Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Information by James Gleick

_The Information:  A History, a Theory, a Flood_ by James Gleick
NY:  Pantheon Books, 2011
ISBN 978-0-375-42372-7

(22)  He [John Carrington] finally published his discoveries about drums in 1949, in a slim volume titled The Talking Drums of Africa.

(25)  Songe, the moon, is rendered as songe li tange la manga - "the moon looks down at the earth."  Koko, the fowl, is rendered koko lonogo l bokiokio - "the fowl, the little one that says kiokio."  The extra drumbeats, far from being extraneous, provide context.  Every ambiguous word begins in a cloud of possible alternative interpretations;  then the unwanted possibilities evaporate.  This takes place below the level of consciousness.  Listeners are hearing only staccato drum tones, low and high, but in effect they "hear" the missing consonants and vowels, too.  For that matter, they hear whole phrases, not individual words.  "Among peoples who know nothing or writing or grammar, a word per se, cut out of its sounds group, seems almost to cease to be an intelligible articulation."  Captain Rattray reported.

The stereotyped long tails flap along, their redundancy overcoming ambiguity.  The drum language is creative, freely generating neologisms for innovations from the north:  steamboats, cigarettes, and the Christian god being three that Carrington particularly noted.  bUt drummers begin by learning the traditional fixed formulas.  Indeed, the formulas of the African drummers sometimes preserve archaic words that have been forgotten in the everyday language.  For the Yaunde, the elephant is always "the great awkward one."  The resemblance to Homeric formulas - not merely Zeus, but Zeus the cloud gatherer;  not just the sea, but the wine-dark sea - is no accident. In an oral culture, inspiration has to serve clarity and memory first.  The Muses are the daughters of Mnemosyne.
NB:  Alfred Lord, Singer of Tales

(39)  Oral people lacked the categories that become second nature even to illiterate individuals in literate cultures:  for example, for geometrical shapes.  Shown drawings of circles and squares, they named them as "plate, sieve, bucket, watch, or moon" and "mirror, door house, apricot drying board."  They could not, or would not, accept logical syllogisms.  A typical question:

In the Far North, where there is snow, all bears are white.  Novaya Zembla is in the Far North and there is always snow there.  What color are the bears?

Typical response:  "I don't know.  I've seen a black bear.  I've never seen any others... Each locality has its own animals."

By contrast, a man who has just learned to read and write responds, "To go by your words, they should all be white."  To go by your words - in that phrase, a level is crossed.

(166)  "A word is a tool for thinking, before the thinker uses it as a signal for communicating his thought," asserted in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in 1873.

(229) Looking at correlations extending over eight letters, [Claude] Shannon estimated that English has a built-in redundancy of about 50%:  that each new character of a message conveys not 5 bits but only about 2.3.  Considering longer-range statistical effects, at the level of sentences and paragraphs, he raised that estimate to 75% - warning, however, that such estimates become "more erratic and uncertain, and they depend more critically on the type of text involved."  One way to measure redundancy was crudely empirical:  carry out a psychology test with a human subject.  This method "exploits the fact that anyone speaking  a language possesses, implicitly, an enormous knowledge of the statistics of the language."

(247)  Information is surprise.
NB:  Surprise is an attitude.  It does not have to be novelty.

(266)  Later, he [Claude Shannon] wrote thousands of words on scientific aspects of juggling - with theorems and corollaries - and included from memory a quotation from E. E. Cummings:  "Some son-of-a-bitch will invent a machine to measure Spring with."

(280)  To the physicist, entropy is a measure of uncertainty about the state of a physical system:  one state among all the possible states it can be in.  These microstates may not be equally likely, so the physicist writes  S = -∑ p sub i log p sub i.

