A self-portrait by the German painter Max Beckmann (1884-1950) was auctioned in Berlin on Thursday for a record amount of 23.2 million euros, international news agencies report. Beckmann painted Self-portrait in yellow-pink during his stay in Amsterdam during the Second World War. Never before has so much been paid for a painting at a German art auction. The previous record amount of 5.5 million was deposited in 2018 for another work by Beckmann, The Egyptian.
The expressionist painter Beckmann is regarded as one of the most important artists of classical modernism. He fled to Amsterdam in 1937, after the Nazi regime in Germany had labeled his paintings as ‘perverted art’. When the war reached the Netherlands, he retired to his studio on the Rokin. There he painted a third of his entire oeuvre. After the war he left for the United States, where he died in 1950.
Read also: Museum Singer shows new acquisition Beckmann at art fair PAN
Although Beckmann made more than eight hundred paintings, few of his works can be admired in museums. The important painting hangs in the Stedelijk Museum Double portrait of the artist and his wife Quappi, also from his Amsterdam period. Work Laren was donated to the Singer Laren museum in 2019. Boijmans van Beuningen also owns work by the painter. Self-portrait in yellow-pink was owned by Beckmann’s wife until her death in 1986, after which it ended up in a Swiss private collection. The only known thing about the new owner is that it is again a Swiss.
Twitter suspended the account of Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, again on Friday. The rapper had posted an image of swastika merged with a Star of David. Owner Elon Musk writes on the social media platform that Ye “has again violated our rules on incitement to violence.”
A self-proclaimed champion of freedom of expression, Musk had just welcomed the rapper back to the platform in November, after Ye also served a suspension on both Twitter and Instagram for anti-Semitic and racist statements. “I did my best,” Musk said on Friday.
In the hours before his suspension, Ye, who said in 2018 that he has bipolar disorder, emphatically sought out the controversy. He was interviewed on the far-right platform Infowars by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Hidden behind a black mask, he used (again) anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and praised Adolf Hitler. Moments later, he posted an unflattering photo of Musk in his swimsuit.
“This is fine,” Musk responded at the time. His position on content moderation is that in cases of doubt, freedom of expression should prevail. Under his rule, Donald Trump was allowed to return to Twitter and the fake news policy about corona was scrapped. However, Ye’s swastika post was also a bridge too far for Musk. “This is not good,” he responded to the now-deleted image.
Two rather divergent image-determiners on Thursday evening on television, one pre and one post the arrival of the internet. Omroep ONS (with most cable subscriptions to view online) released a documentary about Dick Bruna (1927-2017), with Roald Dahl the most widely read children’s author in the world. The documentary dates from the nineties, but I didn’t realize that until it was about guilders, rolls of film and stamps. That’s how timeless his most famous figure Miffy is, and that’s how ageless Bruna is herself. This mustachioed man from Utrecht who, according to his wife, was satisfied with himself and his work. Those months took one booklet with twelve illustrations and twelve four-line verses. The tranquility and concentration with which he made his recognizable images, the perfection of his style in the course of his working life. Always the same somewhat trembling black lines, the same five basic colors and the perfect simplicity of the forms. Every detail has been thought through. His figures always have large heads and look straight at you. “Like a fashion model on the cover of a magazine.” First the image speaks, then the text.
And then we take a leap in time, to Zemblas Instagram, the unfiltered truth. The documentary was made by French journalists, purchased by BNNVARA and actually broadcast just a little too late. Of course, Instagram has 1.5 billion users, but the young people in the herd, the cool kids, have left for Tiktok. Anyway, Instagram, invented in 2010 by two American students as a platform to share photos. No text, only image. Filters to give the image the right color and the best light. This way it doesn’t take months or years, but seconds to make the picture perfect.
The American experts in the documentary fall short of words to describe the effect of Instagram on just about everything. It has changed the economy, the media, the fashion and beauty world, the road to fame – om Insta famous you don’t have to be known first. The Kardashian family quit their reality show and took control of Instagram themselves. They define the image of their lives and the more they share it, the more followers (Kim Kardashian has over 334 million followers). Pop star Justin Bieber was 17 when he posted his first photo – of a highway – he now has 267 million followers.
