Sunday, December 31, 2023

I'd forgotten to do this. [see Jan.]

Mirowski, "The Evolution of Platform Science"
Draft 2.0, April 2023

There is a massive literature explaining how large language models comprised of neural networks actually function; but most of the crucial points can be made without venturing into theweeds of computer science. These chatbots are based on large scale statistical exercises, trained upon truly massive datasets. They are language models because they extract and report specific words (sentences, paragraphs, etc.) that would most likely follow on from the inputs supplied by the interlocutor. In the first instance, there is nothing at all present that could be graced with the term ‘intelligence’; rather, it is an overgrown word autocompletion algorithm, not so very different from one that you might find on your phone or word processor. But that is only in the first instance; chatbots are not entirely automated in their so-called ‘deep learning’ process, but are also subject to the intervention of actual human beings at various junctures in their training regimens. This is revealed in Figure I, taken directly from the website of Open AI

image source: 

Far from ‘improving’ the chatbot outputs, what these interventions do is feed further noise and indeterminacy to the system. These workers (not just ‘labelers’, pace the Figure) take the statistical results and censor or skew them according to principles which are nowhere present in the software or the underlying data sets. For instance, what the low-paid censor considers lifelikeor transgressionary may vary widely according to local standards and different objectives than any straightforward criteria of ‘intelligence’. In other words, neither the language model  protocols nor the guidelines imposed by the human censors are structured to achieve any  particular epistemic ends or values; and indeed, the criteria of the humans dragooned into the  process may diverge in profound ways from those built into the statistical algorithms. Further, if any output is deemed embarrassing or problematic for any of a smorgasbord of random external reasons dictated by the executive suites, then the censors are mobilized once again to prevent the algorithms from delivering those results. At least of this writing in April 2023, the output is a hodgepodge.

It gets worse

Friday, December 29, 2023

Here again the convergences in the translations are striking. But the minor variants talk to us too. Proust’s narrator speaks of ‘l’idée que je me suis faite du sadisme’. Nelson’s phrase ‘my conception of sadism’ is close to Scott Moncrieff and Carter’s ‘my idea of sadism’, while the original Scott Moncrieff version expands the phrase into a sort of commentary: ‘my idea of that cruel side of human passion called “sadism”’. Kilmartin and Davis respond more openly to the mention of the idea’s making – ‘the notion I was to form’ (Kilmartin), ‘the idea which I formed’ (Davis) – and Grieve does so at greater length: ‘a certain notion of the meaning of sadism was to form ... in my mind.’ The little train of words Proust’s narrator offers to describe Mlle Vinteuil’s ‘air’ as she closes the shutters (‘las, gauche, affairé, honnête et triste’) creates a quietly interesting puzzle. All the translators but one start with ‘weary, awkward’ (Kilmartin goes for ‘languid, awkward’) and they all end with ‘sad’. ‘Affairé’ and ‘honnête’ turn out to be more elusive or questionable. The suggestions here are ‘fussy, prim’ (Nelson), ‘fussy, honest’ (Davis), ‘busy, trustworthy’ (Grieve), ‘bustling, sincere’ (Kilmartin and Carter), ‘preoccupied, sincere’ (Scott Moncrieff). Small differences, but our view of the narrator’s view of Mlle Vinteuil shifts quite a bit as it moves among them. And in this context, the choice between staying with Proust’s grammar and speeding it up is intriguing. Four translations out of six convert Proust’s ‘might perhaps still not have lost faith’ (‘n’eût peut-être pas encore perdu sa foi’) into ‘might still have continued to believe’; Grieve elaborates a little: ‘preserved some scrap of faith’. We are looking perhaps at the difference between relaying meaning and tracking movements of thought.
An hour or two drifting from Levinas on the Talmud, to the Talmud, and then to someone's memories of Quine. It still amazes me how many people search for the meaning in the world itself, as if meanings were subatomic particles. It's the definition of theology, and that's one thing I have no interest in at all.

I've said it all before. My writing's changed. I don't try as hard.
And drifting again, I end back here.

If you're going to spend your life studying Proust or Michelangelo, in the end you're using them to study yourself: your own perceptions of things. It's better to admit you're using them as material. The scholarship of false humility is creepy: the creepiness of biography, and journalism.

