Friday, September 25, 2015

Thinking Out-of-the-Box About Greece

These days the phrase "thinking out of the box" has been so over-used (and usually abused at the same time) that it is little more than a worthless cliché. Nevertheless, it is clear that "old school establishment" thinking by those who control the world's wealth is making conditions in Greece worse, rather than better, while, at the same time, trying to reduce the refugee problem permeating Europe to a case of muddling through at its most ineffective. Meanwhile, Greece has to contend with a flood of those refugees arriving faster than they are departing.

Why not view them as a resource, rather than a problem? Instead of talking about bail-out funds, why not institute a development fund that bean-counters would see as an attractive opportunity for investment. The money could be used to bring life back to those businesses that used to thrive in Greece and probably, at the same time, allow a new generation of business to take root in the country. Properly planned, employment would come not only to all those Greeks living from hand to mouth but also to refugees, who left their home countries because conditions and/or opportunities for work were no longer viable. Properly finances and managed, Greece could become the sort of melting pot for the 21st century that the United States was for much of the 20th.

Perhaps the problem with this proposed solution is that it could result in Greece becoming a new economic competitor; and "established money" is more worried about that outcome than about the pending failure of Greece to sustain itself as a country.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The World is a Sadder Place without Yogi Berra

Yes, I appreciate Yogi Berra's many contributions to the history of Major League Baseball. However, given my personal interests, I shall always remember him best for his command of the English language. He clearly knew what he was doing when he gave one of his books the title I Really Didn't Say Everything I Said. I have to wonder whether or not anyone has taken the trouble to enumerate all of the occasions when he warped the English language with such panache. It used to be that it was hard for me to pick a favorite. However, now that I live in restaurant-obsessed California, it is definitely the case that "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." has become a guiding motto for my life. (For those looking below this text at my one lone tag selection, there is no doubt in my mind that the mottos of Yogi Berra deserve to be studied at literature!)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Is Eric Schmidt the Donald Trump of Technology?

There was a time when I could always count on Eric Schmidt (now Executive Chairman of Alphabet, the corporation formerly known as Google) to get my dander up every time he made a public statement. However, I see that the last time I had such a reaction is more than a year ago; and I was kind of thankful that he was finally allowing me more time to concentrate on my interest in the performance of music. This weekend, however, Schmidt was at it again, using the BBC News Web site as his bully pulpit for a muddled sermon about artificial intelligence that betrayed just how much the use of that noun "intelligence" is little more than a con job.

This morning, writing for CNET News, Lance Whitney decided to focus of Schmidt's interest in music recommendation and his accusation that Apple employs "elite tastemakers." As usual, Schmidt offered up a flamboyant display of his own ignorance. Anyone who still believes that the Internet is involved in anything other than efficient marketing must be under the spell of some pernicious Kool-Aid. Whether it involves ranking search results (not to mention displaying those results in a frame of advertising links) or making recommendations to "music consumers" (not to be confused with those who actually take the time to listen to music), the game is never about predicting future trends, as Schmidt seems to think. The fundamental premise of marketing is that consumers are sheep, and all they need is a sheepdog to follow. What this means is that recommendation need involve little more than what everyone is consuming now, rather than what they are likely to be consuming in the future. When a trend starts to form, no matter for what reason, technology can amplify it; and this basically makes for a larger body of happy consumers (not to mention the performer involved in the trend). This is not so much rocket science as freshman statistics, and Schmidt probably knows this full well as it applies to the core competency behind Google.

What is more interesting than whether or not Schmidt "gets" any concepts involved "knowledge-based" technology is that he seems to have latched on to learning the rhetorical style of Donald Trump. Having seen how Trump has managed to garner so much attention by saying so many outrageous (not to mention inconsistent) things, it would appear the Schmidt has decided to get in on that game. Could it be that his BBC gig was little more than a rehearsal for a desired appearance on Fox News?

Monday, September 7, 2015

Can Clear Writing be Dangerous?

The latest issue of The New York Review of Books has an essay by Timothy Snyder entitled "Hitler's World." It may be one of the best efforts to distill the basic principles of Mein Kampf without getting bogged down in the inflammatory rhetoric. It goes without saying that Snyder also does an excellent job of pointing out the abundance of flaws in Hitler's approach to argumentation.

In many respects it is probably about time that someone gave such a serious and dispassionate reading of a document that had such a strong impact on the twentieth century. However, do we need to ask whether or not there is a risk in summarizing that document in readily accessible language, even if that language also explains the many instances of faulty reasoning? We know from institutions such as Fox News that selective reading and attention has become the order of the day for those who try to promote personal ideologies. Do we have to worry that Snyder's clarity might fuel the fires of current and future generations of neo-Nazi thinking? When we live in a world in which willful irrationality seems to be "the new normal," we have to worry about such matters!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Composer who Moves and Shakes

Those who read my SF Classical Music Examiner site may recall that, back on August 20, I ran the story that Nick Benavides, one of the original founders of the Guerrilla Composers Guild, had been named as the new Managing Director of the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble. Attentive as ever to timeliness, the San Francisco Chronicle finally got around to running this as news this morning. Furthermore, it was reported in the "Movers and Shakers" column in the Business Report section. It is not often that a composer gets into that part of the paper,;but this is one that has certainly moved and shaken at least one member of his audience, all in a good way!