Arendt and the drones

May 27th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

What would Hannah Arendt think about Drones, and should we agree with her? Much distrust of drones, argues Abu Muqawama, comes from the same tradition as Arendt’s horror at the ‘banality of evil’. Its model of evil is the Nazi bureaucrat, efficiently implementing Genocide while mentally insulated from the reality.

Arendt tapped into a wave of humanistic sentiment that prefigured her journalism, and she popularized the fantasy of the ice-cold bureaucratic murderer. As wrong as she was [Muqawama considers Eichmann as much idealist as pen-pusher], she crafted a compelling narrative of a sociotechnical system that diminished the humanity of the men who operated it and killed millions.

So drone operators, like Eichmann, can be simultaneously driven by scientific rationalism and by rabid murderous ideology. Um, great!

Or to put a kinder spin on it: drone pilots are subject to the same passions as soldiers in the field. But, being in a less brutal environment, they might be more open to compassion than to revenge:

in what universe does does a 19-year old rifleman who took to war directly from high school prom, who has just seen his friend lose his limbs a week before in a IED attack, somehow become an a priori better choice than a Air Force officer sitting in a Creech Air Force Base trailer?

Roadkill evolution

May 15th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Swallows have evolved to better dodge cars, according to an article in Current Biology. They are gradually getting shorter wings, which help them fly up from the road and swerve around cars.

During a 30-year study on social behavior and coloniality of cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) in southwestern Nebraska, we found that the frequency of road-killed swallows declined sharply over the 30 years following the birds’ occupancy of roadside nesting sites and that birds killed on roads had longer wings than the population at large.


Bits and Pieces

May 11th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

Intriguing (and comprehensible) article on the ABC Conjecture, a famous mathematical problem that might — or might not — have been solved last year. After 10 years of quiet work, Shinichi Mochizuki dumped a dense 500-page quartet of papers on the world. Mathematicians are having trouble digesting them:

This is not just gibberish to the average layman. It was gibberish to the math community as well.

“Looking at it, you feel a bit like you might be reading a paper from the future, or from outer space,” wrote Ellenberg on his blog.

“It’s very, very weird,” says Columbia University professor Johan de Jong, who works in a related field of mathematics.

Mochizuki had created so many new mathematical tools and brought together so many disparate strands of mathematics that his paper was populated with vocabulary that nobody could understand. It was totally novel, and totally mystifying.

Molly Crabapple was a schoolage malcontent:

In The Medicalization of Deviance, Peter Conrad says that what was once conceived of as sin, then crime, became illness. School kids are labelled with all three. Brown kids in broke schools are seen as minicriminals. Police detain them for doodling on their own backpacks. In religious areas, queer kids are sinners.

For white kids in decent schools, adolescent rebellion is something for psychiatrists to treat. For them, school is taken as a hard-wired part of evolution. You’re broken if you can’t sit in class.

Crabapple eventually gets a quite wonderful diagnosis: “Oppositional Deviant Disorder”. Truly, America is master of the medical approach.

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