In 2012, Instagram was bought by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg for $1 billion. And then the fun was soon over. Money had to be made, so advertising was allowed. Slowly ramped up, with one ad per day from one provider at the start. Now we laugh at that. Instagram is now Facebook’s cash cow, accounting for one third of its revenue. Because of the paid forest you can hardly see any images anymore.
The documentary also zooms in on what Instagram images do to our way of seeing. Little good. The more perfect the pictures of others, the less we like our own image. Our vacations, children, bodies, lives look a lot paler and mustier than the other’s. And so I came back to Dick Bruna, who guarded the perfection of his images even when they went around the world and settled in the heads of millions of parents and children. His image had to be everyone’s image, everywhere and always. Towards the “psychopathic”, says his son Sierk. From Japan to Norway, Miffy cannot change a speck. Worldwide merchandise from Miffy, fine – but his illustrations don’t come on ice creams, chewing gum, candy or squirt guns. He was particularly keen on imitation, copies, plagiarism, exploitation and abuse. Good thing Instagram passed him by, the man would not have had a life anymore.
Government aid to reduce energy bills hardly reaches the people who need it most. This is the conclusion of National Ombudsman Reinier van Zutphen in a report published on Friday.
Subsidies and schemes for sustainability mainly benefit citizens who can easily afford these measures themselves. The group that is ‘threatened to get into trouble’ does not know how to find government regulations ‘well or not at all’, the Ombudsman writes. On municipal websites, information about this is difficult to find or written ‘technically and inaccessibly’. In addition, not everyone can make use of such government schemes.
Also read this piece about rising energy prices: In Bad Nieuweschans, people fear that the last bit of life will be squeezed out of the village
The Ombudsman particularly sees a major difference between buyers and tenants. Tenants depend on the pace at which their homeowner wants to make things more sustainable, and can only take small measures in the meantime, such as installing draft strips and radiator foil.
Research institute TNO calculated a year ago that half a million households struggled with energy poverty, about 7 percent of the total. Energy poverty occurs when a household spends a large part of its income – often 13 to 20 percent – on energy. About three-quarters of energy-poor households rent from a housing association. One in eight owns a home, and one in eight rents privately.
The government has made agreements with housing associations about sustainability, although this will take years. Anyone who suffers from energy poverty and rents privately has even more uncertainty. The government seems to pay “too little attention” to this group, the Ombudsman writes. “Not all private landlords are willing or have the means” to quickly become more sustainable.
Subsidy should be more accessible
Anyone who owns a house can, in theory, take measures themselves. But not all buyers have enough money for that. Certainly not for the measures that can reduce the energy bill the most, such as insulation or solar panels. There are subsidies for that, but they only come after the end. By no means all homeowners are able to pre-finance the measures. Earlier this year concluded De Nederlandsche Bank although such subsidies mainly reach the middle and higher incomes.
Also read this interview with Ombudsman Reinier van Zutphen: ‘I see people who don’t have enough to live on’
These schemes should become more accessible, the Ombudsman believes. And they must be offered “proactively” to energy-poor households. This requires municipalities to know in which neighborhoods the most energy poverty occurs. Some municipalities are doing well in this area, according to the Ombudsman, and are knocking on doors in these neighbourhoods. Other municipalities mainly focus on providing information on their website. These differences between municipalities, Van Zutphen writes, are still “too great”.
More and more voices are being raised to legalize drugs in order to undermine the revenue model of organized crime. The Economists, Femke Halsema, Hans van der Horst, Henkjan van Vliet, are examples. The most recent is my esteemed colleague anthropologist Hans Werdmölder. And I take that seriously.
