The metatext

“Metaphor and metonymy both, it strikes me, are devices of the lover; they are the devices of one who seeks to render or capture the other. What are the devices of the beloved? We don’t know, because it always the lover, never the beloved, who speaks. Why? Perhaps it’s the orientation toward unhappiness of literary work — the orientation toward trouble. If you were happily loved, literature implies, you would have nothing to say. Ask: why do you always write of unsatisfied desire? Where do you find such a continual source for that lack?” – Lightsey Darst, “The Anne Carson Workout”

Watch yourself sleeping

“The beloved is sleeping. The trivial, intimate things that you find out as a matter of course one night and from then on cannot help treasuring: how the other one sleeps, with this arm here or there, with a deep athletic breath or as if dead. Dreams — visible, like a cat’s, or sunken. How expression falls from the face and what it leaves there. Dressed, undressed, with the covers kicked off in the heat or twined around one leg. Nothing like these closed eyelids and slightly open mouth. Nothing like the soft notch in the throat, undefended, or the dream-sweaty scattered hair.” – Lightsey Darst, “The Anne Carson Workout”

Including the looters and pillagers

“An individual who is observed to be inconstant to his plans, or perhaps to carry on his affairs without any plan at all, is marked at once by all prudent people as a speedy victim to his own unsteadiness and folly. His more friendly neighbors may pity him; but all will decline to connect their fortunes with his; and not a few will seize the opportunity of making their fortunes out of his. One nation is to another what one individual is to another; with this melancholy distinction perhaps, that the former with fewer of the benevolent emotions than the latter, are under fewer restraints also from taking undue advantage of the indiscretions of each other. Every nation consequently whose affairs betray a want of wisdom and stability, may calculate on every loss which can be sustained from the more systematic policy of its wiser neighbours.” – James Madison, “The Federalist LXII”

Whip it

“A good government implies two things; first, fidelity to the object of government, which is the happiness of the people; secondly, a knowledge of the means by which that object can be best attained. Some governments are deficient in both these qualities: Most governments are deficient in the first.” – James Madison, “The Federalist LXII”

They find ways of working together

“It is a misfortune incident to republican government, though in a less degree than to other governments, that those who administer it, may forget their obligations to their constituents, and prove unfaithful to their important trust. In this point of view, a senate, as a second branch of the legislative assembly, distinct from, and dividing the power with, a first, must be in all cases a salutary check on the government. It doubles the security to the people, by requiring the concurrence of two distinct bodies in schemes of usurpation or perfidy, where the ambition or corruption of one, would otherwise be sufficient.” – James Madison, “The Federalist LXII”

Tilting at windmills, too

“Science is the one culture that’s truly global — protons, proteins and Pythagoras’s Theorem are the same from China to Peru. It should transcend all barriers of nationality. It should straddle all faiths too. The scientists who attack mainstream religion, rather than striving for peaceful coexistence with it, damage science, and also weaken the fight against fundamentalism.” – Martin, Lord Rees (interview in Wired)

We try to get it right

“In America, like most of the civilized world, we do not just go through the motions of legal process in a fast and cursory manner. Court systems are not just an empty charade. The heart of law as we know it is due process. We decide cases on the merits, on the facts, on the evidence, not just on the whim of judges or juries. That is what justice means to us.” – Ralph C. Losey, “Predictive Coding and the Proportionality Doctrine: A Marriage Made in Big Data”