To the information theorist, entropy is a measure of uncertainty about a message:  one message among all the possible mesages that a communications source can produce.  The possible messages may not be equally likely, so Shannon wrote H = -∑ p sub i log p sub i

It is not just a coincidence of formalism:  nature providing similar answers to similar problems,  It is all one problem, to reduce entropy in a box of gas, to perform useful work, one pays a price in information.  Likewise, a particular message reduces the entropy in the ensemble of possible messages - in terms of dynamical systems, a phase space.

(298)  Crick's Central Dogma:  "Once 'information' has passed into protein it cannot get out again.  In more detail, the transfer of information from nucleic acid to nucleic acid, or from nucleic acid to protein may be possible, but transfer from protein to protein, or from protein to nucleic acid is impossible.  Information means here the precise determination of sequence."

(337)  The Kolmogorov complexity of an object is the size, in bits, of the shortest algorithm needed to generate it.  This is also the amount of information.  And it is also the degree of randomness - Kolmogorov declared "a new conception of the notion 'random' corresponding to the natural assumption that randomness is the absence of regularity."  The three are fundamentally equivalent:  information, randomness, and complexity - three powerful abstractions, bound all along like secret lovers.

(343)  As [Gregory] Chaitin put it, "God not only plays dice in quantum mechanics and nonlinear dynamics, but even in elementary number theory."

Among its lessons were these:
Most numbers are random.  Yet every few of them can be _proved_ random.
A choice steam of information may yet hide a simple algorithm.  Working backward from the chaos to the algorithm may be impossible.
Kolmogorov-Chaitin (KC) complexity is to mathematics what entropy is to thermodynamics:  the antidote to perfection.  Just as we can have no perpetual-motion machines, there can be no complex formal axiomatic systems.
Some mathematical facts are true for no reason.  They are accidental, lacking a cause or deeper meaning.

(361)  On the contrary, it seemed that most logical operations have no entropy cost at all.  When a bit flips from zero to one, or vice-versa, the information is preserved.  The process is reversible.  Entropy is unchanged;  no heat needs to be dissipated.  Only an irreversible operation, he argued, increases entropy.

(362)  In every case, Bennett found, heat dissipation occurs only when information is _erased_.  Erasure is the irreversible logical operation.  When the head on a Turing machine erases one square of the tape, or when an electronic computer clears a capacitor, a bit is lost, and _then_ heat must be dissipated.  In Szilard's thought experiment, the demon does not incur an entropy cost when it observes or chooses a molecule.  The payback comes at the moment of clearing the record, when the demon erases one observation to make room for the next.

Forgetting takes work.

(365)  It [qubit] is not just either-or.  Its 0 and 1 values are represented by quantum states that can be reliably distinguished - for example, horizontal and vertical polarizations - but coexisting with these are the whole continuum of intermediate states, such as diagonal polarizations, that lean toward 0 or 1 with different probabilities.  So a physicist says that a qubit is a _superposition_ of states;  a combination of probability amplitudes.  It is a determinate thing with a cloud of indeterminacy living inside.  But the qubit is not a muddle;  a superposition is not a hodgepodge but a combining of probabilistic elements according to clear and elegant mathematical rules.
NB:  Buddhist logic:  yes, no, not yes, not no, neither yes nor no, both yes and no.  I have discovered that when you use Buddhist logic as the responses in a poll, readers like don't understand the question? and none of the above.

(369)  In quantum computing, multiple qubits are entangled.  Putting qubits at work together does not merely multiply their power;  the power increases exponentially.  In classical computing, where a bit is either-or, n bits can encode any one of 2 to the n values.  Qubits can encode these Boolean values along with all their possible superpositions.  This gives a quantum computer a potential for parallel processing that has no classical equivalent.

(389)  onomastics "is the study of proper names of all kinds and the origins of names."

(395)  A gigabyte also encompasses the entire human genome.  A thousand of those would fill a terabyte.

