have to rotate rigidly, as our planet must. One rotation of the Earth takes twenty-four hours in both Ecuador and Antarctica, but one rotation of the sun takes approximately twenty-five days at its equator and thirty-three days at its poles.

This uneven rotation wreaks havoc on the sun’s magnetic field. Imagine a race in which eight people are lined up on a track, holding on to the same long elastic ribbon. The starting gun fires and the people start running. The two in the middle are the fastest and the two on the ends are the slowest, so after a while the middle two are far ahead and the ribbon looks like this: > . If the race kept going and the runners’ speeds remained constant, the two middle runners would eventually lap the others, and the ribbon would cross over itself. The longer the race lasted, the more tangled the ribbon would become.

That’s what happens to solar-magnetic-field lines. They twist and crisscross until clusters of them pop up from the sun’s surface, in huge loops that generate enormous amounts of energy. (Think of the energy stored in a rubber band when it is twisted and stretched. Now imagine that the rubber band is a hundred thousand miles long.) The ends of these loops are sunspots, the phenomenon that Carrington observed in 1859. He could see them readily enough for two reasons. The first is that they are darker than their surroundings, because they are a couple of thousand degrees cooler; the intensity of their magnetic fields hinders the flow of hot gas across the sun. The second is that they are large. An average sunspot is the size of the Earth, while the biggest ones can be ten times larger.

Forecasters like Ken Tegnell watch sunspots for the same reason that regular meteorologists watch low-pressure areas in the tropics: to see if a storm is forming. This happens when one of those twisted magnetic fields suddenly rips apart, then snaps back together again. That rearrangement returns the magnetic field to a more stable, lower-energy state, while releasing the excess energy into space in two different forms. The first is a solar flare: a burst of radiation that can range across the electromagnetic spectrum, from gamma rays and X rays to radio waves and visible light. Solar flares contain a colossal amount of energy—enough, in a large one, to meet our planet’s power needs for the next fifteen or twenty thousand years. The second is a coronal mass ejection: a billion-ton bubble of magnetized plasma that explodes off the surface of the sun. These two phenomena can occur separately, but when large ones occur together they mark the beginning of a major solar storm...

...One of the eminences in the field of space-weather studies is Daniel Baker, who was the head of space-plasma physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory and a division chief at nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center before going to the University of Colorado to lead its Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. “I do not want to be unduly alarmist,” Baker told me. “But I do want to be duly alarmist.” Like so much American infrastructure, he notes, our bulk-power system is underfunded and aging, while demand on it keeps rising—not only from population growth but from an incommensurate increase in our energy use. As a result, he says, the grid is operating “closer and closer to its maximum stress level.” In that condition, it cannot easily absorb the additional stress of a solar storm.

Our aging grid could be updated, but the factors that make doing so expensive and time-consuming will also dramatically compound the effects of a severe solar storm. “Transformers are not just something you can go to Home Depot and buy,” Baker points out; each one is idiosyncratic, a half-million-pound object designed specifically for one of the fifteen hundred-plus entities, from publicly traded companies to energy coöperatives, that together constitute the power grid. As a result, transformers can’t be stockpiled. They are almost always built to spec, and they are almost all made abroad, which increases shipping times and leaves them vulnerable to political conflict and supply-chain issues. Even under optimal circumstances, the typical lead time to replace a transformer is at least a year. If enough of them fail in a solar storm, the recovery will not be measured in days (the length of time it took to get the power back after the Texas winter storms) or weeks (the length of time it took after Hurricane Katrina). It will be measured, almost unthinkably, in months and years.

That’s one reason Craig Fugate, the former fema administrator, thinks the one-to-two-trillion-dollar figure in the N.A.S. report is “probably on the low side.” But he also raises a problem that extends beyond the power grid: because solar storms affect an unusually wide geographic area and an unusually broad range of technologies, they are more likely than other disasters to cause cascading failures. A malfunction in one part of the grid forces electricity to flow elsewhere, overburdening a second part, which is then more likely to malfunction as well; the more such problems you string together, the greater the burden on the remaining parts, and the more likely a catastrophic failure. And what is true of the disaster is also true of the disaster response. Unlike terrestrial hazards, solar storms are not, in fema-speak, “geofenced.” They can affect large areas of the world, which minimizes access to outside help in the aftermath. If an earthquake devastates Los Angeles, aid can pour in from neighboring regions. But, if a solar storm devastates New York, anywhere close enough to help will likely be devastated, too...
Subscriber-walled long-read. Totally worth it. We'll see what happens.

