अनिल एकलव्य ⇔ Anil Eklavya

April 11, 2008

Patent Madness

So we have one more reason in support for the idea that patents are a bad idea. The latest is the news that a company called Digital Reasoning has been awarded a patent on what looks like contextual similarity. What the ‘news report’ says includes:

This breakthrough patent grants broad protection for how artificial intelligence, including neural networks, genetic algorithms, and vector space models can be used to learn the meanings of symbols – such as words, categories, or numerical values. Understanding the subtle meaning of terms in context has been one of the “Holy Grails” of artificial intelligence. Not only is Digital Reasoning® fully able to accomplish this feat, it is now patented.

Here is one comment about this:

Anyone from the ACL/ML/AI community can immediately recognize this and start citing their favorite papers on these topics starting from at least a decade ago. A promotional video from the company on YouTube can be found here. Excerpt from the video: “… We treat the text representation of human language as a signal … “.

I think everyone should stop taking patents seriously. Wishful thinking?

Here is another:

Do the people ‘in-charge’ have any clue about the previous/current reseach done in the related field? How can they accept such stuff? Doesn’t make any sense, whatsoever.

But then they had accepted patents on haldi, neem and basmati. I am worried about jal jeera and pani poori.

Also, ganne ka ras.


No need for me to say more as so many others have already talked about this:

In August last year there was a news item about Yoga devices being patented in the US. Small mercy that the Government of India succeeded in cautioning the U.S. Government against granting patents to Yoga postures (asanas).

There was a time (in India) when patents were awarded on processes, not products. That meant that even if some company had patented a method for producing a particular medicine, someone else could come along and find a better way and sell the medicine cheaper. Now, since the patents are granted on products, under orders from the empire that rules the world, that kind of thing can’t happen.

It can a be matter of life and death for millions of people.

I look forward to the day when self-respecting researchers won’t proudly list the patents they have been able to obtain.

Patents are among the most evil inventions of humankind.

March 31, 2008

The Hemingway (or Pilar) Argument for Diversity

Innumerable arguments can be given in favor (favour for the non-dominant party) of diversity. That is, diversity of all kinds: cultural, ecological, linguistic etc. But in this post I present a particularly good one. It’s from Hemingway’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, which I am reading right now:

‘Then calm yourself. There is much time. What a day it is and how I am contented not to be in pine trees. You cannot imagine how one can tire of pine trees. Aren’t you tired of pines, guapa?’

‘I like them,’ the girl said.

‘What can you like about them?’

‘I like the odour and the feel of the needles under foot. I like the wind in the high trees and the creaking they make against each other.’

‘You like anything,’ Pilar said. ‘You are a gift to any man if you could cook a little better. But pine trees make a forest of boredom. Thou hadst never known a forest of beach, nor of oak, nor of chestnut. Those are forests. In such forests each tree differs and there is character and beauty. A forest of pine trees is boredom. What do you say, Inglés?’

‘I like them too.’

Pero, venga,’ Pilar said. ‘Two of you. So do I like pines, but we have been too long in these pines. Also, I am tired of the mountains. In mountains there are only two directions. Down and up and down leads only to the road and the towns of the Fascists.’

The forest analogy is good enough in itself, but I really liked the natural connection at the end between the lack of diversity and Fascism.

I don’t need to remind that diversity is fast eroding from every sphere of life. Even in India, the land of more diversity than perhaps any other. I also don’t need to remind that Fascism is rising in almost all regions of India, in various forms. Neither do I need to remind what is being used as a cover for rising Fascism. Yes, the T-word, which is sometimes equated to the M-word and sometimes to the N-word. With a lot of talk about the W-word.

There is no exaggeration here in the use of the F-word, although I do use the device of exaggeration sometimes.

And no, there are no mistakes in the language used in the quote due to my typing. This is just a mild example of how Hemingway represented Spanish speech in English.

March 28, 2008

Chomsky at His Best

I have read quite a lot of Chomsky. And here I mean his non-Linguistic writings. But today I found the transcript of an answer that he gave after a lecture on 5th November 2001 in Delhi. It’s Chomsky at his best.