Werdmölder acknowledges the failure of the schizophrenic tolerance model, in which coffee shops met the demand from domestic and neighboring countries with illegally grown cannabis. Ultimately, this resulted in a powerful underground drug industry that, in accordance with capitalist logic, expanded their portfolio with ecstasy, coke and meth. Werdmölder also acknowledges the harmfulness of intoxicants, which the drug lobby likes to downplay. Unscrupulous entrepreneurs have pimped weed with an extremely high THC content, resulting in psychoses can arise, ecstasy disrupts in the short and long term cognitive skillscocaine works narcissistic personality disorders in hand. These drugs are particularly disastrous for vulnerable people.
Fortunately, Werdmölder also does not come up with the five usual arguments of legalization fundamentalists: Alcohol is harmful, but it is allowed: This is not a reason to cause even more addiction problems with other drugs. Xtc and Cannabis also have medical applications: Amphetamine and heroin too, the problems only arise through a combination of self-medication and the free market. Drying didn’t work either: Suddenly a drug that had been accepted for centuries was banned. Moreover, crime did not disappear after renewed legalization. The government shouldn’t interfere with what I take. Boss in your own brain: Ask serious addicts to what extent they or drugs are in control. And finally the sloganesque statement The War on Drugs has failed: This is a wrong term at all. It is better to speak of ‘the hybrid fight against a multidimensional drug-related criminal complex’. The war is not fought to win, but to prevent the underworld from gaining the upper hand.
Hedonic dopamine craving
But Werdmölder goes seriously off track with his argument. First of all, why should an abnormal, pathetic situation be normalized? Every society needs intoxicants, but in the Netherlands this situation has gone completely crazy because a narco-capitalist industry has mercilessly exploited this weakness and created and fueled even more needs. And what are we going to legalize? Highly addictive and toxic substances such as fentanyl, crystal meth and flakka? In doing so, we sacrifice the weak for the hedonistic dopamine craving of an elite. I recently saw for myself the devastating effects of fentanyl Philadelphia.
Should coke become legal, cartels will simply trade meth or crack or supercoke mixed with fentanyl
And how are we going to handle it? Are we going to negotiate with the producers, Mexican and Colombian cartels guilty of serious human rights violations? This is capitulation. It is not just a slap in the face to law enforcement, but a de facto amnesty to mass murderers, adding insult to injury for the relatives of the hundreds of thousands of dead and missing victims of brutality drug violence.
Also read Teun Voeten’s earlier opinion piece: The elite takes a sniff, but dismisses the consequences
Werdmölder underestimates the criminal logic of the drug trade. Cannabis is legal in California. The crime is just increased because cartels produce duty-free, super-strength weed. Consumers prefer it to more expensive, weak state junk. Should coke become legal, cartels will simply trade meth or crack or supercoke mixed with fentanyl as they already do in the United States. The idea that a bureaucratic state apparatus, with many incompetent and indifferent clerks in its ranks, could offer a product more attractive than substances developed and marketed by motivated, flexible, lightning-fast, merciless, innovative, expert narco- entrepreneurs, shows an almost religious faith in the government.
Image of drugs
Although international trade accounts for the largest share of the drug economy, Werdmölder is right to propagate negative advertising to discourage domestic consumption. It’s time, like cigarettes, to change the image of drugs from something hip and cool to something pathetic and sad, a drug used by losers and scum who don’t have the creativity and strength to get their kicks through another way than the easy going shortcut of pills and powders.
Legalization will only increase the use and addiction problems. Hoping that crime will drop is wishful thinking. Advocating for legalization seems like a progressive position. But it is a gift to both a narco-capitalist complex and an authoritarian government that prefers a drugging rather than a rebellious population due to growing social unrest.
A version of this article also appeared in the December 2, 2022 newspaper
At energy company Dtek they see it this way: you now actually have two battlefields in Ukraine. The frontline, where the soldiers fight, and the ‘energy frontline’, says spokesman Antonina Atosja of Dtek, Ukraine’s largest private energy company. “Our people are the soldiers on the second frontline.”
Time and again, technicians from Dtek, and from other companies responsible for electricity in Ukraine, have to repair what the Russians are bombing. And time and time again, they manage surprisingly well to get the electricity running again quickly. After the last heavy Russian attack on the energy infrastructure, on November 23, the entire Kiev region was without power. A day later, three-quarters of the capacity was back. “It is unbelievable how quickly they repair the power supply here,” says director Tineke Ceelen of the Refugee Foundation, which is in Ukraine to supply generators.
