Saturday, 8 June 2013

David Foster Wallace on freedom and the security state

From the Atlantic, Nov 1 2007

Are some things still worth dying for? Is the American idea* one such thing? Are you up for a thought experiment? What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, “sacrifices on the altar of freedom”?* In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?
In the absence of such a conversation, can we trust our elected leaders to value and protect the American idea as they act to secure the homeland? What are the effects on the American idea of Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Patriot Acts I and II, warrantless surveillance, Executive Order 13233, corporate contractors performing military functions, the Military Commissions Act, NSPD 51, etc., etc.? Assume for a moment that some of these measures really have helped make our persons and property safer—are they worth it? Where and when was the public debate on whether they’re worth it? Was there no such debate because we’re not capable of having or demanding one? Why not? Have we actually become so selfish and scared that we don’t even want to consider whether some things trump safety? What kind of future does that augur? 
 hat tip The Dish

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

A Final Embrace: The Most Haunting Photograph from Bangladesh

Source: Taslima Akhter

The police have recovered 803 bodies from the collapsed eight-story Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh as of May 8.  This is a tragedy that reminds me of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 in New York that killed 146 textile workers and helped spur legislation for safer working conditions.  I hope that the workers in Bangladesh are able to organize and win the labour rights and safer working conditions that all workers in the world deserve.

On 2 April 1911, Rose Schneiderman addressed the Women's Trade Union League in NY in a memorial meeting held to remember the Triangle fire.  A socialist and union activist, Rose used the fire as an argument for factory workers to organize:

"I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship. We have tried you good people of the public and we have found you wanting.

The old Inquisition had its rack and its thumbscrews and its instruments of torture with iron teeth. We know what these things are today; the iron teeth are our necessities, the thumbscrews are the high-powered and swift machinery close to which we must work, and the rack is here in the firetrap structures that will destroy us the minute they catch on fire....

We have tried you citizens; we are trying you now, and you have a couple of dollars for the sorrowing mothers, brothers and sisters by way of a charity gift. But every time the workers come out in the only way they know to protest against conditions which are unbearable the strong hand of the law is allowed to press down heavily upon us.

Public officials have only words of warning to us—warning that we must be intensely peaceable, and they have the workhouse just back of all their warnings. The strong hand of the law beats us back, when we rise, into the conditions that make life unbearable.

I can't talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood has been spilled. I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement."


Sunday, 5 May 2013

John Maynard Keynes on Economic Thinking

The General Theory, chapter 21:
The object of our analysis is, not to provide a machine, or method of blind manipulation, which will furnish an infallible answer, but to provide ourselves with an organised and orderly method of thinking out particular problems; and, after we have reached a provisional conclusion by isolating the complicating factors one by one, we then have to go back on ourselves and allow, as well as we can, for the probable interactions of the factors amongst themselves.
This is the nature of economic thinking. Any other way of applying our formal principles of thought (without which, however, we shall be lost in the wood) will lead us into error.
It is a great fault of symbolic pseudo-mathematical methods of formalising a system of economic analysis, such as we shall set down in section vi of this chapter, that they expressly assume strict independence between the factors involved and lose all their cogency and authority if this hypothesis is disallowed; whereas, in ordinary discourse, where we are not blindly manipulating but know all the time what we are doing and what the words mean, we can keep 'at the back of our heads' the necessary reserves and qualifications and the adjustments which we shall have to make later on, in a way in which we cannot keep complicated partial differentials 'at the back' of several pages of algebra which assume that they all vanish.
Too large a proportion of recent 'mathematical' economics are merely concoctions, as imprecise as the initial assumptions they rest on, which allow the author to lose sight of the complexities and interdependencies of the real world in a maze of pretentious and unhelpful symbols.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Boethius's Complaint

Boethius' Complaint

Who wrought my studious numbers 
Smoothly once in happier days,  
Now perforce in tears and sadness 
Learn a mournful strain to raise. 
Lo, the Muses, grief-dishevelled, 
Guide my pen and voice my woe;  
Down their cheeks unfeigned the tear drops  
To my sad complainings flow!  
These alone in danger's hour  
Faithful found, have dared attend  
On the footsteps of the exile 
To his lonely journey's end.  
These that were the pride and pleasure 
Of my youth and high estate  
Still remain the only solace  
Of the old man's mournful fate.  
Old? Ah yes; swift, ere I knew it,  
By these sorrows on me pressed  
Age hath come; lo, 
Grief hath bid me  
Wear the garb that fits her best. 
O'er my head untimely sprinkled 
These white hairs my woes proclaim,  
And the skin hangs loose and shrivelled  
On this sorrow-shrunken frame.  
Blest is death that intervenes not 
In the sweet, sweet years of peace,  
But unto the broken-hearted,  
When they call him, brings release!  
Yet Death passes by the wretched,  
Shuts his ear and slumbers deep;  
Will not heed the cry of anguish,  
Will not close the eyes that weep.  
For, while yet inconstant Fortune  
Poured her gifts and all was bright,
Death's dark hour had all but whelmed me 
In the gloom of endless night.  
Now, because misfortune's shadow 
Hath o'erclouded that false face,  
Cruel Life still halts and lingers,  
Though I loathe his weary race.  
Friends, why did ye once so lightly  
Vaunt me happy among men?  
Surely he who so hath fallen  
Was not firmly founded then.

Well Said

Arquebus_x:  "There are parts of the Bible that are among the most radically life-affirming, love-demanding and morality-promoting texts any human being could ever read. But there are also deeply, deeply flawed parts that Western society has finally begun to realize should be set aside (like issues of sexuality). It is my firm conviction that the best way for believers (i.e., not for myself) to treat the Bible is to recognize that it is a human construct intended as an expression of faith in God, rather than as a divine construct intended as an expression of control over humanity."

Have you seen this dog?