Machine Facial Recognition – Oh, noes! You’ve got it backwards!!

There are lots of complaints and criticism about the current state of automatic facial recognition systems which tend to focus on and highlight their limitations and inaccuracies. But, turn this around.

What if Machine Facial Recognition were 100% accurate. Think for a moment what that would mean. Every bridge toll camera, every private and government operated ‘surveillance’ camera, every Facebook and Instagram posting could be scanned and every face perfectly identified! A complete record of when and where you had been, and with whom can now be created, analyzed and searched!!

And, when you stopped to look at that store display, did you know that the person behind you, accidentally positioned so that she appeared to be with you was a sex worker, or that guy behind you was a gang member that you could now be associated with? Or that you always went through the Bay Bridge toll gates on workdays between 9:17 and 9:23 AM? What parts of your ordinary comings and goings just are “none of your business“? As the technology improves, you will be identified along with time and place more frequently, more accurately and without your consent.

How often do you use the restroom? Why do you take a particular side street and not the freeway? How come you always get on the next-to-last BART car? For extra credit, read up on China’s use of facial recognition in Xinjiang province.


Christmas Stockings

When I was a kid, the story was, if you were bad you got coal in you Christmas stocking instead of the usual nuts, candies and tiny sock size presents. Trump deserves coal in his stocking. Coal kills when it is extracted, pollutes the air when it is used, the residual coal ash waste is toxic and has to contained in ponds because it poisons the environment and topping it off, it is an agent in the disastrous climate changes that are hurting people around the world. Maybe coal is too good for him.


Arcadia” by Tom Stoppard
Shotgun Players
1901 Ashby Avenue Berkeley, CA
November 30, 2018–January 6, 2019

Directed by Patrick Dooley

Words, words, words…and ideas.

Put on your thinking, listening and historical hats and go see Stoppard’s “Arcadia” now at the Shotgun Players. (The run has been extended too January 27.) The play is set in two different time periods, early Victorian, 1809 and late 20th century, 1992. The eleven actors handle all this very well, although the barrage of words and the multiple ideas and relationships among the players require careful attention. You will be confronted not only with the past and present, but with disorder vs. certainty, Romanticism vs. Classicism, poets and poetry… and for good measure mathematical theorems. “Arcadia” should not however phase a post-modern audience.

Arcadia, the land itself, was a noted pastoral part of ancient Greece. Poets and painters described it as a place of “love, poetry and sometimes politics.” This image, is spoken of in Act I, when landscape architect David Sinaiko (Ricard Noakes) enters, shortly accompanied by Adam Nieman (Captain Brice) and Danielle O’Hare (Lady Croom). The three discuss proposed modifications to the gardens, while Max Forman-Mullin (Septimus Hodge) and Amanda Ramos ( Thomasina), the brilliant young student of Hodge, sketches an imaginary hermit on Noakes’s technical drawing of the garden. Thereafter, there may or may not be a duel.

Forman-Mullan (Hodge) and Amanda Ramos (Thomasina) carry the through line of the play, since lessons concern “carnal knowledge,” poetry, (Lord Byron is, or has been, a house guest!), love, gardens and mathematics. All this will be the several subjects that occupy the characters of 1992 Act Two. Therein, Jessma Evans, (Hannah Jarvis), Aaron Murphy (Bernard Nightingale), and Gabriel Christian (Valentine Coverly) will attempt to prove or disprove the events of Act One. Murphy, as Nightingale, the pretentious academic, steals the show with his bravura and his downfall. Still, the theorems prevail. Thomasina, who in the story does not live to continue her work, is the prevailing math* genius. Past and present join together on the ‘stage in the round,’ characters waltzing to provide a musical/dance finale to a play of words.

Patrick Dooley, director, Brooke Jennings, costume designer and the production team of “Arcadia” are to be congratulated for handling a complex, intriguing production.

*Note on the Math: Shotgun audiences had the pleasure of hearing Professor David Eisenbud, Professor of Mathematics, UC Berkeley, lead a panel discussion of the math of “Arcadia” on December 15, 2018. This event may be repeated. Check it out!

Joanna G. Harris


“17c” Big Dance Theater
Cal Performances. UC Berkeley.
December 13-16, 2018
Zellerbach Playhouse

Pepys’ Show

My acute academic neighbor remarked, at the end of “17c” that Pina Bausch had brought a new definition to ‘dance-theater,’ but it was yet unrealized in many productions. Alistair Macauley, in the December 15 issue of the NY Times, notes that the British troupe “Gandini Juggling” also uses dance-theater elements. Although Anne-B Parson’s “17c” “a feminist re-examination of the life of Samuel Pepys” claims to be “Big Dance Theater,” it fails to create dynamic action and lively narrative.