Within one answer to a question about the idea of Clash of Civilizations, he has compressed almost everything that one needs to know to understand how the world works. Even though I am very much familiar with his ideas, it was a treat to read this transcript.

I can’t resist the temptation to just quote him wholesale in this post. It’s not a very long article, so it can be read quite quickly. If you think something that he is saying is wrong, you can go ahead and verify it. He has written about the details elsewhere.

As there is no need for me to add or explain, I will just quote. I hope I am not infringing on anyone’s IPR. If I am, I will withdraw the quote. But I would hate to do that.

Here he is:

Remember the context of Huntington’s thesis, the context in which it was put forth. This was after the end of the Cold War. For fifty years, both the US and the Soviet Union had used the pretext of the Cold War as a justification for any atrocities that they wanted to carry out. So if the Russians wanted to send tanks to East Berlin, that was because of the Cold War. And if the US wanted to invade South Vietnam and wipe out Indo-China, that was because of the Cold War. If you look over the history of this period, the pretext had nothing to do with the reasons. The reasons for the atrocities were based in domestic power interests, but the Cold War gave an excuse. Whatever the atrocity carried out, you could say it’s defence against the other side.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the pretext is gone. The policies remain the same, with slight changes in tactics, but you need a new pretext. And in fact there’s been a search for pretexts for quite a long time. Actually, it started twenty years ago. When the Reagan Administration came in, it was already pretty clear that appeal to the pretext of the Russian threat was not going to work for very long. So they came into office saying that the focus of their foreign policy would be to combat the plague of international terrorism.

That was twenty years ago. There’s nothing new about this. We have to defend ourselves from other terrorists. And they proceeded to react to that plague by creating the most extraordinary international terrorist network in the world, which carried out massive terror in Central America and Southern Africa and all over the place. In fact, it was so extreme that its actions were even condemned by the World Court and Security Council. With 1989 coming, you needed some new pretexts. This was very explicit. Remember, one of the tasks of intellectuals, the solemn task, is to prevent people from understanding what’s going on. And in order to fulfil that task, you have to ignore the government documentation, for example, which tells you exactly what’s going on. This is a case in point.

Just to give you one illustration. Every year the White House presents to Congress a statement of why we need a huge military budget. Every year it used to be the same: the Russians are coming. The Russians are coming, so we need this monstrous military budget. The question that anyone who is interested in international affairs should have been asking himself or herself is, what are they going to say in March 1990? That was the first presentation to Congress after the Russians clearly weren’t coming – they were not around any more. So that was a very important and extremely interesting document. And of course, it is not mentioned anywhere, because it’s much too interesting. That was March 1990, the first Bush Administration giving its presentation to Congress.

It was exactly the same as every year. We need a huge military budget. We need massive intervention forces, mostly poised at the Middle East. We have to protect what’s called the ‘defence industrial base’ – that’s a euphemism that means high-tech industry. We have to ensure that the public pays the costs of high-tech industry by funnelling it through the military system under the pretext of defence.

So it was exactly the same as before. The only difference was the reasons. It turned out that the reasons we needed all this was not because the Russians were coming, but – I’m quoting – because of the ‘technological sophistication of Third World powers.’ That’s why we need the huge military budget. The massive military forces aimed at the Middle East still have to be aimed there, and here comes an interesting phrase. It says, they have to be aimed at the Middle East where ‘the threat to our interests could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door.’ In other words, sorry, I’ve been lying to you for fifty years, but now the Kremlin isn’t around any more so I’ve got to tell you the truth: ‘The threat to our interests could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door.’

Remember, it couldn’t be laid at Iraq’s door either, because at that time Saddam Hussein was a great friend and ally of the United States. He had already carried out his worst atrocities, like gassing Kurds and everything else, but he remained a fine guy, who hadn’t disobeyed orders yet – the one crime that matters. So nothing could be laid at Iraq’s door, or at the Kremlin’s door.

