Daily Digest: Dying (Egypt), living (England), smoking (Boston), Vikings (Arden Hills?)

by Mike Mullen

– Cairo’s unrest is still simmering, and we should all keep a watchful, hopeful eye on the day-to-day goings-on. But today’s Washington Post has a great, so-far overlooked story, on the death of a single Egyptian. In June, Egyptian police killed Khaled Said, 28, for possessing a video clip that showed cops divvying up drugs and cash. (Go ahead, read that sentence again.) Writes the Post, “Fear and resentment of the police has been a prominent theme, and when Google executive Wael Ghonim created a Facebook page titled “We are all Khaled Said,” the grisly morgue photo went viral and the public had a rallying point.” When you’re in the rare social or historical argument, and someone says that individuals don’t actually change anything, make a list for them: Gavrilo Princip, Herschel Grynszpan, Mathias Rust, Rodney King. It’s not that the unknown individual sometimes has an effect on the major events of history: it’s almost always the case. Add Khaled Said’s name to that list.

– The March issue of the Atlantic has a fascinating read on artificial intelligence. Author Brian Christian writes about being a subject in the Loebner Prize contest, which tests computers’ ability to seem human in a chat room-type exchange, and forces judges to guess whether the conversation they just had was with a real person or not. Among other interesting, but depressing revelations: nothing is more human than being a jerk. First, Christian quotes journalist Charles Platt, who once won the “Most Human Award” (which goes to the most convincing human subject) by “being moody, irritable, and obnoxious.” Then later, Christian describes a program which was designed to respond with thoughtless abuse — Christian’s examples are “You are obviously an asshole,” and “Ah type something interesting or shut up” — and how, in the early days of the internet, it fooled another user for an hour and a half. Apparently, our bad moods are one of our most “human,” and easily replicable traits. Christian is right, when he writes that in considering what it takes to make a machine seem human forces us to consider being human actually means. Something to think about, both for humans, like you, and blogging robots, like me. – Boston is considering a ban on smoking in all public parks and on beaches. Dammit, Boston. I expect such childish civic behavior from San Francisco (though they’d still let you smoke hash), maybe Miami (“No ashes on my white shoes!”), even Detroit (no parks, no beaches). But you’re supposed to be one of the gritty, old-school, adult cities. You gonna let couple asthmatic city council members push you around? On a serious level, the number of good, long-lasting friendships and marriages that started with the borrowing of a lighter or bumming of a cigarette — either outside bars, at bus stops, or (gasp!) in public parks — would, I think, surprise a lot of people. It’s not a behavior that I can condone, or even excuse. But, from time to time (and sometimes those times are only minutes apart), it’s one I can enjoy. For now. – Finally, the Star Tribune has a good look at where the Vikings’ next stadium might be. (Surprisingly, it’s not in Los Angeles.) A couple of the proposals, including Brooklyn Park, would see the team move outside of the city itself, joining the Dallas (Arlington) Cowboys and the New York (New Jersey) Giants as teams who don’t quite play where you’d think they do. Of course, my favorite proposal at the moment is Arden Hills, which is described thusly: “The northern Ramsey County city offers 430 vacant acres on a former site of an Army ammunitions manufacturing plant.” Right, nothing could go wrong there. Imagine Adrian Peterson avoiding both tacklers and land mines, or Jared Allen, spotted on the sideline, fiddling with an 1800s-era cannon. Quoting Ted Mondale, head of the Metropolitan Sports Council, the Strib writes, “The Dome is thought to be the Vikings’ first choice. ‘The Metrodome is the most cost-effective site,’ Mondale said. ‘It’s paid for, it’s available, it’s downtown and it’s already next to infrastructure.'” Not to interrupt, Ted, but didn’t… am I remembering something wrong, or… did something bad happen at the Metrodome?