TWO WASHINGTON SQUARE HUSTLERS PLAY THE BEST CHESS PLAYER IN THE WORLD. Nick has sent me a couple chess games this week—masterpieces by Kasparov and Magnus Carlson—so I was thinking about chess when I came across this post by Michael Nunez on the Gizmodo website. The post includes a YouTube video which shows Magnus Carlson, the best chess player in the world, and his friend Liv Tyler visiting Washington Square in New York. This brought back memories because there was a time when I jogged often in that park, and I would cool down by walking around among the chess hustlers who play there. They were good players.

How would a Washington Square chess player do against Carlson? Of course, Carlson won. The video shows the discussions after the game with two hustlers, who had not known who Magnus Carlson was, but knew early on that they were up against a strong player. One player says that Carlson came with a movie star but “I forget her name.”

Notice the black squirrel climbing on the shoulder of one of Carson’s opponents at the very end of the video.

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SUGGESTIONS FOR ARTISTS WHO WANT TO DESTROY SOME OF THEIR ART. Annalisa sent me a link to this post on James Gurney’s website, Gurney Journey. Gurney discusses a general problem that artists have: “In the back of every artist’s closet is a stack of failed efforts….” Gurney’s solution is the “Gurney Flambeau”, which uses a variety of mirrors and the power of the sun magnified by over 300 times to turn the painting “into a cloud of smoke and a shower of ash”. He notes that the Gurney Flambeau is environmentally friendly.

The comments have some solutions to the problem that other artists have devised. One artist chops her paintings up and burns them, but ran one painting over with a truck before burning it.

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WHEN ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG DESTROYED HIS OWN ART. In a comment here on my post about Annalisa taking a sledgehammer to one of her sculptures, Jane called attention to a work of art by Robert Rauschenberg entitled “Erased de Kooning Drawing”. This wikipedia entry says that: “It took Rauschenberg approximately two months to obliterate as much of de Kooning drawing as he could, using a variety of different erasers.” (De Kooning had given Rauschenberg for the project “a densely worked drawing in crayon, ink, pencil and charcoal”.)

Elmer was reminded that once when Rauschenberg exhibited in Florence, a Florentine critic criticized his art objects and said that Rauschenberg should throw them into the River Arno. Rauschenberg then threw them into the Arno. (This excerpt from page 147 of FLORENCEWALKS on Google Books describes the destruction.)

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USING THE WRONG ALGORITHM (COMMENT). In a comment on yesterday’s post, Nick called my attention to a new book by Cathy O’Neil, WEAPONS OF MATH DESTRUCTION, which deals with the social and human costs of choosing the wrong algorithm as a target. Nick gave the useful example that: “Police have historically paid more attention to “high crime neighborhoods,” and thus more policing yields more arrests. Then, the high arrest numbers are used to justify more high policing in a feedback loop.”

This review on the Spectrum website by Kristen Clark gives another example from O’Neil’s book of using a seemingly wrong measurement as a target. Car insurance companies use credit scores as a measurement of driver reliability. Regularly paying bills may be correlated with good driving but Consumer Reports has found that: “people with low credit scores and clean driving records were being charged much more for car insurance that people with high credit scores and DUIs on their driving records.”

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SHOOTING AT THE WRONG TARGET. I posted here about Goodhart’s Law: “once a social or economic indicator is made a target for the purpose of conducting social or economic policy, it will lose its value as a measure.” I wrote in the post: ” Take a sales manager who observes that his best salesmen have the most meetings with customers. He creates incentives for the next sales year which reward increases in meetings with customers. The plan fails. The Stubborn Mule [blog] says: ‘According to Goodhart’s Law, the very act of targeting a proxy (client meetings) to drive a desired outcome (sales performance) undermines the relationship between the proxy and the target.’ (Think of salesmen gaming the system and overscheduling meetings with customers).”