Philosophers vs historians again, on Arendt.
Geuss vs Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment

In terms borrowed from or suggested by the language of Hannah Arendt, this book has told part of the story of the revival in the early modern West of the ancient ideal of homo politicus (the zoon politikon of Aristotle), who affirms his being and his virtue by the medium of political action, whose closest kinsman is homo rhetor and whose antithesis is the homo credens of Christian faith. Following this debate into the beginnings of modern historicist sociology, we have been led to study the complex eighteenth-century controversy between homo politicus and homo mercator, whom we saw to be an offshoot and not a progenitor—at least as regards the history of social perception—of homo creditor. The latter figure was defined and to a large degree discredited by his failure to meet the standards set by homo politicus, and eighteenth-century attempts to construct a bourgeois ideology contended none too successfully with the primacy already enjoyed by a civic ideology; even in America a liberal work ethic has historically suffered from the guilt imposed on it by its inability to define for itself a virtue that saves it from corruption; the descent from Daniel Boone to Willy Loman is seen as steady and uninterrupted. But one figure from the Arendtian gallery is missing, curiously enough, from the history even of the American work ethic: the homo faber of the European idealist and socialist traditions, who served to bridge the gap between the myths of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. It is not yet as clear as it might be how the emergence of this figure is related to the European debate between virtue and commerce; but because industrial labor in America conquered a wilderness rather than transforming an ancient agrarian landscape, homo faber in this continent is seen as conquering space rather than transforming history, and the American work force has been even less willing than the European to see itself as a true proletariat. The ethos of historicist socialism has consequently been an importation of transplanted intellectuals (even the martyr Joe Hill left word that he "had lived as an artist and would die as an artist"), and has remained in many ways subject to the messianic populisms of the westward movement.

Fun and frustration, mostly frustration. 

In America there are comparatively few who are rich enough to live without profession. Every profession requires an apprenticeship, which limits the time of instruction to the early years of life. At fifteen they enter upon their calling, and thus their education ends at the age when ours begins. 

Davidson is also known for rejection of the idea of a conceptual scheme, thought of as something peculiar to one language or one way of looking at the world, arguing that where the possibility of translation stops so does the coherence of the idea that there is something to translate. 

Beginning in the 1950s and blossoming since 1961, a major scholarly controversy has sucked The Federalist into its gravitational field: What was its role in the great shift from republicanism to liberalism in American political thought? These complex bodies of ideas and practices have almost no direct links to today’s Republican party or modern American liberalism; moreover, these terms have become so vague that many historians have abandoned both words as useless.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Mishra, "Memory Failure", in the LRB.

In March​ 1960, Konrad Adenauer, the chancellor of West Germany, met his Israeli counterpart, David Ben-Gurion, in New York. Eight years earlier, Germany had agreed to pay millions of marks in reparations to Israel, but the two countries had yet to establish diplomatic relations. Adenauer’s language at their meeting was unambiguous: Israel, he said, is a ‘fortress of the West’ and ‘I can already now tell you that we will help you, we will not leave you alone.’ Six decades on, Israel’s security is Germany’s Staatsräson, as Angela Merkel put it in 2008. The phrase has been repeatedly invoked, with more vehemence than clarity, by German leaders in the weeks since 7 October. Solidarity with the Jewish state has burnished Germany’s proud self-image as the only country that makes public remembrance of its criminal past the foundation of its collective identity. But in 1960, when Adenauer met Ben-Gurion, he was presiding over a systematic reversal of the de-Nazification process decreed by the country’s Western occupiers in 1945, and aiding the suppression of the unprecedented horror of the Judaeocide. The German people, according to Adenauer, were also victims of Hitler. What’s more, he went on, most Germans under Nazi rule had ‘joyfully helped fellow Jewish citizens whenever they could’.

...Such was the ‘unprincipled political gamesmanship’, as Primo Levi called it, that expedited the rehabilitation of Germany only a few years after the full extent of its genocidal antisemitism became known. A strategic philosemitism, parasitic on old antisemitic stereotypes but now combined with sentimental images of Jews, flourished in postwar Germany. The novelist Manès Sperber was one of those repulsed by it. ‘Your philosemitism depresses me,’ he wrote to a colleague, ‘degrades me like a compliment that is based on an absurd misunderstanding ... You overestimate us Jews in a dangerous fashion and insist on loving our entire people. I don’t request this, I do not wish for us – or any other people – to be loved in this way.’ In Germany and Israel: Whitewashing and Statebuilding (2020), Daniel Marwecki describes the way that visions of Israel as a new embodiment of Jewish power awakened dormant German fantasies. A report by the West German delegation to the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961 marvelled at ‘the novel and very advantageous type of the Israeli youth’, who are ‘of great height, often blond and blue-eyed, free and self-determined in their movements with well-defined faces’ and exhibit ‘almost none of the features which one was used to view as Jewish’. Commenting on Israel’s successes in the 1967 war, Die Welt regretted German ‘infamies’ about the Jewish people: the belief that they were ‘without national sentiment; never ready for battle, but always keen to profit from somebody else’s war effort’. The Jews were in fact a ‘small, brave, heroic, genius people’. Axel Springer, which published Die Welt, was among the major postwar employers of superannuated Nazis. 