In case we weren’t sure

“Once upon a time, or so the story goes, the American military were developing a computer system that they could train to identify tanks on the battlefield. The approach involved connecting a ‘neural network’ to a camera. The training was to be done using photographs. So the design team went out into the field and took 100 photographs of scenes with tanks in various orientations – out in the open, hiding behind trees, and the like. They also took 100 photographs of scenes with no tanks present. The system would be taught using both positive and negative cases. They split all the photographs into two sets, one for training and one for testing the system after training had taken place. Using the training set, they showed the system pictures of tanks and said, ‘Tank’. They also showed the system pictures without tanks and said, ‘No tank’. Each time the system would first have a guess, and if shown to be wrong would adjust itself. A keen understanding would emerge, it was hoped, of the key features it needed to consider in making the right judgment. From entirely random beginnings the system’s performance improved. It got so proficient that it could give a correct answer most of the time. The next step was to test the system on the remaining photos—the set that it had not yet seen. It behaved extremely well—perfectly in fact, categorizing every photo as either ‘tank’ or ‘no tank’ correctly. The designers decided to commission a further set of photos for more testing. The pictures came back and they were shown to the system. Only this time its performance was abysmal—no better than flipping a coin. It took the designers a while to work out what was going on. It turned out that the original photographs with tanks and without tanks had been taken on different days. The ‘tank’ days happened to be sunny. The ‘no tank’ days had been cloudy. Each time the system was shown a photograph with a tank, it saw bright sunlight, blue skies and shadows. Each time it saw a photograph without a tank, it saw grey skies and an absence of shadows. This was the meaning of ’tank’ it inferred. The designers had developed a sunny day detector, and a good one at that.” – Lawrence Chapin, et al., “Predictive Coding, Storytelling, and God: Narrative Understanding in e-Discovery”

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

“What is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controuls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to controul the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to controul itself.” – James Madison, “The Federalist LI”

The United States of Nature

“In a state of nature, each man is free and may do what he pleases; but in society, every individual must sacrifice a part of his natural rights; the minority must yield to the majority, and the collective interest must controul particular interests. When thirteen persons constitute a family, each should forego every thing that is injurious to the other twelve. When several families constitute a parish, or county, each may adopt any regulations it pleases with regard to its domestic affairs, but must be abridged of that liberty in other cases, where the good of the whole is concerned. When several parishes, counties or districts form a state, the separate interests of each must yield to the collective interest of the whole. When thirteen states combine in one government, the same principles must be observed. These relinquishments of natural rights, are not real sacrifices: each person, county or state, gains more than it loses, for it only gives up a right of injuring others, and obtains in return aid and strength to secure itself in the peaceable enjoyment of all remaining rights.” – David Ramsay, “Civis”

Mobbing about

“If it be true that all governments rest on opinion, it is no less true that the strength of opinion in each individual, and its practical influence on his conduct, depend much on the number which he supposes to have entertained the same opinion. The reason of man, like man himself is timid and cautious, when left alone; and acquires firmness and confidence, in proportion to the number with which it is associated. When the examples, which fortify opinion, are antient as well as numerous, they are known to have a double effect. In a nation of philosophers, this consideration ought to be disregarded. A reverence for the laws, would be sufficiently inculcated by the voice of an enlightened reason. But a nation of philosophers is as little to be expected as the philosophical race of kings wished for by Plato. And in every other nation, the most rational government will not find it a superfluous advantage, to have the prejudices of the community on its side.” – James Madison, “The Federalist XLIX” (emphases in original)

Imagine that

“The design of civil government is to protect the rights and promote the happiness of the people. For this end, rulers are invested with powers. But we cannot from hence justly infer that these powers should be unlimited. There are certain rights which mankind possess, over which government ought not to have any controul, because it is not necessary they should, in order to attain the end of its institution. There are certain things which rulers should be absolutely prohibited from doing, because, if they should do them, they would work an injury, not a benefit to the people. Upon the same principles of reasoning, if the exercise of a power, is found generally or in most cases to operate to the injury of the community, the legislature should be restricted in the exercise of that power, so as to guard, as much as possible, against the danger. These principles seem to be the evident dictates of common sense.” – Brutus IX, “The Dangers of a Standing Army,” New York Journal, January 17, 1788

Flowing up, not trickling down

“We may define a republic to be, or at least may bestow that name on, a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people; and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure, for a limited period, or during good behaviour. It is essential to such a government, that it be derived from the great body of the society, not from an inconsiderable proportion, or a favored class of it.” – James Madison, “The Federalist XXXIX” (emphasis in original)

The opinion that dare not speak its name

“Speech is an essential mechanism of democracy, for it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people. The right of citizens to inquire, to hear, to speak, and to use information to reach consensus is a precondition to enlightened self-government and a necessary means to protect it. For these reasons, political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it, whether by design or inadvertence.” – Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010) (internal citations and quotes omitted)