Wells Fargo has just been fined for opening a couple million fake accounts. About 5300 employees had been fired in the last five years for signing customers up for fake accounts.

Goodhart’s Law predicted this would happen. Matt Levine begins his article on Bloomberg about the Wells Fargo frauds: “Two basic principles of management, and regulation, and life, are:

You get what you measure.
The thing that you measure will get gamed.”

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CONCEPTUAL ART—DESTROYING THE GIANT HEAD. Annalisa had long wanted to get rid of the giant head sculpture, but it was too heavy to lift by anyone other than a pair of Muscleman Movers. A couple days ago, Annalisa bought a sledgehammer and safety googles. She wrapped the giant head in a large black trash bag, called out, “Baby’s first sledgehammer” and delivered enough blows to reduce the head to rubble.

Destroying art is art.

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CONCEPTUAL ART—THE GIANT HEAD. When Annalisa was in college, she took a required sculpture course. Annalisa had done a lot of painting, but very little sculpture. One of the assignments was to sculpt a life size head of themselves—a self portrait. The instructor put on a condition that the head be life size—no small sculptures.

Annalisa proceeded to make a head that was over twice life size. It was enormously heavy. Annalisa never liked it, but Mary Jane was attached to it, and we took the head with us when we moved to the new house. It helped that the move was done by Muscleman Movers.

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ARE FACES SYMMETRICAL? I remember being told by a young lawyer that there was a period in art history when it was believed that all faces were symmetrical—even though every face they encountered should have refuted the notion. I asked Annalisa about faces being thought of as asymmetrical, and she said that was long known. Yet, I have rarely seen asymmetries being discussed in writings about portraits (with Empson being the exception).

Kevin Jackson cites Empson as discussing asymmetry in actual faces and not just in portrayals of faces in art: “He also applies his asymmetry theory to public figures, dead and living. Of Winston Churchill’s face, he says: ‘The administrator is on the right … and on the left are the petulance, the rancour, the romanticism, the gloomy moral strength and the range of imaginative power.'”

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THE AMBIGUITY OF THE BUDDHA’S FACES. William Empson and his book SEVEN TYPES OF AMBIGUITY changed how I look at literature (and legal cases and at life). (Here is a post about Empson’s analysis of at least 8 different meanings in Shakespeare’s “bare ruined choirs”.) Kevin Jackson’s review at the Literary Review website of Empson’s long lost book THE FACE OF THE BUDDHA describes how Empson extended his analytical approach to Eastern art and religion.

Empson became fascinated by images of the Buddha. His quest for images of Buddha led him to visit Korea, French Indochina, Cambodia, Burma, India, Ceylon, various parts of China and museums in the United States.

He believed that: “Buddha faces could be regarded as expressing at least two and sometimes many different meanings at the same time; and the sculptural convention that allowed this was asymmetry, with the left and right sides of the Buddha’s face showing different emotions or spiritual states.”

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“…LITTLE BOXES MADE OF TICKY TACKY….” I posted here about “Little Boxes”, a song from 1962 which attacked conformity. The “Little Boxes” were standardized houses which were poorly made. Here are the lyrics, whose first stanza was:

“Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.”

In my post, I said that “…it was the voice of the rich ridiculing people who bought houses that were mass-produced and that those people were probably thrilled to live in houses that were the nicest that they had ever lived in.” I quoted Tom Lehrer that “Little Boxes” was “the most sanctimonious song ever written”.

In his history of the ranch house, Witold Rybczynski gives an economic explanation for what was perceived as a desire for conformity in the early 1960’s, as expressed by the song. Standardized houses were the safest investments for your largest investment. Rybczynski says: “Houses are the largest investments that most families will ever make, and as prudent small investors, they tend to be conservative and to avoid unnecessary risk. While architectural critics frequently disparage the uniformity of housing, that is precisely what buyers demand; they don’t want to be stuck with an odd or dated house at the time of resale. Contrarians don’t do well in the housing market.”

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