Sojourning in the wilderness

“Refugee camps provide food and shelter, but they do not provide political voice and agency for their populations. Global institutions do not have the power to include stateless people in political membership. This is the danger of cosmopolitan institutions—that everyone becomes a mere human body to be managed in a camp.” – Thomas Nail, “Migrant Cosmpolitanism”

We get what we want

“If we value democracy, if we want to live in a world marked by a vibrant public sphere that can generate the possibilities of hope and human betterment, then we need futures. Without futures, and without serious propositional clashes between different materialized futures, we have no politics, and we have no democracy. We merely have millimetric policy disputes that end up as the technocratic attending to marginally different versions of the status quo.

“We can sense these dangers at the moment when we look at the state of our increasingly illiberal democracies. The problems mount: from climate change to spiraling inequality; from crumbling infrastructure to a surveillance state that has no bounds. Yet, our political culture is fixed and frozen.

“As such, we find ourselves in a culture that can happily spend $250 million dollars per Hollywood movie to create the next sci-fi fantasy but finds it is beyond its imaginative capacities to design superb, sustainable, public housing. We can build fabulously elaborate multiplayer online fantasy games, where gamer avatars can have sex with their elf girlfriends, but providing web platforms that give working people more democratic control over their workplace is a fantasy too far. The potential of self-driving cars or the rise of Artificial Intelligence can be endlessly debated. But the idea that we might be able to regulate our financial institutions is presented as a process as mysterious, dangerous and futile as the attempt to locate Lord Voldermort’s horcruxes.

“Yes, there are future visions still engaged with in mainstream political debate. But what are they: The endless continuation of the neo-liberal present; apocalyptic modes of environmentalism; dystopian fears of the return of the caliphate. We can do much better than that.” – Damian White, “Critical Design and the Critical Social Sciences”

Helluva way to win a war

“Forget about the level of training, the implementation of draconian punitive measures or the socialization of troops – during any engagement both sides are naturally leaning towards retreat. The side whose soldiers are able to suppress that instinctive response longer is usually victorious.” – Łukasz Różycki, “Fear – Elements of Slavic ‘Psychological Warfare’ in the Context of Selected Late Roman Sources”

The luck of the draw

“No identifiable form of intelligence, talent, genius, or even experience seems necessary for ruling a country. Would-be rulers do not have to pass qualifying examinations in leadership or demonstrate competence in administration or show skill in diplomacy. They do not need to have good communication skills or even be popular with their subjects. While many leaders are imaginative, worldly, and intelligent, others are pedestrian, narrow-minded, and ignorant, which suggests that demonstrated ability or achievement has little to do with securing the highest office in the land.

“Leaders need not be sane, rational, or even mentally competent to rule a country. [Research reveals] high rates of alcoholism, drug use, depression, mania, and paranoia among certain kinds of rulers. Remarkably, over [the 20th] century, many rulers even have managed to keep power despite being floridly crazy or demented.

“Although intellectual or academic credentials seem irrelevant for ruling, one of the time-honored ways individuals establish their qualifications for leadership is by showing physical prowess and courage in battle.

“Throughout history, rulers who attain legendary status often tend to be those who have conquered other nations, won major wars, expanded their country’s boundaries, founded new nations, forcibly transformed their societies, and imposed their own beliefs on their subjects. In short, they have killed, plundered, oppressed, and destroyed. Rarely do rulers achieve greatness who have been ambassadors for peace, kept the status quo, defended free speech, promoted independent thinking, and avoided wars at all costs.”

– Arnold Ludwig, The King of the Mountain

Good luck, buddy

“Now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why. From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.” —John Roberts, United States Supreme Court Chief Justice, at his son’s 9th grade commencement, June, 2017

Schooling the fish

“Great pressure is brought to bear to make us undervalue ourselves. On the other hand, civilization teaches that each of us is an inestimable prize. There are, then, these two preparations: one for life and the other for death. Therefore we value and are ashamed to value ourselves, are hard-boiled. We are schooled in quietness and, if one of us takes his measure occasionally, he does so coolly, as if he were examining his fingernails, not his soul, frowning at the imperfections he finds as one would at a chip or a bit of dirt. Because, of course, we are called upon to accept the imposition of all kinds of wrongs, to wait in ranks under a hot sun, to run up a clattering beach, to be sentries, scouts or workingmen, to be those in the train when it is blown up, or those at the gates when they are locked, to be of no significance, to die. The result is that we learn to be unfeeling toward ourselves and incurious. Who can be the earnest huntsman of himself when he knows he is in turn a quarry? Or nothing so distinctive as quarry, but one of a shoal, driven toward the weirs.” – Saul Bellow, Dangling Man