 
On the evening news just now: "Major Geomagnetic Storm Warning Issued."
 

Above, Maine Aurora Borealis photo, from WaPo.

"THE REALLY BIG ONE"

While we're riffing on Kathryn Schulz, "The Really Big One."
...Most people in the United States know just one fault line by name: the San Andreas, which runs nearly the length of California and is perpetually rumored to be on the verge of unleashing “the big one.” That rumor is misleading, no matter what the San Andreas ever does. Every fault line has an upper limit to its potency, determined by its length and width, and by how far it can slip. For the San Andreas, one of the most extensively studied and best understood fault lines in the world, that upper limit is roughly an 8.2—a powerful earthquake, but, because the Richter scale is logarithmic, only six per cent as strong as the 2011 event in Japan

Just north of the San Andreas, however, lies another fault line. Known as the Cascadia subduction zone, it runs for seven hundred miles off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, beginning near Cape Mendocino, California, continuing along Oregon and Washington, and terminating around Vancouver Island, Canada. The “Cascadia” part of its name comes from the Cascade Range, a chain of volcanic mountains that follow the same course a hundred or so miles inland. The “subduction zone” part refers to a region of the planet where one tectonic plate is sliding underneath (subducting) another. Tectonic plates are those slabs of mantle and crust that, in their epochs-long drift, rearrange the earth’s continents and oceans. Most of the time, their movement is slow, harmless, and all but undetectable. Occasionally, at the borders where they meet, it is not.

Take your hands and hold them palms down, middle fingertips touching. Your right hand represents the North American tectonic plate, which bears on its back, among other things, our entire continent, from One World Trade Center to the Space Needle, in Seattle. Your left hand represents an oceanic plate called Juan de Fuca, ninety thousand square miles in size. The place where they meet is the Cascadia subduction zone. Now slide your left hand under your right one. That is what the Juan de Fuca plate is doing: slipping steadily beneath North America. When you try it, your right hand will slide up your left arm, as if you were pushing up your sleeve. That is what North America is not doing. It is stuck, wedged tight against the surface of the other plate.

Without moving your hands, curl your right knuckles up, so that they point toward the ceiling. Under pressure from Juan de Fuca, the stuck edge of North America is bulging upward and compressing eastward, at the rate of, respectively, three to four millimetres and thirty to forty millimetres a year. It can do so for quite some time, because, as continent stuff goes, it is young, made of rock that is still relatively elastic. (Rocks, like us, get stiffer as they age.) But it cannot do so indefinitely. There is a backstop—the craton, that ancient unbudgeable mass at the center of the continent—and, sooner or later, North America will rebound like a spring. If, on that occasion, only the southern part of the Cascadia subduction zone gives way—your first two fingers, say—the magnitude of the resulting quake will be somewhere between 8.0 and 8.6. That’s the big one. If the entire zone gives way at once, an event that seismologists call a full-margin rupture, the magnitude will be somewhere between 8.7 and 9.2. That’s the very big one.

Flick your right fingers outward, forcefully, so that your hand flattens back down again. When the next very big earthquake hits, the northwest edge of the continent, from California to Canada and the continental shelf to the Cascades, will drop by as much as six feet and rebound thirty to a hundred feet to the west—losing, within minutes, all the elevation and compression it has gained over centuries. Some of that shift will take place beneath the ocean, displacing a colossal quantity of seawater. (Watch what your fingertips do when you flatten your hand.) The water will surge upward into a huge hill, then promptly collapse. One side will rush west, toward Japan. The other side will rush east, in a seven-hundred-mile liquid wall that will reach the Northwest coast, on average, fifteen minutes after the earthqu..ake begins. By the time the shaking has ceased and the tsunami has receded, the region will be unrecognizable. Kenneth Murphy, who directs fema’s Region X, the division responsible for Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska, says, “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”

In the Pacific Northwest, the area of impact will cover some hundred and forty thousand square miles, including Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Salem (the capital city of Oregon), Olympia (the capital of Washington), and some seven million people. When the next full-margin rupture happens, that region will suffer the worst natural disaster in the history of North America, outside of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which killed upward of a hundred thousand people. By comparison, roughly three thousand people died in San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake. Almost two thousand died in Hurricane Katrina. Almost three hundred died in Hurricane Sandy. fema projects that nearly thirteen thousand people will die in the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. Another twenty-seven thousand will be injured, and the agency expects that it will need to provide shelter for a million displaced people, and food and water for another two and a half million. “This is one time that I’m hoping all the science is wrong, and it won’t happen for another thousand years,” Murphy says.