(399)  Elizabeth Eisenstein The Printing Press as an Agent of Change

(477)  Aunger, Robert, ed.  Darwinizing Culture:  The Status of Memetics as a Science.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2000

(479)  Bikhchandani, Sushil, David Hirshleifer, and Ivo Welch.  "A theory of Fads, Fashion, Custom, and Cultural Change as Informational Cascades."  Journal of Political Economy 100, no. 5 (1992);  992-1026.

(487)  Goody, Jack.  The Interface Between the Written and the Oral.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1987.

(492)  Lynch, Aaron.  Thought Contagion:  How Belief Spreads Through Society.  New York:  Basic Books, 1996.

(495)  Ong, Walter.  Interfaces of the Word.  Ithaca, NY:  Cornell Unviersity Press, 1977
Ong Walter.  Orality and Literacy:  The Technologizing of the Word.  London:  Methuen, 1982

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Hope Dies Last

_Hope Dies Last:  Keeping the Faith in Difficult Times_ by Studs Terkel

(xvii)  Thomas Paine:  "Freedom has been hunted round the globe;  reason was considered as rebellion;  and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think.  But such is the irresistible nature of turth that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing... In such a situation, man becomes what he ought.  He sees his species, not with the inhuman idea of a natural enemy, but as a kindred.

(xxii)  The cold war had begun.  For professional patriots at home it had become boom time in domestic as well as foreign affairs.

(xxvi)  The Wobblies referred to their antagonists as scissorbills, "capitalists with holes in their pockets."

(31)  On the radio, on V-E Day, we listened to Norman Corwin's _On a Note of Triumph_.  All the networks shut dowm to listen to it.

(44)  Admiral Gene LaRoque;  When other countries are involved in war, they talk about when war comes.  We Americans talk about when we _go_ to war, because that's what we do:  we go _somewhere else_ to war.  We are going to war with increasing frequency.  The American public seems very happy about it because, I think, they are not aware of how frequently we go to war, and how powerfully our military influence is felt throughout the world.

(45)  They [the American public] want the excitement and the pleasure of fighting a war, as long as we go somewhere else.

(48)  Paul Tibbetts:  "My edict was as clear as could be.  Drop simultaneously in Europe and the Pacific.  Because of the secrecy problem, you couldn't drop it in one part of the world without dropping it in the other."

(51)  The Hiroshima bomb did not make a mushroom.  It was what I call a stringer.  It just came up.  It was black as hell, and it had light and colors and white in it and gray color in it and the top was like a folded up Christmas tree.

(53)  Unknown to anybody else - I knew it, but nobody else knew - there was a third one.  See, the first bomb went off, and they didn't hear anything out of the Japanese for two or three days.  The second bomb was dropped, and again they were silent for another couple of days.  Then I got a phone call from General Curtis LeMay [chief of staf of the Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific].  He said, "You got another one of those damn things?"  I said, "Yessir."  He said, "Where is it?"  I said, "Over in Utah."  He said, "Get it out here.  You and your crew are going to fly it.  I said, "Yessir."  I sent word back and the crew loaded it on an airplane and when they got it to the California debarkation point, the war was over.

(70)  Tom Hayden:  So this is the last stage.  You know what that is?  To be an elder.  The problem with the sixties, as I look back, was a problem of the elders.  It was always defined as a problem of youth, a crisis of youth.  But really that was how the elders defined it.  The real problem was that the elders weren't there.  The elders missed the point entirely.  I live now with one goal:  to try to learn to be the kind of elder who was missing when I was a kid.

(80)  Arlo Guthrie:  We have used up most of our humanity in inhuman ways.  That's the great disaster.  So we end up weak instead of strong.

(83)  I remembered the day it ended.  We were protesting the buiding the Seabrook nuclear power plant in New Hampshire.  We had been at a bunch of these things for the last decade - civil rights, ban the bomb, stop the war, clean the water, whatever - and we had laways marched down these streets and boulevards singing the usual songs, "We Shall Overcome," "I Ain't Gonna Study War No More" songs.  All of a sudden, I saw a placard that somebody was holding.  It said:  _Lesbians Plumbers from Albany, New York, against nuclear power_.  Although it was funny and wonderful in some ways, I also realized that this was the end.  Now people were using these events to justify who they were and not simply to end the nuclear threat in the area.  And I think I was right.