There's a lot more. This is small but it made me laugh. 

...What then of Germany’s much lauded culture of historical memory? Susan Neiman, who wrote admiringly of Vergangenheitsbewältigung in Learning from the Germans (2020), now says she has changed her mind. ‘German historical reckoning has gone haywire,’ she wrote in October. ‘This philosemitic fury ... has been used to attack Jews in Germany.’ 

Nirit Sommerfeld was threatened with arrest in 2019. 

I had an email exchange with Neiman after she published her piece on Jacob Taubes . 
"In 1945 Hannah Arendt wrote that “the problem of evil will be the fundamental question of postwar intellectual life in Europe.” She was wrong. Apart from a handful of German philosophers—all Jewish except Brentano—philosophy ignored the questions the twentieth century had raised again."

She was right. It's the subtext of everything in post-war Europe. Philosophers are pedants and pedantry is garbage. The history of pedantry, like the history of anything else, is scholarship. 
Post-war Germany was a culture of autism and denial. Nostalgia for the present.

de Man, Robbe-Grillet, Billiards at Half-Past NineOn the Natural History of Destruction, The Tin Drum, Crabwalk, Deutschland im Herbst. everything, every fucking thing.

I won't post her response, but it wasn't enough. 

Longing for reconciliation indeed. The Taubes piece—a perverse discussion of a perverse man— previously here
And Leiter is a fan. I wonder what he thinks now.

Remember Jason Stanley who also never got the point. And does he now?

It's been fun watching left intellectual Germanophiles try and fail to come to terms with this crap. 

Neiman's new piece is here. I haven't read it yet.
I'd forgotten Deborah Feldman.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Drift, the bourgeoisie, materialism, the press, etc. Change is slow, but when it becomes clear it's kind of electric. 

Prior to the recent attack by Hamas, six in 10 (57%) said the United States should be ready to meet with leaders of Hamas, including half of Republicans (51%), and majorities of Democrats (61%) and Independents (59%).

On most other questions there are great partisan differences. While most Americans preferred the United States take neither side in the conflict (64%), Republicans were equally likely to say they should take Israel’s side (49%) as no side (48%).

The attack pushed Israel over an edge, or what's become an edge.

Monday, December 04, 2023

Granta, "Once Again, Germany Defines Who Is a Jew | Part I"

 "Forensic Architecture".  I said I was going to write more, but I'm not sure I have the patience.

Weizman:  I don’t think it’s controversial to say that freedom of expression needs to be measured in relation to hate speech, and the safety and dignity of survivors. 

It's not controversial unless you defend freedom of speech. Giving the state the right to measure speech led to the censorship that he opposes. But of course he follows the German idea of freedom, which is also the academic model for permissible speech.

Kant: A lesser degree of civic freedom, however, creates room to let that free spirit expand to the limits of its capacity.

And this becomes scholastic perversity of Forensic Architecture's "investigative aesthetics", which is the model of journalism as art, and the parallel fantasy that art is "truth".

And we're back the this. 

Forensic Architecture: Violence at the Threshold of Detectability, published by Zone, of course

But the most offensive thing about he piece in Granta is the pathological blindness to things at the core of German- and European-Israel relations. Herzl was right."The anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies", once we leave. Weizman and EDB are too close to their German and Zionist roots, too loyal to both, to see the obvious.  

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Anybody reading this has to be willing to recognize pathology.

—When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it's going to be a human catastrophe.... 

—The purpose of disengagement...was to stop being responsible for a million and a half Arabs