The definition of algorithm

“An algorithm is defined by a sequence of steps and instructions that can be applied to data. Algorithms generate categories for filtering information, operate on data, look for patterns and relationships, or generally assist in the analysis of information. The steps taken by an algorithm are informed by the author’s knowledge, motives, biases, and desired outcomes. The output of an algorithm may not reveal any of those elements, nor may it reveal the probability of a mistaken outcome, arbitrary choice, or the degree of uncertainty in the judgment it produces. So-called ‘learning algorithms’ which underpin everything from recommendation engines to content filters evolve with the datasets that run through them, assigning different weights to each variable. The final computer-generated product or decision—used for everything from predicting behavior to denying opportunity—can mask prejudices while maintaining a patina of scientific objectivity.” – Executive Office of the President, Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values

The theory of how it’s supposed to work

“In the investigation and estimate of criminatory evidence, there is an antecedent prima facie presumption in favor of the innocence of the party accused, grounded in reason and justice not less than in humanity, and recognized in the judicial practice of all civilized nations, which presumption must prevail until it be destroyed by such an overpowering amount of legal evidence of guilt as is calculated to produce the opposite belief.” William Wills, An Essay on the Principles of Circumstantial Evidence

All that rises must converge

“A democracy has the capacity—and the duty—to learn from its past mistakes; to discover and confront persisting biases; and by respectful, rational deliberation to rise above those flaws and injustices. That process is impeded, not advanced, by court decrees based on the proposition that the public cannot have the requisite repose to discuss certain issues. It is demeaning to the democratic process to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding an issue of this sensitivity on decent and rational grounds. The process of public discourse and political debate should not be foreclosed even if there is a risk that during a public campaign there will be those, on both sides, who seek to use racial division and discord to their own political advantage. An informed public can, and must, rise above this. The idea of democracy is that it can, and must, mature. Freedom embraces the right, indeed the duty, to engage in a rational, civic discourse in order to determine how best to form a consensus to shape the destiny of the Nation and its people.” – Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Schuette v. BAMN, 572 U.S. ____ (2014).

Would you like another cup of tea, dear?

“Faction and enthusiasm are the instruments by which popular governments are destroyed. We need not talk of the power of an aristocracy. The people when they lose their liberties are cheated out of them. They nourish factions in their bosoms, which will subsist so long as abusing their honest credulity shall be the means of acquiring power.” – Fisher Ames, January 15, 1788, Debate on the Constitution, Part One (ed. Bailyn)

They need light, water, air, and good soil

“Appellate judges are not obliged to act like potted plants. Nor like automatons, following only the path laid down by the parties without deviation or interruption. While the discretionary power to reach a new issue should be used with restraint, in criminal matters that restraint should be informed with due regard to the accused’s right to a fair trial. A reviewing court should intervene ‘to achieve a just result. We may not avert our eyes from what is clearly before us.’ (People v. Gray, 247 Ill.App.3d 133 (1993)).” – Justice Michael B. Hyman, People v. Hobson, 2014 IL App (1st) 110585 (March 12, 2014)

The laws of unintended consequences

“All new laws, though penned with the greatest technical skill, and passed on the fullest and most mature deliberation, are considered as more or less obscure and equivocal, until their meaning be liquidated and ascertained by a series of particular discussions and adjudications. Besides the obscurity arising from the complexity of objects, and the imperfection of the human faculties, the medium through which the conceptions of men are conveyed to each other, adds a fresh embarrassment. The use of words is to express ideas. Perspicuity therefore requires not only that the ideas should be distinctly formed, but that they should be expressed by words distinctly and exclusively appropriated to them. But no language is so copious as to supply words and phrases for every complex idea, or so correct as not to include many equivocally denoting different ideas. Hence it must happen, that however accurately objects may be discriminated in themselves, and however accurately the discrimination may be considered, the definition of them may be rendered inaccurate by the inaccuracy of the terms in which it is delivered. And this unavoidable inaccuracy must be greater or less, according to the complexity and novelty of the objects defined. When the Almighty himself condescends to address mankind in their own language, his meaning, luminous as it must be, is rendered dim and doubtful, by the cloudy medium through which it is communicated. Here then are three sources of vague and incorrect definitions; indistinctness of the object, imperfection of the organ of conception, inadequateness of the vehicle of ideas. Any one of these must produce a certain degree of obscurity.” – James Madison, “The Federalist XXXVII”