However, the limit of what the energy supplies and the technicians can handle seems to be approaching. More and more parts are running out and the network is damaged in so many places that creative solutions are less and less possible. At the same time, in Ukraine, they are anxiously awaiting further Russian attacks. “The question is not whether they will come, but when,” energy analyst Denys Sakva of financial services company Dragon Capital from Kiev expresses the sentiment.
How much resistance can the energy frontline still offer?
The quick repairs were largely possible thanks to the layout of the Ukrainian power grid, says Sakva. “Power plants have many different routes to get energy to consumers” – now that’s a huge advantage. “If the Russians destroy one route, the repair teams can redirect power to other, intact lines.”
Preparation and training also contributed to the effective response after attacks. “We are preparing for the worst-case scenario,” Volodymyr Kudrytsky said last week during a press conference. He is the CEO of Ukrenergo, the network operator of the high-voltage lines in Ukraine. He spoke to the press last week, coincidentally right before Wednesday’s big attack. “When something like that happens, everyone knows what to do.”
As soon as you leave Kiev you hear the generators humming everywhere
In areas that have been occupied by the Russians, such as Kherson, Ukrenergo is also busy repairing the grid – heavy and dangerous work. “There are brigades of deminers at work, and technicians follow them step by step.” It is going slowly: “There are regions where it takes hours to clear one square meter.”
Also read this report about winter in Ukraine: In Mykolaiv, Igor and Ira gather wood in the rubble: ‘We take everything that can burn in the stove’
Despite all efforts, it is now starting to wring. “The capacity of the grid to absorb damage is limited,” says energy analyst Denys Sakva. The situation now, he says, is really different from before last week’s big attack. “We often have power cuts, even unplanned ones. Almost everywhere in the country.” Entire companies have now been disconnected from the grid, says Sakva.
Winter has not officially started yet, but it is freezing at night and during the day in Kiev this week. In many places, facilities such as heating and running water also depend on electricity. Concerns about the coming months are great.
“It is already difficult here,” says Tineke Ceelen of the Refugee Foundation. “Drinking water is a big problem. In Mykolaiv, you see long queues of people coming to fetch water – mostly elderly people who have stayed. After half an hour in line, it feels like you’re frozen.” There is a fear that prolonged frost and failure will cause water pipes and heating pipes to freeze and burst.
The Ukrainian energy companies and helping organizations are hurriedly searching for missing parts. But that search is difficult, says Vladimir Shulmeister, a Ukrainian engineer who is looking for a certain type of steam turbine for a large energy company – he is not allowed to say which one. “The delivery time is one year.” Shulmeister was previously Secretary of State for Infrastructure in Ukraine.
At Dtek they run into the same problem. “The Ukrainian system is very old, so it is almost impossible to find some parts,” says Dtek spokesman Atosha. “We can order them and have them custom made, but that takes six to twelve months. We don’t have that much time.”
Ukraine partly runs on emergency facilities. Tens of thousands of generators are already deployed, which take over when the power goes out. As soon as you step outside, you hear them humming everywhere, says energy analyst Denys Sakva, who lives and works in Kiev.
If all goes well, even more creative solutions will be found. For example, a Turkish company says it is in talks with Ukrenergo and the local government of Odessa about sending three ‘energy ships’ – huge boats that would dock in Odessa and supply residents with electricity. They could power 1 million homes. Security is another issue the company is addressing.
But to get through the winter, Ukraine needs a huge amount of generators anyway. And especially very large ones, says Sakva, on which, for example, an entire hospital or water company can run. The point is that you can’t just put them in the back of a van: they are “the size of a truck”.
Engineer Shulmeister, who obtained his PhD in mechanical engineering in Delft, is looking for generators in other countries. Now he is in Latvia, previously in Bulgaria and Turkey. He expects a “complete decentralization of the energy supply” next winter. So everything on generators. It is impossible to keep the lights on in all houses, Shulmeister predicts. “People will have to live together. I also think that the number of refugees from Ukraine will increase.”