I remember the last time the Names Project quilt, the AIDS quilt, was unfolded in Washington, DC.  I was there, I spoke, I'm walking down the street, and they were playing canned music.  I thought to myself:  _Isn't it interesting?  None of these people could possibly have been at the civil rights demonstrations or anywhere else where live music played such an important role.  If they had been, they would have _known_ the power of playing our own music.  And they've totally missed the opportunity.  We're playing canned stuff over the speaker systems as if we were all supposed to sing along with a record._  I thought, _What a shame._  I felt my world had ended in some ways;  that that time of the sixties was definitely over.  The great tragedy of these times that we're living in is that we have given up the voice of the average guy and we now listen to the people who profit from canned stuff.

(90)  JK Galbraith:  As things now stand, we allow enormous incompetence and enormous compensation to those who have power.  I see that as a great unsolved problem of our time.  And since it is all quite legal, I call it the likelihood of innocent fraud.

(109)  Ken Paff, Teamsters for a Democratic Union:  That was a good time to be coming up, the sixties.  We believed that ordinary people could change things.

(115)  In TDU, when our organizers go out and travel, we stay in people's homes.  Most labor organizers stay in hotels.  We started doing that to save money, but if I had a million dollars, I still wouldn't change it.  That's what builds a movement, when you start bonding with people.  I see new people coming up all the time in the Teamsters, warehouse workers and meatpackers and truck drivers and UPS part-timers that sort the packages in the middle of the night, those that are willing to put in their own time, that are willing to risk a lot, and fight as a democratic group, not where greed is king but where solidarity is king.

(123)  Roberta Lynch:  See, hope to me is about possibility.  You feel that things can happen.

(129)  Tom Geoghegan:  I was a child of the Warren Court.  In law school at that time, we were studying the great decisions of the Warren Court, Brown vs Board, all the way up to cases lke San Antonio vs Rodgriguez, where lawyers were saying that the equal protection clause prohibited denial of equal protection for people of different incomes.  It was a movement from racil civil rights to economic rights.  It was a very exciting time.  Wages were still going up.  Equality of income was increasing in the lates sixties and early seventies. It was the end of the Great Society.  It was still the era of the activist.  That's why the idea of full employment was so wonderful back then.  Full employment meant the cornucopia. Then the country turned around and went in the other direction.  What really has driven the country, in the twenty-nine years since I began practicing, as been the decline of orgainzed labor, which means the increase in inequality of income, which means people dropping out of the process, which means people not voting, which means people giving up, which means resignation.  In some ways, it's been interesting because you try to be contrarian.

(135)  Tim Black:  Incidentally, my slave name, Black, comes from the family of Hugo Black, the Supreme Court justice.  Hugo Black's father was my grandfather's slave master.  My grandfather was Hugo Black's father's personal servant.  He was called a body servant.  So he had special privileges.  Hugo Black and my father continued to have a friendly relationship through their childhoods.  When Franklin Delano Roosevelt nominated Hugo Black for the Supreme Court, I said to my father, "How could he do this with an ex-Ku Klux Klansman?  My father, who didn't like white people in general, put his cigar out of his mouth and said, "He'll be all right."  I thought my father had lost his mind.  But he kenw Hugo Black, and history will record that Hugo Black was all right, better than all right.