In fact, the science is robust, and one of the chief scientists behind it is Chris Goldfinger. Thanks to work done by him and his colleagues, we now know that the odds of the big Cascadia earthquake happening in the next fifty years are roughly one in three. The odds of the very big one are roughly one in ten. Even those numbers do not fully reflect the danger—or, more to the point, how unprepared the Pacific Northwest is to face it. The truly worrisome figures in this story are these: Thirty years ago, no one knew that the Cascadia subduction zone had ever produced a major earthquake. Forty-five years ago, no one even knew it existed...
A long-read. She got a Pulitzer for it. Unsurpringly
 
My elder grandson Keenan, his wife KJ, and my great grandson Kai are about to relocate from Kansas City to the Seattle area (KJ's sister lives there). This kind of stuff scares the stew outa me.


I have a long PacNW history. See here and here. Both of my now-late daughters were born there (1968, 1970).
 
MORE ON KATHRYN SCHULZ
 
 
Kathryn is married to her New Yorker colleague Casey Cep. I read Casey's debut book this week. A totally fine, compelling piece of serious work. That had not been on my radar.
 
Click.
_________
   

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Developments in AI "voice cloning"

ELEVENLABS IS BUILDING AN ARMY OF VOICE CLONES
A tiny start-up has made some of the most convincing AI voices. Are its creators ready for the chaos they’re unleashing?
By Charlie Warzel

My voice was ready. I’d been waiting, compulsively checking my inbox. I opened the email and scrolled until I saw a button that said, plainly, “Use voice.” I considered saying something aloud to mark the occasion, but that felt wrong. The computer would now speak for me.

I had thought it’d be fun, and uncanny, to clone my voice. I’d sought out the AI start-up ElevenLabs, paid $22 for a “creator” account, and uploaded some recordings of myself. A few hours later, I typed some words into a text box, hit “Enter,” and there I was: all the nasal lilts, hesitations, pauses, and mid-Atlantic-by-way-of-Ohio vowels that make my voice mine.

It was me, only more pompous. My voice clone speaks with the cadence of a pundit, no matter the subject. I type I like to eat pickles, and the voice spits it out as if I’m on Meet the Press. That’s not my voice’s fault; it is trained on just a few hours of me speaking into a microphone for various podcast appearances. The model likes to insert ums and ahs: In the recordings I gave it, I’m thinking through answers in real time and choosing my words carefully. It’s uncanny, yes, but also quite convincing—a part of my essence that’s been stripped, decoded, and reassembled by a little algorithmic model so as to no longer need my pesky brain and body…
  The Atlantic, Charlie Warzel: AI voice cloning
 
This stuff is getting so good, so rapidly. Beyond burgeoning anxieties with regard to job losses, we're gonna have increasing difficulties with "autheentication" (the "disinfo" thing).
 
OK, it's been on my to-do list to record myself on my Mac reading the entire U.S. Constitution from Preamble through the 27th Amendment and then post the mp3 online. I've read it aloud from start to finish several times and have studied it closely piecemeal going all the way back to graduate school in the mid- 1990s. I am fairly SME with the 4th Amendment in particular. It comprised a central focus of my nearly 300 page Master's Thesis (pdf). My personal study of a range of legal and constitutional issues has continued ever since graduate school. Here’s a post from last year. So, no, I don’t have much patience for people who blab on about such topics without any substantive underlying knowledge. 
 