Despite everything, there is no question of declining morale among mechanics, says Antonina Atosja of Dtek, they continue to work unabated. “They feel that their mission is very important now. I have not heard a word of dissatisfaction.”
Bomb defused, flag captured. Artificial intelligence has finally mastered the board game Stratego. Stratego, a war-based game where two players battle each other with forty pieces representing different ‘ranks’ of an army while trying to locate each other’s flag, is complicated for computers. Not all information is open on the table and there are many more game options than in other games.
A new bot called DeepNash now easily beats existing Stratego bots, winning 84 percent of the games it plays against human experts, write researchers at DeepMinda sister company of Google that develops artificial intelligence, on Friday Science.
Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are often measured by computers successfully playing games. A game forms a controlled environment where human thinking strategy is challenged. In 1997 it was big news that chess champion Gary Kasparov was beaten by DeepBlue, an IBM computer. It then took 20 years for a bot to be better at the game of Go than experienced players. That bot, which was named AlphaGo, was created just like this Stratego bot by researchers at DeepMind.
A 1 with 535 zeros
In chess, checkers and Go, many game variations are possible and thinking ahead is necessary, but the pieces are all face up on the board. Other games involve hidden information. For example, in a poker game of Texas Hold’em or bridge, a player holds his cards against his chest. Stratego is also a game with hidden information: a player cannot see the position of the opponent’s pieces.
AI researchers have been biting their teeth at Stratego for years – most computers don’t play better than human amateurs. It’s so hard because the game has so many ways to play: 10535 (a 1 with 535 zeros) to be exact. Much more than Go (10360 game options) and Texas Hold’em (10164). The initial state is also extremely complex, with 1066 options for placing the pieces. In Texas Hold’em there are ‘only’ 10 with two players6 possibilities for the starting cards.
All time standings
The self-learning algorithm behind the Stratego bot makes decisions based on a well-known game theory: the Nash equilibrium. This theory says that although players can make decisions independently, the consequences of this also depend on the decisions of the other players. A game with a finite number of participants and options always has at least one equilibrium where it makes no sense for the players to change the strategy if others do not agree. The Regularized Nash Dynamics algorithm behind the Stratego bot looks for such a balance.
At the beginning of April this year, DeepNash competed for two weeks against other Stratego bots and experienced human Stratego players active on Gravon, a game site where Stratego is played fanatically. DeepNash won 97 percent of the games it played against other bots. Human players have to come from a very good background when they take on DeepNash: the bot won 42 of the 50 games that counted for a ranking. That amounts to 84 percent. With that, the bot managed to reach third place in the all-time standings.
At the end of November it was in Scienceeven a paper about an algorithm that had beaten human players, this time at the board game Diplomacy. It is striking that it is often large tech companies that show their muscles by winning games: the Diplomacy bot was created by researchers at Meta, Facebook’s parent company.
In Diplomacy, the players compete for dominion over Europe. Players move armies and naval units to attack or support other players. Diplomacy requires more than pure strategy, negotiations between the players are an important part of the game, so the bot must also be able to understand and generate language.
The algorithm of the Diplomacy bot (named Cicero) therefore has two modules, one for strategy and one for dialogue. Fed with training data from previous (online) games played by humans, the bot not only managed to produce credible language, but also to alternate between honesty and lies.
Cicero also performed well, after forty games the bot was among the 10 percent best players. But it is difficult to weigh up exactly how much the two modules have contributed to this. The bot also turned out to be talking a lot of nonsense. In text, for example, he was talking about something completely different from the move he made afterwards. Perhaps it is therefore mainly the very strong strategic component that makes the computer outperform many (linguistic) people.
A version of this article also appeared in the December 2, 2022 newspaper
A federal appeals court Thursday approved the appointment of the so-called special masteran independent arbitrator, for former President Donald Trump. This is reported by various American media. This clears the way for the US Justice Department to investigate the documents seized from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.