(139)  I used to say in my classes, black and white:  "How do you stay sane in an insane society?"  The community concept is one way - the feelings of security, of trust, of sharing.  Otherwise you would think that you're crazy and they're sane.  As I look at the break down in every institutional aspect of the black community, it is a precursor of the coming breakdown in the family, I see the breakdown in the community churches, I see the breakdown in the schools where the teachers have almost no relationship with one another, or certainly with the families of these children.  I see it in the commercial institutions that have almost no relationship with the community.  There is a breakdown of the spirituality of a community.  No one has responsibility for anyone else except to the bank, to the corporation.  The nation has no meaning.  The corporation has the meaning.  So what we see in the black community, we can begin to discern in the larger white community. 

(148)  Reverend Will D Campbell:  When I went there [University of Mississippi], there was a poll taken.  Seventy-five percent of the student body said they would not object to a black graduate student coming there.  But three months after Brown vs Board, that same poll showed like ten percent.  You can trace it to the organization of the White Citizens' Council.  Had that not happened, there would have been some murmuring, but people were already saying, "We're law-abiding people and this is the Constitution, this is the Supreme Court.  What can we do?"  They would have worked it out.  But when people like Jim Easland and that crowd started screaming, "Never!" and organized the White Citizens' Council, that negated Brown vs Board.  To this day it still doesn't work.  Six-year-old black children always played with the little six-year-old white children.  There wasn't anything they could do about that.  I grew up playing with black children.  Nobody thought anything about it.  I'd spend the night down at Leon's house, sleep on a pallet with him.  But you wouldn't have that after 1954, and you don't have much of it today.

(150)  When 9/11 happened, I was in Jackson, Mississippi.  I went downstairs.  The lobby was just filled with people, and everyone was glued to the television.  I saw this little girl pulling on her mothers skirt, and her mother was just hysterical watching the television.  teh little girl kept saying, "What'd we do?"  A little child, when they're punished, they know they;ve done something bad.  "What'd we do?"  I thought, _That may be the most profound question, the question that no politican in this country has tried to answer._  the only thing they say is, "What are we going to do about it?"  The little girl was asking the right question.  We've done a lot.  the thousands of people who die every day from starvation.  I'm not saying that we as a nation caused it, but we as a rich nation could, by God, have prevented a great deal of it, and stll can.  And our policies in the Near East, for God's sake...  I don't know what the answer is between the Palestinians amd the Israelis, but I know goddamn well the answer is not to go over there and bomb the hell out of Baghdad.

Reverend Will D Campbell:  His most celebrated book is _Brother to a Dragonfly_. 

(153)  Lloyd King:  We may learn to live together as brothers, but nobody fights like brothers fight.  Brothers know how to fight dirty;  they push each other's buttons.

(158)  Mel Leventhal:  One of the most important facts about civil rights workers in Mississippi is we didn't realize how _impossible_ it was.  You don't think in terms of the negatives. A lot of it's got to do with youth.  Without youth we can't get anywhere.

(159)  This was the beginning of the so-called black power slogan.  One of the ironies of the civil rights mvoement, to me, is that while it was going on there was great concern that America would see the movement as being led by whites, and black peopel as not really involved.  I'll be damned if history hasn't turned that on its head.  You look at the historians and the people writing about the movement, it's like no whites were involved....

History is being rewritten to eliminate all the white people who participated in the movement.  [Chuckles]  They're being written out.  This is terrible for America, because you're not going to have progress without these coalitions.  It was white and black together;  we've lost that.

(174)  Deborah Bayly:  When I graduated, I came back and started teaching in the public schools.  I loved it.  You can't work with kids if you've lost your hope.

(180)  Quinn Brisben:  I came to the conclusion, fairly early on, that there never had been a normal time, that the good old days never were, the golden age never existed;  that you can only go forward.  There is no back.  So the only thing you can do is try to make the forward as good as possible, and not be too terribly disappointed when you get it.

(192)  Andrew McNeil:  What was I hoping for as a kid?  [Laughs]  I hope to really, really love someone for my whole life.  I hope for a family.  I hope for a chance to be myself as much as I can.

(205)  Dierdre Merriman:  No alcoholic has hope.