Showing up and doing the job

“Energy in Government is essential to that security against external and internal danger, and to that prompt and salutary execution of the laws, which enter into the very definition of good Government. Stability in Government, is essential to national character, and to the advantages annexed to it, as well as to that repose and confidence in the minds of the people, which are among the chief blessings of civil society. An irregular and mutable legislation, is not more an evil in itself, than it is odious to the people.” – James Madison, “The Federalist XXXVII”


“It is a misfortune, inseparable from human affairs, that public measures are rarely investigated with that spirit of moderation which is essential to a just estimate of their real tendency to advance or obstruct the public good; and that this spirit is more apt to be diminished than prompted, by those occasions which require an unusual exercise of it.” – James Madison, “The Federalist XXXVII”

Watch your mouth

“It is impossible to fight any war wholly humanely. In most respects, the Western allies displayed commendable clarity in their conduct of total war against an enemy bereft of civilized sentiment. Aerial assault, however, provided the exception. It was a policy quite at odds with the spirit in which the Americans and British otherwise conducted their war effort. The remoteness of bombing rendered tolerable in the eyes of Western political leaders and military commanders, not to mention their aircrew, actions which would have seemed repugnant and probably unbearable had the Allies confronted the consequences at close quarters. Eisenhower’s soldiers frequently found themselves killing local inhabitants in the course of battles for Germany’s towns and villages. They would have surely revolted at the notion of systematically slaughtering civilians by artillery bombardment or machine-gun fire. This is what the Allied air forces did, nonetheless, protected by the curious moral absolution granted by a separation of some thousands of feet of airspace, together with the pragmatic excuse that it was impossible to hit targets of military relevance with air-dropped missiles without inflicting what is now called ‘collateral damage.’ We should recognize, however, that it is far easier to pass such judgements amid the relative tranquility of the twenty-first century than it seemed in 1945, when Hitler’s nation was still doing its utmost to kill American and British people, together with millions of Nazi captives, by every means within its power. Some Germans today brand the bombing of their cities as a war crime. This seems an incautious choice of words.” – Max Hastings, Armageddon

You gotta have faith

“—if a Constitution is not to be established unless it is impossible to abuse the Powers given to the Destruction of the Community, I will venture to assert that no Government can ever be established—for the Delegation of Powers is necessary to the Being of Society, and it is impossible so to guard them that they may not be abused for a Time—an Assembly of a State, the Officers of a County or Town or of any smaller Community may betray the confidence repos’d in them; and it is impossible to grant such powers as are necessary to do Us good without granting such as may do Us evil; our Security must rest in our frequently recurring back to the People the fountain of all power by our Elections—the contrary Opinion appears to involve a suspicion that a Man become a Villain the Moment he is intrusted with power—if this so, in the Extent the Objection Supposes, it concludes against the propriety of establishing any Government in any possible Case—,” Samuel Parsons, letter to William Cushing, January 11, 1788


“Our soul possesses two broad and strong wings, which can bring us better and more permanent possessions than gold, honour or health. Our sharp intellect allows us to penetrate the secrets of nature, and lets us pursue that way as long as we modestly recognize our human weaknesses. But as for the ultimate secrets, which are higher than angels and angelic spirits: no speculative reason can attain them, but only deep mystical contemplation. There where our thinking can come only slowly and with endless effort, our heart, our mystical faith rises with a single wingbeat.” – Will-Erich Peuckert, Pansophie (trans. Hanegraaff)

Or they may kick it in

“There are strong minds in every walk of life that will rise superior to the disadvantages of situation, and will command the tribute due to their merit, not only from the classes to which they particularly belong, but from the society in general. The door ought to be equally open to all.” – Alexander Hamilton, “The Federalist XXXVI”

Then there are those who possess them and don’t know how to use them

“In countries under arbitrary government, the people oppressed and dispirited, neither possess arms nor know how to use them. Tyrants never feel secure, until they have disarmed the people. They can rely upon nothing but standing armies of mercenary troops for the support of their power.” – The Republican, “The Principal Circumstances Which Render Liberty Secure,” Connecticut Courant, January 7, 1788