30 July 2010

Daily Digest, 2010.07.29

Thursday: Where did the money to rebuild Iraq go? (Nobody knows...); world population; the heirs of Baron Herzog sue Hungary for the return of his art collection; data-mining your future actions; DOJ wants wider uses of NSLs; most software firms are anti-patent; a clarification of the new DRM video exemption (not as wide as it should be); new models for academic book publishing in the digital age; free stuff; a review of Menand, The Marketplace of Ideas; more on coupling brains; Antisocial Personality Disorder or Psychopathy (decisions, decisions...); Zimmer tells all about "Inception" score.


Your tax dollars at work:

So where, exactly, did the money to rebuild Iraq go? According to an infographic from the Good Blog, based on a report of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, the Department of Defense is unable to account adequately for $8.7 billion of the $9.1 billion in reconstruction funds. In other words, 96% of the money cannot be properly accounted for.

Via BoingBoing, which provides the following quote from the report:
Weaknesses in DoD's financial and management controls left it unable to properly account for $8.7 billion of the $9.1 billion in DFI funds it received for reconstruction activities in Iraq. This situation occurred because most DoD organizations receiving DFI funds did not establish the required Department of the Treasury accounts and no DoD organization was designated as the executive agent for managing the use of DFI funds. The breakdown in controls left the funds vulnerable to inappropriate uses and undetected loss.

Yes, I know pie charts are currently in disrepute.  But it makes the point effectively in this case.

Sam Roberts at the New York Times has a sobering update on world population trends.  The news is not good.

It seems to me that the growth of human population has far outstripped any possible evolution of our cognitive apparatus to deal with such huge numbers of strangers, and this puts us, as a species, on pretty thin ice.

Not that I'm trying to ruin your day, or anything ...


Carol Vogel at the New York Times reports on a suit filed by the heirs of the Jewish Hungarian banker Baron Mor Lipot Herzog for the return of the many paintings from his art collection that are currently in Hungarian museums.  The paintings at issue include works by El Greco, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Zurbarán, van Dyck, Velázques, and Monet, and are estimated to be worth (very roughly; the value at auction would likely be much higher) $100 million. 

The Hungarians are dragging their feet.  Vogel writes:
For more than two decades the heirs of a world-renowned Jewish collector have been petitioning the Hungarian government to return more than $100 million worth of art, most of which has been hanging in Hungarian museums, where it was left for safekeeping during World War II or placed after being stolen by the Nazis and later returned to Hungary.

The requests have been rebuffed, as have appeals to the government from current and former United States senators, including the Democrats Christopher J. Dodd, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Edward M. Kennedy. Finally, in 2008, a Hungarian court ruled that the government was not required to return the art.
The family has now filed suit in the United States District Court in Washington.

Vogel's article links to the site of the Commission for Art Recovery.  As they describe themselves:
The Commission for Art Recovery was established in 1997 to spur efforts to restitute art that was seized, confiscated, or wrongfully taken ― on a massive scale ― as a result of the policies of the Third Reich and the devastation of the Holocaust. Unfortunately, even at this late date when fewer Holocaust survivors can benefit, much remains to be done.


The CIA and Google have both invested (although not in collusion) in the start-up Recorded Future. As Noah Schachtman writes at Wired:
The company is called Recorded Future, and it scours tens of thousands of websites, blogs and Twitter accounts to find the relationships between people, organizations, actions and incidents — both present and still-to-come. In a white paper, the company says its temporal analytics engine "goes beyond search” by “looking at the ‘invisible links’ between documents that talk about the same, or related, entities and events.”
The idea is to figure out for each incident who was involved, where it happened and when it might go down. Recorded Future then plots that chatter, showing online “momentum” for any given event.
“The cool thing is, you can actually predict the curve, in many cases,” says company CEO Christopher Ahlberg, a former Swedish Army Ranger with a PhD in computer science.
The link to this story at BoingBoing quotes the following creepy bit from the "How People Use It" page at Recorded Future's website:
Research a person
Monitor news on public figures to...
Identify future travel plans; spot past travel trends and patterns
Search for communication with other individuals; graph their network
Monitor career history and announced job changes
Find quotations and sound bites in the news and blogs
Discover future and past strategic positioning
Uncover public political ties and family relationships