(215)  John Donahue:  Some people who are better off have the luxury of losing hope.  But poor people never lose hope.  They can't afford to.  That's the only thing they can hold on to, and that's where hope springs eternal.  

(217)  Now, here's the connection with the homeless.  A guy who was in a shelter in Northampton, Massachusetts, Ron St Pierre, a homeless heroin addict, fell in love with his case manager, and she straightened him out.  They started a coffee-roasting business with homeless people.  It's called Café Habitat in Northampton.  Last summer, I took them down to the cooperative in the mountains of Panama, and they're now importing the coffee, roasting, it and packaging it, and I have here for you a package of Coalition Café.

(219)  But it also conincided with Reagan's Make America Strong:  increase the military budget fifty percent, decrease social programs over ninety percent.  And especially decrease public housing.  That was the beginning of the end of public housing.  That began modern homelessness.

In the eighties, when the coalition started, a homeless person was a man.  In the nineties, it was a woman of color.  In the millennium, children, just like at the turn of the nineteenth century.  In the new millennium, the average age of a homeless person is nine years old.  This has to do with welfare reform and the demoliton of public housing.

(233)  Mike Gecan _Going Public_ Boston:  Beacon Press, 2002

(237)  So I just went on to CAP, the Citizen Action Program, and from there to IAF[Industrial Areas Foundation].  Ed Chambers was reorganizing organizing.  He had a couple of insights.  One was that you had to build organizing through institutions.  You couldn't just organize with people around causes, because if the cause lost or won, the thing would evaporate.  You had to have some kind of institutional base.  His second big insight was to have a systematic training of leaders.  Just as with actors and actresses, you have to keep working at that craft.  

(240)  There was a woman named Alice McCollum, a mother of ten, a single mother, black, lived in a terrible apartment.  A lovely person, great sense of humor.  That's a big part of lfie, by the way.  Big thing in organizing, mostly missed.  That's what the ideologues never quite get.  Good people like to laugh, it's not all grim, and its not all of us and them and they're the devils and we're the angels.

(241)  About half the people asked the most beautiful question you could hear in organizing:  "What do we do next?"  The other half went back to their lives and never forgot that experience.

The more experiences people have like that, you don't have to tell them, "Now you got power."  They _know_ it, they _feel_ it.  We got all of these local issues that were important unto themselves, but the  most important thing was what was happenign to the people.  They were feeling effective and they were having fun, and they were beginning to see that they could do things, and they were getting wild and interesting reactions from people in power they never imagined they'd get.

(243)  Linda Stout:  She is the executive director of the Peace Development Fund, Amherst, Massachusetts.

(253)  Green Belt Movement and cleaner cookstoves?

(259)  Francis Moore Lappé:  Hope is an act, hope is in action.  Hope is not something we find, hope is something we become.  It took on a whole different meaning to us.

(260)  To create genuine community, we have to overcome our fear of losing community.

(295)  Maggie Mortningstone:   If you're in the middle class, if you're not very poor or very rich, I think you have a bigger capacity for hope because you have less stress in your life.  If you don't have a lot, then you're worried about getting something.  If you have a lot, then you're worried about keeping it.  But if you have just a little bit, then you can just live.

(319)  Kathy Kelly:  I don't think I picked up again that things could hcange until I fell in with these people who would just say, "Look, I'm responsible.  It's not what are the leaders going to do, it's what am _I_ going to do?  Am I going to take the weapons out of my own personal budget?  Am I going to personally take resonsibility to put a plate of food in front of somebody who's hungry?  Am I going to have a crash room in my home and take a homeless person into my home?  So we couldn't always be asking the government to solve problems;  we'd change these patterns of lifestyle ourselves.  And then find out it's not hard.  It's interesting and easy and attractive.

(322)  I think we said the St. Francis peace prayer:  "Lord, make me a channel of your peace.  Where there is darkness, let me sow light, where there is sadness, joy, where there is despair, hope..." 

Prayer of Saint Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.