The real threat, as always, was that the region might take control of its own destiny, including its own resources. And that can’t be tolerated, obviously. So we have to support oppressive states, like Saudi Arabia and others, to make sure that they guarantee that the profits from oil (it’s not so much the oil as the profits from oil) flow to the people who deserve it: rich western energy corporations or the US Treasury Department or Bechtel Construction, and so on. So that’s why we need a huge military budget. Other than that, the story is the same.

What does this have to do with Huntington? Well, he’s a respected intellectual. He can’t say this. He can’t say, look, the method by which the rich run the world is exactly the same as before, and the major confrontation remains what it has always been: small concentrated sectors of wealth and power versus everybody else. You can’t say that. And in fact if you look at those passages on the clash of civilizations, he says that in the future the conflict will not be on economic grounds. So let’s put that out of our minds. You can’t think about rich powers and corporations exploiting people, that can’t be the conflict. It’s got to be something else. So it will be the ‘clash of civilizations’ – the western civilization and Islam and Confucianism.

Well, you can test that. It’s a strange idea, but you can test it. For example, you can test it by asking how the United States, the leader of the western civilization, has reacted to Islamic fundamentalists. Well, the answer is, it’s been their leading supporter. For instance, the most extreme Islamic fundamentalist state in the world at that time was Saudi Arabia. Maybe it has been succeeded by the Taliban, but that’s an offshoot of Saudi Arabian Wahhabism.

Saudi Arabia has been a client of the United States since its origins. And the reason is that it plays the right role. It ensures that the wealth of the region goes to the right people: not people in the slums of Cairo, but people in executive suites in New York. And as long as they do that, Saudi Arabian leaders can treat women as awfully as they want, they can be the most extreme fundamentalists in existence, and they’re just fine. That’s the most extreme fundamentalist state in the world.

What is the biggest Muslim state in the world? Indonesia. And what’s the relation between the United States and Indonesia? Well, actually the United States was hostile to Indonesia until 1965. That’s because Indonesia was part of the nonaligned movement. The United States hated Nehru, despised him in fact, for exactly the same reason. So they despised Indonesia. It was independent. Furthermore, it was a dangerous country because it had one mass-based political party, the PKI, which was a party of the poor, a party of peasants, basically. And it was gaining power through the open democratic system, therefore it had to be stopped.

The US tried to stop it in 1958 by supporting a rebellion. That failed. They then started supporting the Indonesian Army, and in 1965 the army carried out a coup, led by General Suharto. They carried out a huge massacre of hundreds of thousands, maybe a million people (mostly landless peasants), and wiped out the only mass-based party. This led to unrestrained euphoria in the West. The United States, Britain, Australia – it was such a glorious event that they couldn’t control themselves.

The headlines were, ‘A gleam of light in Asia’, ‘A hope where there once was none’, ‘The Indonesian moderates have carried out a boiling bloodbath’. I mean, they didn’t conceal what happened – ‘Staggering mass slaughter’, ‘The greatest event in history’. The CIA compared it to the massacres of Stalin and Hitler, and that was wonderful. And ever since that time, Indonesia became a favoured ally of the United States.

It continued to have one of the bloodiest records in the late twentieth century (mass murder in East Timor, hideous tortures of dissidents, and so on), but it was fine. It was the biggest Islamic state in the world, but it was just fine. Suharto was ‘our kind of guy’, the way Clinton described him when he visited in the mid-nineties. And he stayed a friend of the United States until he made a mistake. He made a mistake by dragging his feet over IMF orders.

After the Asian crash, the IMF imposed very harsh orders, and Suharto didn’t go along the way he was supposed to. And he also lost control of the society. That’s also a mistake. So at that point the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, gave him a telephone call, and said literally, ‘We think it’s time for a democratic transition.’ Merely by accident, four hours later he abdicated, but Indonesia remained a US favourite.

These are two of the main Islamic states. What about the extreme Islamic fundamentalist non-state actors, let’s say the Al Qaeda network. Who formed them? They’re the creation of the CIA, British intelligence, Saudi Arabian funding, Egypt and so on. They brought the most extreme radical fundamentalists they could find anywhere, in North Africa or the Middle East, and trained them, armed them, nurtured them to harass the Russians – not to help the Afghans. These guys were carrying out terrorism from the beginning. They assassinated President Saddat twenty years ago. But they were the main groups supported by the US. So, where is the clash of civilizations?

