- changelog -
* HTTPS now enabled by default, for privacy and maybe speed. That took some time.
Mr. Robo: Oh hai, human, you're back! Mr. Ham has been missing for the past week or so, by the way...
Me: He stowed away in the baggage. I suppose that's illegal importation of animals into Oz, but I don't want to know. Thing about travelling, is all the reading that one has to catch up on *flicks through stack of The State's Times* hmmm, donation box takings are falling as citizens succumb to the War on Cash... I'd say the solution's right in the next section of the paper, just slap a QR code on the donation box too. We can learn much from China in that regard, I'd say.
While we're on this, I might as well mention that the "stablecoin" Basecoin - apparently rebranded as Basis somewhere along the line - is closing down, more or less as we anticipated in January. The official reason was stated to be regulatory burdens, but one suspects that the premise was fatally flawed in the first place, as many commentators have noted. The dominant stablecoin design has instead been the Tether model - fully-backed, with a central issuing authority - and Bitfinex has just supported six of the best.
The major concern about such setups, of course, remains the possibility that the central authorities practise fractional reserve creation of money, instead of maintaining full collateral as promised. While we'll defer more in-depth discussion on this, and the general crypto scene, to the New Year as is traditional here, I'll just note that the Bitcoin community is pushing for a "Proof of Keys" event, in which users withdraw their holdings from third-parties such as exchanges en masse. The idea is that any deception would be uncovered, since this amounts to an audit on the canonical Bitcoin ledger.
But then we remember...
Mr. Robo: Yeah, these are some testing times for crypto.
Me: Eh, it'll pass. *flips through magazines* Let's see... the AlphaZero paper finally came out in Science. Interestingly, in rediscovering all of chess theory from scratch by itself in nine hours, it wound up overwhelmingly favouring the English Opening and Queen's Gambit, over the human-favoured Open Game. Definitely, this won't be the last word on chess, and many real-life problems unfortunately can't be reduced to discrete legal moves with a constrained ruleset, but it remains another historic milestone of sorts.
And back about the open-access Plan S, the Europeans have indeed taken the obvious move after our September analysis, by a direct appeal to the White House. Although a definitive response hasn't been forthcoming from America as far as I could discern, some of their major funders have signed on, and China now appears to be largely on board too. Though there has also been some moderation, in particular the withdrawal of an outright ban on hybrid journals as long as an open copy is also posted online, this has the makings of a sea change in academic publishing. Emboldened universities are meanwhile continuing to turn the screws through purchasing and reviewing boycotts, and I'm quite eager to see how the big publishers wriggle their way out of this one.
Mr. Robo: And how was the conference?
Me: The usual. Deep learning methods well in vogue - which is not entirely positive, mind - some brave holdouts sticking to more classical computer vision algos, and a good portion of the presented papers touting improvements over CVPR/NIPS works. The publishing cycle seems to have accelerated if anything, at least on benchmark-based problems. As for Perth itself, fine weather, blessed low humidity. Took the opportunity to explore Fremantle and Rottnest Island too.
Of Laughter And Loathing
A highlight of the trip was the Jim Jeffries Night Talker standup comedy show, which also featured opening sets by Craig Quartermaine, Amos Gill and Forrest Shaw. All were pretty hilarious once they got going, and while I won't go into specifics (their material is hard-won, after all), certain perennial themes were on display: buttering up the audience (generally by putting down Sydneysiders/Melburnians/the Kiwis), self-deprecation (oft involving their luck with the ladies) and baser bodily functions (you'd be amazed what heights a fart joke can rise to, from the butt of a master). They do keep abreast of current affairs too, with Crazy Rich Asians, Bitcoin and social media in general referenced - a proposal that people who post more than two Instagram selfies a day should be hanged was roundly applauded, for example.