Meanwhile, the EFF reports that the Department of Justice is pushing for even wider use of National Security Letters:
NSLs, you may remember, are one of the most powerful and frightening tools of government surveillance to be expanded by the Patriot Act. These letters allow the FBI to secretly demand data from phone companies and internet service providers about the private communications of ordinary citizens. The letters include a gag order, which forbids recipients from ever revealing the letters' existence to their coworkers, their friends, or even to their family members, much less the public.


Now, the DOJ is asking Congress to pass vague and broad new language meant to expand the kinds of data that can be acquired through NSLs. This morning's Washington Post article suggests that the new language could allow access to detailed web browsing history, search history, location information, or even Facebook friend requests.
The Washington Post story is here.

Creative Rights and Publishing

I'm using "Creative Rights" here as an alternative to "Intellectual Property," which seems to me to be an extraordinarily unhelpful, if deeply embedded "framing" device.  (More on that later.)

Mike Masnick at Techdirt reports that "Software Firms Overwhelmingly Against Patents."

EFF has a helpful clarification on the new DRM exemptions regarding video. It turns out that the exemptions are not as broad as one would like:
Before this exemption was issued, the only people allowed to circumvent DVD encryption for fair use purposes were film and media studies professors. Now, that category has expanded to include all college and university professors and film and media studies students (as long as they are circumventing for educational purposes), documentary filmmakers, and noncommercial vidders. The user may take only a “short portion” of the original work for purposes of criticism and commentary, and she must reasonably believe she needs to break the DRM to accomplish that purpose.

This exemption does not affect toolmakers – i.e., those that develop and provide the tools that make circumventing CSS possible. Nor can it stop Hollywood from attempting to impose other technical limits on the ability to copy, even for fair use purposes. Also, K-12 educators and students who aren’t in film and media studies classes have to keep using 20th century technology. Finally, even though the Register of copyrights has declared that using short portions of a movie for purposes of criticism or comment in a noncommercial video is a fair use (no surprise), Hollywood can still use tools like YouTube’s Content I.D. system to take down such videos with the flip of a switch.
And, one supposes, the exemption does not apply to bloggers, even when they are using clips for the purpose of criticism or commentary. 

It seems an extremely bad idea to me to create a hierarchy of permission based on institutional affiliation.  In fact, it is difficult to see what kind of legal justification there could be for this; it seems, on the face of it, discriminatory, and I hope someone challenges it.

Glyn Moody at open... writes on "Re-inventing publishing for the digital age." The post focuses on the new venture Open Book Publishers, which says the right kinds of things in description of themselves, but seems in practice, in Moody's opinion (and mine) not to have the implementation quite worked out yet.  Here's part of their blurb:
Open Book:

* Provides free online access to read digital versions of all publications.

* Retails high quality paperback editions at around £12, and hardback editions at around £25.

* Enables printable digital versions of both the entire book and individual book chapters to be downloaded online.

* Allows authors to maintain copyright on their own works.

* Makes publication decisions on academic merit alone through a rigorous peer review and editorial process.

* Requires no publication payment by the author.

* Speeds up the refereeing and printing processes.

And here is some Free Stuff:

—G. Jay Kerns, Introduction to Probability and Statistics Using R, available as a free pdf at Lulu (via R bloggers). I've been looking for something just like this. 

Kerns's book is based on lecture notes for a class that he has taught at Youngstown State University, and frankly, parts of the book seem hardly to have advanced beyond the lecture-note stage. It also seems still to be incomplete.  For example, Chapter 1 currently consists of just slightly more than a single page, followed by nearly three pages of blank space, including page 3, with the heading "Chapter Exercises," and then nothing else.