Let’s move a little further. During the 1980s, the United States carried out a major war in Central America. A couple of hundred thousand people were killed, four countries almost destroyed, I mean it was a vast war. Who was the target of that war? Well, one of the main targets was the Catholic Church. The decade of the 1980s began with the assassination of an archbishop. It ended with the assassination of six leading Jesuit intellectuals, including the rector of the main university. They were killed by basically the same people – terrorist forces, organized and armed and trained by the United States.

During that period, plenty of church people were killed. Hundreds of thousands of peasants and poor people also died, as usual, but one of the main targets was the Catholic Church. Why? Well, the Catholic Church had committed a grievous sin in Latin America. For hundreds of years, it had been the church of the rich. That was fine. But in the 1960s, the Latin American bishops adopted what they called a ‘preferential option for the poor.’ At that point they became like this mass-based political party in Indonesia, which was a party of the poor and the peasants and naturally it had to be wiped out. So the Catholic Church had to be smashed.

Coming back to the beginning, just where is the clash of civilizations? I mean, there is a clash alright. There is a clash with those who are adopting the preferential option for the poor no matter who they are. They can be Catholics, they can be Communists, they can be anything else. They can be white, black, green, anything. Western terror is totally ecumenical. It’s not really racist – they’ll kill anybody who takes the wrong stand on the major issues.

But if you’re an intellectual, you can’t say that. Because it’s too obviously true. And you can’t let people understand what is obviously true. You have to create deep theories, that can be understood only if you have a PhD from Harvard or something. So we have a clash of civilizations, and we’re supposed to worship that. But it makes absolutely no sense.

Reminder: This is the the transcript of an answer that Chomsky gave after a lecture on 5th November 2001 in Delhi.

March 7, 2008

Transcribing Romance on Your Menu

It makes us feel that we are all extras in somebody else’s movie.

That’s a comment someone made about the movie I am going to write about today. I am not the kind of person who likes to watch the same movie again and again. But there are exceptions. So I do watch some movies more than once. And this one is a movie I have watched the second highest number of times.

From what I have written so far about movies, the regular readers of this blog (assuming there are any), might have got the impression that I am a very dry kind of person. Always talking about serious movies. And always talking about only the serious (political, philosophical, psychological) themes in all movies.

I am not going to do that in this post. Not because I want to prove something (there goes an apology). Just that this particular movie doesn’t have anything serious to say about life. And, therefore, I don’t have anything serious to say about the movie either. (Well, yes, this is more of an exaggeration than a literal truth).

But I still have watched this movie the second highest number of times (for me of course). And will definitely watch it again. More than once.

Like the other movie that I have watched the highest number of times (for me of course), this movie too was a big surprise.

In how many non-Indian movies will you find a Punjabi folk song on the soundtrack? A song like the one transcribed below.

This is one other very unusual unme-like thing I am going to do in this post. Transcribing the lyrical and poetic parts of the soundtrack of a non-serious movie. There might be some mistakes in the transcription (there goes a disclaimer), but then I won’t be the only one to do that (there goes an excuse). Just a few days ago I bought a sackful of second hand books (all in English: good Hindi books don’t have a market, even a second hand market) from a roadside Sunday book bazaar. One of the things I bought was a booklet titled ‘Joyful Hearts (For Private use only)’. It had lyrics of popular songs in several languages, all transcribed in the Latin script. One of them (California Dreamin’) is on the soundtrack of the movie I am writing about. I too have transcribed it below, but I have done so from the movie. The version in the booklet wrongly contains the word ‘in a lay’ instead of ‘in L.A.’. Actually, the task for me was easier (for English songs) because the subtitles also had the lyrics. But the Hindi and Punjabi words I had to transcribe on my own. And if I remember correctly, even the subtitles had some mistake in the transcription of an English song.