Jefferies himself - now with his own spot on Comedy Central - would hold court after a long interval, and his frame story would be on intolerance - lactose-intolerance, to be exact. This unavoidably-scatological telling would be punctuated by various shorts (logical transitions not required) , one of which was about the right of the elderly to be racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic etc; so the reasoning goes, a silver lining of getting old is that one can eventually be as offensive as one desires (Prince Philip is probably the godfather of this principle). The flipside, then, is that the new generation can't be any of this, and the unsaid undercurrent was then, is this silence good?
Comedy has always been a means for subversion against the powers that be - those that might not willingly sit down to dissect long-winded formal rhetoric might yet be swayed by a one-liner zinger, and the nature of the genre allows for easy defusion of tension that might have no escape in more-serious settings: "it's just a joke, bro". Certainly, jokes can still go too far for some, but the point remains: topics that might otherwise never gain a hearing in polite company, can have their moment in the sun, in the spirit of levity and equal-opportunity dissing.
Jefferies, for example, explores corporal punishment for children. This is a no-go in normal conversation - how does one propose that beating kids is good? However, by building to the punchline that had his son realised that he was out of ideas if he had just walked away from a time-out session, Jefferies manages to get across that hey, maybe rapping knuckles does make sense. Similarly, is letting pre-teens transition their gender really wise ("when I was eight, I wanted to be a doctor. I'm not a doctor.")? Should people be slammed for Twitter brainfarts from years ago, with explicit reference to the Kevin Hart case? Surely this policing has to stop somewhere?
I have been thinking about the American Culture Wars for awhile, and my conclusion as of now is that the American Left has become a Church. Recall all the characteristics that recent generations rebelled against - the uptight moral superiority, inflexible ideology, internal clamping down of dissent, and ostracism and shunning as a means of social control: all this, once largely the province of insular religious congregations, are behaviours now increasingly adopted by the self-styled intelligentsia, and even in academia. Perhaps sensing the opening, the Right has to me been cleverly positioning themselves as the funny ones, who can laugh at themselves. Case in point, the rise of Christian The Onion-like satire with The Babylon Bee, as the Left transforms into schoolmarm-nuns.
Case Study: Macron
The sad thing is, his analysis is fundamentally accurate
[Runner-up burn: Moscow calls on France to ensure safety of journalists amid yellow vest protests]
Well, you just knew it was coming. Not a month after slamming TRUMP for being prevented from attending an Armistice ceremony by his security detail, and denouncing nationalism wholesale, Macron has found himself on the wrong end of some good old-fashioned Gallic national patriotism. Paris saw its biggest riots in fifty years, as French citizens were driven to realize that globalization ain't all it's cracked up to be either.
A French doctoral student in sociology has given his take on the geopolitics subreddit, which I think covers the gist of it: the riots - which are broadly supported by the majority of the native populace, mind - arose from the general slashing of benefits for the common people, concurrent with lowered taxes for Big Business. The last straw was a fuel tax and tax on older vehicles - coincidentally what the poor are forced to rely on - because anti-global warming. You love the planet, right?
The trouble, however, is that the tax increase was firstly highly-regressive, hitting the poorest hardest, and secondly widely seen as a pretext to collect money for the general budget, with only a fraction going towards green initiatives. As to how it has played out, despite some brave words from Macron about not bowing to "thugs", he changed his tune double-quick after the guillotine was trundled out, and the fuel tax is, as of last week, officially scrapped. What begins in Paris, ends in Paris, it seems.
Macron's headache isn't over as the protestors - now aware of the strong position they are in - are refusing to settle for crumbs, even as the globalist mainstream media continues to try and portray him as popular (now just 23% approval), while minimizing coverage of the riots, instead yelling up ORANGE MAN BAD for walking offstage. The French establishment are copying the playbook of their American counterparts by scapegoating the Russians, but the true explanation may be rather simpler: environmental consciousness has again been used to dump costs onto the vulnerable lower classes - since capital is untouchable thanks to globalization - and they've finally had enough.
Pick your class, and join the revolution!
[To be continued...]
Next: The Man Who Abides
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