Why bother? Well, again, it just goes to my ongoing irritation with our overpopulation of dilettante Barstool ConLaw Geniuses, most of whom have likely never read all of it, or rationally grasped its provisions (many of them elected officials, from Donald Trump on down). I would never be so arrogant as to claim ConLaw expertise (uh, for starters, IANAL). Nonetheless, in addition to my lengthy, ongoing reading-comprehension "hermeneutic"-level efforts, I have dug into and tabulated a bit of info perhaps of interest to all those "textualists" out there.
Current English language word count, 171,476, obsolete 47,156 (some authorities think the current active tally is a significant undercount)

US Constitution

  7,420 words total, *
  1,065 unique words,
  497 appearing only once (48%)
  (Preamble thru 27th Amendment, *Signators’ names excluded)

(Only 0.53% of all English words are in Constitution)

Words not found: “democracy,” “privacy” “outer” “perimeter”

Appearing 16 times: “vote” 14 “votes”
Appearing 9 times: “election”

Phrases not found:
   “Co-equal branch(es)”
   “Separation of Powers”
   “Checks and Balances”
   “outer perimeter”
___

153 sentences, 2 Declarative, 151 Imperative. Mostly compound / complex.

Punctuation:
89 semicolons
11 colons
559 commas
195 periods
24 dashes
5 open/close parentheses

Commonly listed English parts of speech are noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, preposition, conjunction, interjection, numeral, article, or determiner.

Numerals 1-10 (total 139, 1-27 inclusive):
1      32
2      29
3      15
4      18
5       8
6       6
7       5
8       3
9       3
10     2
And, while there's legal scholar consensus that the bulk of "Conservative Strict Construction Originalist Textualism" hovers at the semantic/contextual/phraseological level, SCOTUS Justice Barrett recently remarked at Orals "putting aside for the moment the meaning of the word 'and' and the placement of a comma..."
 
I  kiddeth thee not.
 
Back to my mp3 idea. I apparently can now just pay ElevenLabs $22 to digitally "clone" my voice, after which I could simply post fake recitations of all manner or prose I'd never read. Naysayers might well scoff at any genuine audio V/O.
So, for the near future, one might have to go all the way to a video talking-head recording of such material using YouTube to demonstrate one's chops. But, full-on “deep-fake“ video is likely not that far off either.
Charlie Warzel continues:
The uncomfortable reality is that there aren’t a lot of options to ensure bad actors don’t hijack these tools. “We need to brace the general public that the technology for this exists,” Staniszewski said. He’s right, yet my stomach sinks when I hear him say it. Mentioning media literacy, at a time when trolls on Telegram channels can flood social media with deepfakes, is a bit like showing up to an armed conflict in 2024 with only a musket.
BUT, THEN, ON THE OTHER HAND, THERE'S THIS...


That made me cry. Tears of joy. Back during my musician days, I used to sing his song “I’m Gonna Love You Forever” during my solo acoustic days. He was a great CW artist.  Using AI to extend his work in the wake of his severe stroke misfortune is a wonderful application of this technology.

BTW, I riffed a bit on malign AI potential back in December.
 
UPDATE: SOME THOUGHTS OF JACOB COLLIER
 
 
JACOB!!!

 
Jacob Collier is now 30. He is without any exaggeration a complete musical / music technology genius. He is also no mere studio / tech performer. Below, 2 hours of jaw-dropping live concert performance in Lisbon.


His band, (half brilliant female), is simply fabulous.
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Sunday, May 5, 2024

"It doesn't matter what’s true," continued.

The Allure of Certainty (Kathryn Schulz)

The trouble began, as it so often does, with taxes. In AD 6, the Roman Empire, ramping up its policy of territorial expansion and control, decided to impose a tariff on the Jews of the province of Judaea, in what is now Israel and the West Bank. By then, the local Jews had been living under a capricious and often cruel Roman rule for seventy years, so the tax issue was hardly their only grievance. Still, it rankled, and the question of what to do about it caused a schism in the community. The majority heeded the counsel of the high priest Joazar and reluctantly agreed to pay up in the interest of keeping the peace. But a handful, led by one Judas of Galilee, rebelled. Disgusted by what he saw as Joazar’s complicity with Roman rule, Judas vowed to establish a new sect of Jews whose members, in the words of the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, “have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord.”