Anyway, here is the Punjabi folk song:

पिपलां दी ठंडी-ठंडी
छाँ वरगी
सत्थ मैनूं लग्गे
मैनूं वरगी

मैं वी उन पुच्छ के
बैर कर दी

So, how many foreign (non-Indian) movies will have this kind of real and really beautiful folk song that is hard to find even in India? (I am talking about music more than the words. Unfortunately, I can’t transcribe the music).

Even in an India where, while Punjabi as a distinct language is going down the extinction path as much as any other language except the lucky handful, certain aspects of Punjabi culture are making inroads even in the South. And music is one of those aspects. But, tragically (I mean it: I don’t use words lightly), the Punjabi music that is proliferating is of the worst kind.

And how many foreign movies will have light classical Hindustani music with words like this:

बदरवा बरसन लाई
लाई फूहारों की लड़ाई
पवन चलत पुरवाई
बदरवा …

As this is Hindustani classical music, even if light one, the words give very little indication of the beauty of the music. Unless you have a gift for discovering the music hidden within the words. A well known Hindi film music director used to say that all songs (i.e., lyrics) have music hidden within them. You just have to find that music and you can get the right composition for the song. I think he was at least partially right (there go weasel words).

But the one that follows takes the cake. In how many movies will you find hardcore poetry in hardcore standard Hindi. The shuddh Hindi. The pure Hindi. Even I don’t understand everything in this poem. And, I am ashamed to say, I don’t even know whose poem it is.

गर्जन भैरव संसार
हँसता है बहता कल कल
देख देख नाचता हृदय
बहने को महाविकल बेकल
इस मरूर से
इसी शूर से
सघन भूर गुरू गहन रूर से
मुझे गगन का दिखा
सघन वह छोर
राग अमर अंबर में भरने जरूर

ए वर्ष के हर्ष
बरस तू बरस पर तरस खा कर
मार दे चल तू मुझ को
बहार दिखा मुझ को

गर्जन भैरव संसार
हँसता है नर खल खल
बहता कहता
बुद बुद कल कल
देख देख नाचता हृदय

This poem, like other songs in the movie, is played in more than one bits and is employed as the musical theme of a certain bit of the ‘story’.

There is not much of a story though. What you see in this movie, what made me watch it the second highest number of times, and what made this one of Tarantino’s favorite movies, is simply cinematic magic.

Magic created out of photography, choreography, composition, colors, music, musical words and romance. Simple almost unreal and surreal romance made magical.

By the way, the movie is called ‘Chung King Express’ and is directed by Wong Kar Wai. And it stars a very good looking star cast consisting of Brigitte Lin, Tony Leung Chiu Wai (the smaller, who is a bigger super star than the bigger Tony Leung of ‘The Lovers’), Faye Wong (who was already a pop star), Takeshi Kaneshiro (who actually knows four languages and uses them all in this movie) and Valerie Chow.

The movie also has a song from one of Faye Wong’s albums which I couldn’t transcribe as I neither know the language nor the script.

I have a feeling that this movie has influenced a lot of people working in the realm of popular culture.

It is also influenced by a lot of other creations by other people working in the realm of popular culture.

It’s not every day
We are gonna be
The same way
There must be a change

There are bad times
And good times too
So have a little faith in
What you do, oh yeah
Getting happy, yeah
I want you to understand, yeah

The movie actually has two interwoven stories (CLICHE!). Roger Ebert may be right in saying that watching this movie is a cerebral exercise as you like this movie because of what you know about it, not what it knows about life.

But Roger Ebert can be horribly wrong sometimes. Like when he wrote a review of Malena. I will just quote Michael DeZubiria to point out how unbelievably wrong the best known movie reviewer in the world can be (there goes a marathon digression):

Roger Ebert wrote probably the most idiotic review I’ve ever seen him come out with about this movie. He missed the point of this movie even more than he missed the point of Memento, and his review of that movie was like a blind man describing a shooting star. He describes Malena as a schoolteacher “of at least average intelligence, who must be aware of her effect on the collective local male libido, but seems blissfully oblivious.”

Roger, seriously, are you joking? BLISSFULLY?? Did you sleep through this movie?