Ruthie Blum Leibowitz, Jerusalem Post, October 10, 2007  
"'I didn't suggest we kill Palestinians'
Geostrategist Arnon Soffer: I only said Israel would 'have to kill them.'" 
Arnon Soffer arrives at our meeting armed with a stack of books and papers. Among them is a copy of an interview I conducted with him three and a half years ago ("It's the demography, stupid," May 21, 2004), and print-outs of angry responses the geostrategist from the University of Haifa says he continues to receive "from leftists in Israel and anti-Semites abroad, who took my words out of context." The passage that aroused the most ire was as follows: "When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it's going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It's going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day." A lot has happened since Soffer made that statement, most notably the very withdrawal from Gaza he was referring to and so championed. In fact, the impetus for the pull-out has been attributed, at least in part, to Soffer's decades-long doomsaying about the danger the Palestinian womb posed to Israeli democracy. The venue of our follow-up interview last month - initiated by Soffer to gloat about his "predictions having panned out perfectly" - is the Dan Accadia Hotel. Though selected due to its proximity to the IDF's National Defense College, where Soffer lectures and serves as head of research, it couldn't be a more ironic location. It was here, after all, that former prime minister Ariel Sharon announced his disengagement plan to the Herzliya Conference. While nothing seems to be the same since that fateful day in December 2003, Soffer's convictions haven't budged an iota. He still holds a deep - what critics might call delusional - devotion to the notion that exiting Palestinian-populated territories is the key to fending off the country's otherwise destined demise. Well, that, and a fence to keep a majority of settlers in and a flow of inevitable Arab intruders out. "Israel is like the Titanic," Soffer bellows with cheerful self-assurance. "I am trying to change its course - prevent it from crashing into the iceberg - and allow it to continue safely on its journey. But up on the Tel Aviv deck, they're having a big party - a stock-market orgy. And when I try to warn them of the fast-approaching disaster, they tell me I'm being ridiculous or that I'm exaggerating." To prove his point, Soffer repeatedly whips out maps to back up his pronouncements, many of which sound purposefully outrageous, such as: "Jerusalem is no longer Jewish-Zionist," and "Iran is so weak and vulnerable that it's unbelievable." And, in spite of his speaking in absolutes, Soffer does deign to concede that he's changed his mind about a couple of issues: the Jordan Valley and the Philadelphi Corridor. He no longer supports relinquishing the former, and now believes the latter has to be repossessed. No small matter, but no matter. The 71-year-old father of four and grandfather of eight still supports every other aspect of what he considers to be a "brilliant maneuver" by Sharon to guarantee a Jewish majority in Israel, with the blessing of the United States. Challenged, as he was during our previous interview, on Israel's willingness to do what he prescribes is necessary in the war against Palestinian aggression - i.e. put a bullet in the head of anyone who tries to climb over the security fence - Soffer shrugs. "If we don't," he reiterates, "We'll cease to exist." In our previous interview, you made many assertions about what could and should be expected to happen following the disengagement from Gaza. You claim now that everything has played out the way you said it would. Yes. I said, "The pressure at the border will be awful. It's going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill." That statement caused a huge stir at the time, and it's amazing to see how many dozens of angry, ignorant responses I continue to receive from leftists in Israel and anti-Semites abroad, who took my words out of context. I didn't recommend that we kill Palestinians. I said we'll have to kill them. I was right about mounting demographic pressures. I am also entitled to defend myself and my country. So today, I would update the headline you gave my last interview and call this one: "It's the demography and anti-Semitism, stupid." What about What about answering critics from the Right, who would argue that in spite of incessant Kassam attacks on Sderot and kibbutzim in the Negev, Israel has barely reacted at all, let alone by "killing, killing and killing"? Since before the withdrawal from Gaza, I have been saying that we have to fire missiles at anyone who fires them at us; we haven't been doing that enough. During our last interview, I asked you whether - with CNN cameras pointing at the security fence - Israel would be prepared to retaliate in the event of missile fire. Your response was: "If we don't kill, we will cease to exist." We are living in a 100-year period of terrorism, and we have another 100 years of terrorism ahead of us. We will forever be forced to live by the sword. We are not wanted in the Middle East, which is why we will have to continue to fight. The purpose of disengagement was not to put an end to terrorism or Kassam fire. Its purpose was to stop being responsible for a million and a half Arabs who continue to multiply in conditions of poverty and madness.

Ruthie Blum Jerusalem Post, May 21, 2004 "It's the demography, stupid"

...How will the region look the day after unilateral separation?

The Palestinians will bombard us with artillery fire - and we will have to retaliate. But at least the war will be at the fence - not in kindergartens in Tel Aviv and Haifa.

Will Israel be prepared to fight this war?

First of all, the fence is not built like the Berlin Wall. It's a fence that we will be guarding on either side. Instead of entering Gaza, the way we did last week, we will tell the Palestinians that if a single missile is fired over the fence, we will fire 10 in response. And women and children will be killed, and houses will be destroyed. After the fifth such incident, Palestinian mothers won't allow their husbands to shoot Kassams, because they will know what's waiting for them.

Second of all, when 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it's going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It's going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.

While CNN has its cameras at the wall?

If we don't kill, we will cease to exist. The only thing that concerns me is how to ensure that the boys and men who are going to have to do the killing will be able to return home to their families and be normal human beings.

What will the end result of all this killing be?

The Palestinians will be forced to realize that demography is no longer significant, because we're here and they're there. And then they will begin to ask for "conflict management" talks - not that dirty word "peace." Peace is a word for believers, and I have no tolerance for believers - neither those who wear yarmulkes nor those who pray to the God of peace. There are those who make pilgrimages to the Baba Sali and the tombs in Hebron, and those who make pilgrimages to Kikar Rabin in Tel Aviv. Both are dangerous.