That sounds like an honorable attitude. And a courageous one: Judas and his followers, a small and marginalized minority, took on one of history’s most formidable imperial states. As such, they seem like good candidates for hero status in the eyes of their fellow Jews, ancient and modern—and some people view them that way. But to Josephus, and to many others before and since, they were little better than villains and murderers. Judas’s sect practiced a scorched-earth policy (including against other Jews, to deprive them of food and shelter and thereby force them to join the sectarian fight), advocated the outright murder not only of Romans but also of Jewish “collaborators” (essentially, anyone with less single-minded politics than their own), and contributed to the destruction of Jerusalem and the ferocity of Roman reprisals through their own extreme violence and unwillingness to negotiate. Josephus records a characteristic raid—the sacking of the Jewish enclave of Ein-Gedi, where the able-bodied men apparently fled, and, “As for such that could not run away, being women and children, they slew of them above seven hundred.” The historian sums up the sect and its legacy this way:

All sorts of misfortunes also sprang from these men, and the nation was infected with this doctrine to an incredible degree; one violent war came upon us after another, and we lost our friends which used to alleviate our pains; there were also very great rob beries and murder of our principal men…. Such a change was made, as added a mighty weight toward bringing all to destruction, which these men occasioned by their thus conspiring together; for Judas and Sadduc [another leader of the rebellion], who excited a fourth philosophic sect among us, and had a great many followers therein, filled our civil government with tumults at present, and laid the foundations of our future miseries.

Who were the members of this “fourth philosophic sect,” in all their unphilosophical brutality? These were the original, capital-Z Zealots. History doesn’t record the fate of Judas, but most of the other Zealots perished in the first Jewish-Roman war, which began in AD 66 and ended four years later, with the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the defeat of the Jews. A small band of survivors retreated to a fort at Masada, near the Dead Sea, where they held off a Roman siege for three years. When the Romans finally breached the fort, they discovered that its 960 inhabitants had organized a mass self-slaughter, murdering one another (suicide being forbidden in Hebrew law) rather than letting themselves be captured or killed by the RomansAs the generic use of their name suggests, the legacy of the Zealots was not ideological but methodological. Murdering in the name of faith, religious or otherwise, was hardly unheard of before they came along, but they clarified and epitomized it as a practice. In the two millennia since the last of Judas of Galilee’s Zealots perished, a thousand lowercase zealots have kept that legacy alive—meaning, they have killed in its name. These latter-day zealots have hailed from many different backgrounds and held many different beliefs. At heart, though, and paradoxically, they have all shared a single conviction: that they and they alone are in possession of the truth. (The very word “zealot” comes from a Greek root meaning to be jealous of the truth—to guard it as your own.) What zealots have in common, then, is the absolute conviction that they are right. In fact, of all the symbolic ones and zeros that extremists use to write their ideological binary codes—us/them, same/different, good/evil—the fundamental one is right/wrong. Zealotry demands a complete rejection of the possibility of error.

The conviction that we cannot possibly be wrong: this is certainty. We’ve seen a lot of this conviction already, in the form of people who are sure they can see, or sure of what they do see (mountain chains, pregnant women), or sure of what they believe or predict or recall. Most of the time, this garden-variety certainty seems far removed from zealotry—and in a sense, it is. There’s a very big difference between, say, insisting that you are right about Orion and, say, murdering the Protestants, Muslims, Jews, bigamists, blasphemers, sodomites, and witches who are defiling your country. Not everyone who is filled with passionate certitude is Torquemada…


Schulz, Kathryn. Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error Chapter 8 (pp. 159-162). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Kathryn published those thoughts in 2010. Still reads much like yesterday (arguably moreso). Being Wrong is one of my favorite books. Do yourselves a favor. Get it. Study it closely.

I bought the book in hardcover when it first came out, then later also bought the Kindle edition, for ease of further study and citation. I've long read her work in The New Yorker. She is a fabulous writer and thinker. This post is intended to continue the riff begun in the prior post. No timely "Zealotry" flying around these days, right? Hmmm... let us not forget today's Christian Nationalist Warriors, either.

"Two Cheers for Uncertainty"


Yeah, that always gets 'em going.

UPDATE ERRATUM

I diverged into downloading and reading Kathryn Schulz's memoir. Hit 'pause' on the world while I finished it.

   
I am rarely at a loss for apt words, but, this is one of those times.
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