In early August, the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida home. More than 13,000 documents related to Trump’s time in the White House were found during the search. Among the documents were government secrets.
In October it was announced that a special master would be appointed to determine which documents could be examined. The court’s decision is a setback for Trump. He had forced the appointment of such an arbitrator through the courts.
Conservative Justice Aileen Cannon, who was nominated by Trump himself shortly before he stepped down, had granted Trump’s request for independent arbitration. According to the court, she should not have done this.
The criminal investigation into Trump includes whether the former president withheld confidential papers and whether he attempted to thwart a federal investigation.
Read also: Special counsel against Trump must avoid appearance of bias
Luis Suárez shook his head ruefully. No, it had never occurred to him to apologize to the Ghanaian people. And twelve years later, the striker of Uruguay still sees no reason to do so. “Why? Your player missed a penalty, didn’t he? Otherwise, Ghana would have continued, wouldn’t it? I made hands, got red and got suspended. That was my punishment. But the penalty was really missed by someone else,” Suárez replied in the Doha press center in the run-up to Uruguay-Ghana when asked by a Ghanaian journalist. “I’m not involved in that game at all anymore.”
For Suárez, the ‘drama of Ghana’ at the 2010 World Cup is a thing of the past. “I’ve been through so much in my career,” said the 35-year-old striker, who has been preparing for his last World Cup at Uruguay’s Nacional in recent months. “That’s how I played against Giorgio Chiellini again [Suárez beet de Italiaan op het WK van 2014 en werd langdurig geschorst]. We gave each other one hug and it was fine again. You have to leave things from the past behind you.”
The Uruguayan national coach Diego Alonso sees it that way. “This is a game like any other for us. We respect the opponent, but we do everything we can to win,” said Alonso.
The Ghanaian people see it differently. According to various media from the African country, Suárez is seen as “the devil”, a “cheater” who caused the country a trauma. “African dream ends in nightmare,” read the headline above the Uruguay-Ghana match report NRC at the time. Never had an African country come so close to a World Cup semi-final as on July 2, 2010 in Johannesburg.
It was Suárez’s hand that dashed the hopes of an entire continent. In the very last minute of extra time, the Uruguayan tapped away a bet by Dominic Adiyah in front of the goal line with a 1-1 score with two hands. Red and a penalty. Asamoah Gyan hit the penalty kick against the crossbar. Suárez cheered on his way to the dressing room. There he saw Uruguay win against Ghana a little later on penalties. Suárez had to watch as punishment in the semi-final against the Netherlands. The Ghana team was already at home by then.
Tap for all of Africa
Twelve years later, Uruguay and Ghana will face each other again at the World Cup in Qatar. They will compete on Friday (start at 4 p.m.) in the Al Janoub stadium of Al Wakrah in the last game of group H for a place in the eighth finals. Ghana will most likely need a draw and Uruguay need to win to advance. Uruguay’s elimination will mean the end of Suarez’s international career.
The thoughts of both parties naturally go back to the bizarre denouement in Soccer City. The Ghanaian midfielder Thomas Party was seventeen years old at the time and experienced the World Cup as a supporter. “It was a very sad day for our country,” said the 29-year-old Arsenal professional. “It will always be in my head.”
The elimination of Ghana meant a blow to the whole of Africa. The team was the only remaining African country to fight for the pride of the continent where a World Cup was held for the first time. The host country South Africa was already eliminated in the first round, partly due to a 3-0 defeat against Uruguay in the capital Pretoria. Even former president Nelson Mandela had called for support for “the brothers” from Ghana against Uruguay. So in vain.
The Ghanaian national coach Otto Addo cannot deny that he was affected by the elimination in 2010, but he does not want to know anything about revenge or sporting revenge. “The media and the public may like to see it differently, but the duel from twelve years ago does not play at all within our selection,” Otto sighs in Doha. Slightly annoyed, he continues: “And what if it had happened the other way around? Then Ghana would have won by a player who would do anything to win. With that attitude we have to go on the field against a strong Uruguay.”
A version of this article also appeared in the December 2, 2022 newspaper