Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

Social science in action

IntersectionalityWhile watching Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech last week, I found it hilarious to see people in the crowd holding up (protest?) signs saying “INTERSECTIONALITY MATTERS”. Since when does abstract sociology jargon get onto political signs?

What’s next? “INHIBIT HEGEMONIC TOTALISING DISCOURSE”? Perhaps a call-and-response chant:

What do we want?
Analytically robust amelioration of social conventions!
When do we want it?
Diachronically.

Trump is now predicting massive voter fraud, usually something you do after you’ve lost. There’s a theory that people tend to accuse others of what they are ashamed of planning or having done themselves. I don’t think he has any shame, or that he’s strategic enough to be planning anything so complicated himself. But his backers? How hard would it really be for a top-notch state hacking operation in, say, Russia, to crack the locally organised election computer systems?

There is a Rand-ian trope (or Mises-macherei) that attempts to reverse the Marxian notion that labour is the unit of economic contribution, that working people are the creators of our world, and capitalists mere parasites. The opposing view — pushed by Ayn Rand, and advocated in increasingly stark terms by right-wing politicians, is that the capitalists and managers are “job-creators”, that everything exists because of their contributions. From Adam Smith’s idea that capitalism enables the private greed to be channeled into promoting the public good, we have come to the notion that private greed is itself almost a form of charity.

The reductio ad absurdum has been provided (of course) by Donald Trump, in the less commented upon portion of his bizarre attack on the family of killed-in-action Muslim American soldier Humayun Khan. Responding to Khizr Khan’s attack “You have sacrificed nothing — and no one,” Trump said

I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve had tremendous success. I think I’ve done a lot.

For Trump, a rich man’s “tremendous success” is itself a sacrifice, to be matched against an ordinary man losing his child.

Brecht’s take on this question is below. I cited it in the last US presidential election as well.

Read the rest of this entry »

No more fun and games

2016-07-28 09.26.08I’ve been in Britain long enough to know most of the peculiar verbal overlaps between this country and my native USA, but I still tend to overlay the British words with their American meanings. So it was several years ago when I was told by my daughter’s Hebrew teacher “Today we’re going to be revising the alphabet”…

Of course, this sort of linguistic alienation can happen even within a country, in the intersection between different language registers. Thus, a number of years ago UC Berkeley put the legend “REFUSE ONLY” on its outdoor trash bins. When I saw this text, my immediate reaction was to read it as an absurdly formal version of the slogan “JUST SAY NO”.

Soft bones

From political journalist Simon Maloy in Salon

People often note that public opinion of Hillary tends to be ossified after more than two decades spent continuously in the national political spotlight, but Trump’s unique and unrelenting awfulness as a candidate represents a timely opportunity to get voters to start thinking more positively about Hillary Clinton.

It amazes me that people can make claims like this, in light of the fact that her net favourability in Gallup polls has shifted by almost 50 points in three years. (She was at +31 in April 2015.)

I just had the thought: Who would have predicted, thirty years ago, that in 2016 bookstores would still be thriving, but video stores would have all but disappeared?

I am reminded of this essay by Isaac Asimov, “The Ancient and the Ultimate”, that I read about 1980, but was written in the early 1970s, about the future of video technology. He was at a conference on communications and society, where a speaker was praising the new technology of videocassettes, and suggesting that authors such as him would soon be tossed on the scrapheap of history. The essay speculates about possible future improvements to video technology, inferring tongue-in-cheek that the pinnacle of the technology would be attained when it had turned into books.

We’re still waiting for the Democratic convention, but ofter that, the general election campaign gets off to a particularly early start, with no defining events until the debates. Debates? Will there actually be US presidential debates in the fall?

I haven’t seen any discussion of this. Of course there will be debates. There are always debates. But then, candidates always release their tax returns. I can’t really imagine Trump being willing to share a stage with a woman, one on one. A woman whom he has been saying should be imprisoned. (Will she need to flee the country if she loses the election?) Surely there will be a fund-raiser for veterans that he can’t possibly miss on the same night as the debate, or his people will just find themselves unable to consent to extremely unfair conditions that the rigged system is trying to impose on him.

Health choices

From the Guardian:

In February Prof Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England,… told a parliamentary hearing: “Do as I do when I reach for my glass of wine. Think: do I want the glass of wine or do I want to raise my own risk of breast cancer? I take a decision each time I have a glass.”

Umm… Wine or cancer? Are those really the options? Seems like an easy choice to make…

Donald Trump is likely to lose the US presidential election. But maybe not. And we need to recognise that a healthy body politic would not have a dangerous figure like him in striking distance of the most powerful office in the land — and in the world.

Trump is almost comically incompetent, and still has more than 40% of the public willing to vote for him. (According to the most recent estimates of fivethirtyeight.com he has nearly a 40% chance of winning the election.) Even if he doesn’t win, it is purely coincidental that his frightening demagoguy, autocratic impulses, and willingness to trample on democratic traditions and norms was not coupled with even an average competence in running a campaign, or even ability to let professionals take over managing the thing for long enough to get him elected.

A more competent demagogue will almost surely follow where he has led.

The expression “marry X to Y” is used conventionally to represent the possibility of combining two unrelated qualities to make a harmonious new quality. Two. But in Donald Trump’s America virtues are polygamous:

[Ivanka Trump] told London’s Sunday Times “And it’s a big reason I am the woman I am today. He always told me and showed me that I could do anything I set my mind to if I married vision and passion with work ethic.”

Does Mike Pence know about this?

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