But hey, it's free... (It's not the only free statistics textbook on the web.  More on that later, as time permits.)

—A reminder that Friday, 30 July is the last day of free access to articles on cognitive and neuroscience in the journals of the Royal Society (Biology Letters, Proceedings B, and Philosophical Transactions B).  I nearly forgot to take advantage of this, but I've acquired a great file of fascinating stuff over the past couple of days, including complete theme issues from Philosophical Transactions: Imitation, Autism and Talent, The Sapient Mind: Archeology Meets Neuroscience, Perception of Speech, Mental Processes in the Brain, Social Intelligence: From Brain to Culture, and The Neurobiology of Social Recognition, Attraction and Bonding.

It should always be like this.


Sameer Pandya at Miller-McCune writes on "The Crisis in Liberal Arts Education."

The piece ends up being mainly a review of Louis Menand, The Marketplace of Ideas, which I read a few months ago, and hope at some point to write about in more detail here.


Douglas Fields at Scientific American has a good summary of the study I pointed to earlier this week showing that the same brain regions are activated in a storyteller and her listeners. 

Oddly, Fields does not link to the actual article by Stephens, Silbert, and Hasson in PNAS (nor does Bill Benzon at New Savanna, whose post led me to Fields' summary).  Here it is; and it's a free download.

Romeo Vitelli at Providentia has a brief post on a recent (not brand new) article in History of Psychology on the evolution of the Antisocial Personality Disorder diagnosis in the DSM, and how Antisocial Personality Disorder differs from Psychopathy. 

The article is:
Jessica R. Gurley (2009), "A history of changes to the criminal personality in DSM," History of Psychology.  The article is behind a paywall at APA PsycNET, and costs $11.95
Wish I could read it to see if it sheds any light on the diagnosis of my ex-gf.


Earlier this month I wrote about David Grann's outstanding article at The New Yorker on the (apparently fraudulent but very famous) art authenticator Peter Paul Biro, who made a name (and perhaps a fortune) using the alleged fingerprints of artists to authenticate their works.

Mike Masnick at Techdirt has now read the article, and has some interesting comments.
But I found most interesting of all was the reasons why so many people were convinced that Biro's authentications were real. It wasn't just the use of "science." And it wasn't just that people had this natural inclination to believe that so-called "art experts" don't know what they're talking about, but that Biro appears (and, for what it's worth, Biro denies the allegations in the article) to have used what are effectively social engineering tricks to make this work. There's a certain brilliance in realizing that rather than forging paintings, there may be money to be made in authenticating works by effectively forging fingerprints on top of other works -- which then gives it the air of legitimacy-via-science. Honestly, the whole idea that someone would go in and forge fingerprints on top of a piece of art work just doesn't seem in the realm of possibility, and so most people didn't even consider it.
Masnick also reports on the current story of Rich Norsigian, who bought a box of glass negatives at a garage sale in 2000 that are now said by some experts (although the heirs disagree) to be unpublished photos by Ansel Adams.


Hans Zimmer explains all about his use in "Inception" of Edith Piaf's recording of "Non, je ne regrette rien." 

David Itzkoff interviews Zimmer for ArtsBeat at the New York Times.  Some quotes:
Technically, Mr. Zimmer said, his score is not a slowing-down of the French song, which was composed by Charles Dumont and recorded by Piaf in 1960, but is constructed from a single manipulated beat from it.
“I had to go and extract these two notes out of a recording,” Mr. Zimmer said, using a little bit of “Inception” lingo. “I love technology, so it was a lot of fun for me to go and get the original master out of the French national archives. And then find some crazy scientist in France who would actually go and take that one cell out of the DNA.
“Just for the game of it,” Mr. Zimmer said, “all the music in the score is subdivisions and multiplications of the tempo of the Édith Piaf track. So I could slip into half-time; I could slip into a third of a time. Anything could go anywhere. At any moment I could drop into a different level of time.”
Zimmer's reference to DNA suggests that perhaps he skipped or slept through his biology class....
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