She almost never speaks at all and never displays even the slightest hint of a smile. Given the extent of her depression and stifling sadness, it is astounding to me that anyone in their right mind could attach the word “blissfully” to any element of her character.

I know what that’s like though, because sometimes I completely miss something about a movie and I think that something else is the stupidest thing in the world because of it, at least until someone explains what I missed and then it all makes sense. Watch Malena, for example, walking through the central square in town at any point in the movie. If you think she keeps her eyes on the ground directly in front of her because she is in a state of pure, ignorant bliss, then trust me. You are missing something.

I don’t know if Malena was actually unaware of the effect that she had on the townspeople, but I find it nearly impossible to believe that she did. That thought actually never even occurred to me until I read Roger Ebert’s gem of a review. Her behavior struck me much more like someone who had been dealing with such behavior from the men around for her whole life. I doubt very much that she doesn’t understand the concepts of human physical attraction.

Coming back to the current movie, I can say with a crystal clear conscience (I don’t like to lie too much) that this is one of the best movies about plain and simple ‘love’ type romance.

What a difference
A day makes
Twenty four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers
Mmm, where there used
To be rain

My yesterday was blue, dear
Today I am a part of you, dear
My lonely nights are through, dear
Since you said you were mine

Lord, what a difference
A day makes
There’s a rainbow before me
Skies above can’t be stormy
Since that moment of bliss
That thrilling kiss

It’s heavens when you
Find romance
On your menu

What a difference
A day made
And the difference
Is you

But then it is a movie by the master of nostalgia. Wong Kar Wai can make you feel extremely (I don’t use adjectives or adverbs lightly) nostalgic even about places where you have never been. He can even make you feel nostalgic twice removed. In this movie he first makes you nostalgic about Hong Kong (even if you have never been there) and then he makes you feel nostalgic about California (even if you have never been there) from Hong Kong. And all this time you (there goes projection) are sitting in a man made cave in India.

All the leaves are brown
And the sky is gray
I’ve been for a walk
On a winter’s day
I would be safe and warm
If I was in L.A.

California dreamin’
On such a winter’s day

Stopped into a church
I passed along the way
Well, I got down on my knees
And I pretend to pray
You know the preacher likes cold
He knows I am gonna stay

California dreamin’
On such a winter’s day

If I didn’t tell her
I could leave today

California dreamin’
On such a winter’s day

I was (along with the person who gave that movie to me) fascinated by the soundtrack of another one of Wong Kar Wai’s movies, ‘In the Mood for Love’. But ‘Chung King Express’ beats even that movie. It has one of best soundtracks in the history of movies. In fact, I have watched it sometimes just for the soundtrack. And I am not really crazy about movie soundtracks.

Tarantino has claimed that everyone that he knows who watched this movie (he only knows men, or, more likely, he only counts men) had a crush on Faye (who is named Faye in the movie too).

A tribute from the king of cinematic non-serious violence to the king of cinematic non-serious romance.

So, whenever you want romance on your menu, go to Wong’s. They serve the best there. You will find yourself visiting frequently.

Even if there was nothing else, I will still watch this movie to listen to the Hindi poem being played on the TV, accompanied on the soundtrack by many other sounds.

Hindi poem on cinema. Foreign cinema. Now there’s a rare thing for you if there ever was one. Even if it forms the backdrop of an almost comic botched small time drug smuggling operation involving many very bad looking lower class ‘Indians’ who are actually Pakistanis.

October 6, 2007

Just a Quote

Filed under: Poetry,Quotes,Things As They Are — anileklavya @ 10:58 am

I hate isolated quotes. I am very suspicious of metaphysics. And, of course, I don’t believe in God, nor do I think religion, on the whole, is a good thing to happen to civilization. Still, in this post, I will just give a quote, an almost isolated one, from a religious metaphysical poet. But then this quote is one which became one of the most well know poems and has affected the culture and language as much as any paragraph from Shakespeare (who, by the way, is unparalleled in this respect):

No man is an island. entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne ([1], [2]) in MEDITATION XVII

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