Making the world go ’round

“Supply is supply, and demand is demand. They will be satisfied, be it with combs, fifes, rubber, whisky, tainted meat, canned peas, sex, or tobacco. For every need there is an entrepreneur, by a marvelous providence. You can find a man to bury your dog, rub your back, teach you Swahili, read your horoscope, murder your competitor. In the megalopolis, all this is possible. There was a Parisian cripple in the days of John Law, the Scottish speculator, who stood in the streets renting out his hump for a writing desk to people who had no convenient place to take their transactions.” – Saul Bellow, Dangling Man

Point of view

“All comfort in life is based upon a regular occurrence of external phenomena. The changes of the day and night, of the seasons, of flowers and fruits, and all other recurring pleasures that come to us, that we may and should enjoy them—these are the mainsprings of our earthly life. The more open we are to these enjoyments, the happier we are; but if these changing phenomena unfold themselves and we take no interest in them, if we are insensible to such fair solicitations, then comes on the sorest evil, the heaviest disease—we regard life as a loathsome burden.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Poetry and Life

The sequel

“It is a well known fact that, in spite of the attenuation of electromagnetic radiation produced by sea water, photosynthetic organisms thrive in the underwater ecosystem. But it is rather surprising that bacterial photosynthesis has been observed to take place deep within the Pacific Ocean, at depths in excess of 2,000 meters. This biological process is carried out by green-sulfur bacteria that are obligated photosynthetic organisms. That is, these organisms are required to conduct photosynthesis in order to survive. Even though at this depth the ocean is in total darkness to the human eye, the bacteria is able to efficiently absorb and process the dim light that comes from the sun or nearby hydrothermal vents. In a sense, the problem of highly efficient underwater photosensors has already been solved by nature through the evolution over millions of years of these underwater photosynthetic
organisms.

“Let us recall that photosynthetic organisms posses molecular antenna systems that capture solar light and transport the energy to a metabolically expensive reaction center where the biochemical processes of photosynthesis begins. For many years it was conjectured that the transport of energy to the reaction center was due to classical energy transport mechanisms.

“However, it has recently been observed that photosynthetic proteins appear to use quantum coherence to transport energy in an efficient manner (nearly perfect quantum efficiency of the photo collection capture and transport processes). Indeed, quantum effects in photosynthetic light harvesting systems have been experimentally observed at cryogenic and at room temperature. These experiments required of sophisticated setups requiring ultra fast optics and 2D spectrography to detect the characteristic quantum signatures. In addition, a variety of theoretical efforts have proposed viable physical mechanisms that explain how quantum phenomena can be relevant at room temperature.”

– Marco Lanzagorta, et al., “Quantum Sensing in the Maritime Environment”

It is and isn’t

“A state such as ∣ψ) is often referred as a qubit and corresponds to a unit of quantum information (in contrast to the bit, which is the unit of classical information). Clearly, bits and qubits are radically different. Bits can assume the value of 0 or 1, but once fixed, its value is unique, deterministic, and unambiguous. On the other hand, qubits can simultaneously take the value of 0 and 1 in a probabilistic mixture of complex amplitudes, and as a consequence, its value is not deterministic.” – Marco Lanzagorta, et al., “Quantum Sensing in the Maritime Environment”

 

Learned helplessness

“It takes patience to associate with women and whoever loves them needs to be magnanimous. They are always picking quarrels with men and annoying them, as they are proud of being the fair sex, boasting of their own superiority and despising men. This is particularly true when they see that their husbands love them, and they respond to this with pride, coquetry and misdeeds of every kind. If a man becomes angry when he sees his wife doing something that he dislikes, there can be no association between the two of them, for the only men whom women find acceptable are the magnanimous and long-suffering. If a man is not prepared to put up with his wife and to overlook her evil deeds, then he cannot successfully associate with her. It is said that were women up in the sky, men would crane their necks to look at them.” – The Arabian Nights (trans. Lyons, et al.)