Parson seems fascinated by diaries as she tells us in an unsavory pre-production narrative, and while Pepys diaries are famous literature, this production does not animate them. Events and incidents are disconnected and sporadic. No amount of technical devices, moving sets, declarative statements nor incidental movement is effective. Somehow both story telling and animation are disjointed.

The center mishap is the desultory narrative delivered by Paul Lazar as Pepys. He sits in an easy chair, center stage, and goes on and on about the love affair with the household maid, citing the date of each meeting. The affair is dull as is the recitation.

Pepys may be known for many of his egotistic infatuations; this one is not interesting. Fidelity in marriage was hardly the normal state of affairs as recorded in the 17th century. Although Parson attempts to this with Pepys contemporary, in comments by feminist Margaret Cavendish, the contrast is not effective since it too dissolves into desultory conversation.

An opportunity to show the skill of dancer/actress Elizabeth deMent was sorely missed in the story of Bess, Pepys’ wife, and her infatuation with her dancing master. The dance forms of the 17th century were widely cultivated so that great balls could imitate those of the French court. Yet, deMent, for all her good skill as a dancer, get no opportunity to show those skills. She moves beautifully but the choreography is ineffective.

Although meant to “dismantle this unchallenged historical figure, and embody the women’s voices omitted from Pepys’ intimate portrait of his life,“ (program note), this production seems not to have the impact that dance theater demands. Perhaps the technical requirements (use of mike on long wires, clumsy movement of set pieces) became too challenging in the Zellerbach Playhouse. “17c” was a considered effort, but to this reviewer, and to much of the audience who seemed to withdraw into silence, it was not effective. The performers were:

Elizabeth DeMent – Annotator/Bess (wife of Samuel Pepys): Kourtney Rutherford – Annotator and Margaret Cavendish: Mikéah Earnest Jennings – Samuel Pepys:  Cynthia Hopkins – Samuel Pepys: Paul Lazar – Samuel Pepys. Co-directed by Paul Lazar.

Pictured: Aaron Mattocks and Elizabeth DeMent.
(credit: Johanna Austin)

Joanna G. Harris

Consent Forms

Scott Wells Dancers
“Consent Forms”
Dance Mission Theater, SF
Dec.7-9, 2018

Now! Questions. Conflicted Answers

“Consent Forms”, the work of Scott Wells and dancers, was part performance and part seminar on current questions of ‘consent’ (permission to touch?), so currently on the agenda of everyday news. This agenda does bring the audience into participation. It also makes for time lags, uncomfortable moments for those who cannot find the words and disruption of focus for those who come to concentrate on the dancing.

The best event, choreographically and comment useful, was Wells’ “The Why ask why we dance DUET?”. The piece is a duet for Sebastian Grubb and Michaela Burns who perform it with great technical ease and superb ensemble. But, then the questions.

“Is there a romantic inference when a man and woman dance together? If the woman wears a dress, does that imply sexual preference? Does the music matter? The text?”

All of these were presented and discussed. Grubb and Burns repeated the work. It is a very good piece of contact choreography no matter what the implications.

Also fun and in good spirits was the group work by Miriam Wolodarski performed by herself and Megan Lowe. A group of men sat listening. The title of the work is “Men listening to Women.” The text accompanying the work is by a distinguished group of women, writers, musicians and others whose voices have been heard. The men listened. The women danced with easy skill. Their performance was heard.

I am not impressed with the two pieces choreographed, taught, spoken and directed by Liz Duran Boubion. “What are we doing here?”, a work for herself with Grubb, Lowe, Vitali Kononov and Wells, began with instructions to the audience. No audience can follow the complexity of so many directions while watching others. The improvisors, though committed and skilled, seemed ‘out of it,’ using somewhat indifferent energy, but enjoying each others’ moves. Boubion appeared to dominate the event as she dominates others in posture and gesture. She made a point of changing her costume to something ‘show-biz’ at the end, and then sang. She can’t sing.

Her “1993” work drew even more attention to herself as she employed complex and extravagant costumes to ‘act out’ her response to ‘rape’ stories in “Don’t Grab.” The piece goes on and on. Five other dancers join her. She leads them around, changing costume pieces constantly, leaving the others in very secondary roles. Their confrontation with her might make the piece interesting. Boubion, while skilled and talented in her ideas and movement, could edit and focus her work.

The excellent lighting design was by Harry Rubeck.

Joanna G. Harris