The tides of time and the winds of fate


Where is the shore that was previously here?
All has shifted, and all is no more.
The lines that are drawn have blurred and disappeared,
grasping at air, in despair, wind torn and forlorn.


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History or Mystery?


Historians of the Age

Look to the musty and vacant spaces of learning.
The physical will always hold truth. The virtual is a lie.


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The past half-century has seen a steady erosion of trust in authority of all sorts, ranging from a healthy scepticism to conspiracy theories, which say that governments and their agencies or associates are capable of anything, even murder. To put it in a more scholarly fashion, conspiracy theories are “attempts to explain the ultimate cause of an event…as a secret plot by a covert alliance of powerful individuals or organizations”. The phrase conspiracy theories is often seen as pejorative and belief in them as irrational, but researchers from the University of Kent, Canterbury, UK, are asking for more research into “why people overtly reject conspiracy theories but privately accept them as true”. For that is what we do, apparently.


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"Once a contraption allowing the separation of technological capacity from moral imagination is put in place, it becomes self propelling, self reinforcing...the human capacity to adjust, habituate, become accustomed...will see to that. Atrocities in other words do not self condemn or self destruct. They self reproduce: what was once a shock degenerates into routine reflex."
-Zygmunt Bauman

"The most profound radicalism is often the most profound conservatism"
-T J Jackson Lear

"You must be a light to yourself! In a world that is rapidly growing dark."
-J Krisnamurti


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Currently Happening Presently Now: PERCEPTION


"History doesn't repeat, but it surely rhymes."
-Mark Twain

"Most of the literature on the (concentration) camps has tended to stress the role of the camps as places of execution. Regrettably, few ethical or religious thinkers have paid attention to the highly significant political fact that the camps where in reality a new form of human society."
-R. L. Rubenstein, The Cunning of History.

"Problems in human engineering will receive the same genius the last century gave to engineering in more material forms."
-Thomas A. Edison

"If evolution cannot rationally be viewed as a way to get from ape-like creatures to man, then cannot the use of evolutionism as an ideological belief system get us from man to an ape-like creature? Such a capability would be of enormous value in politics."
-Peter Medawar, The Future of Man.

"You are being programmed."
-Chamath Palihapitiya, former facebook executive.

"In the midst of these long range trends - there was a lag in the recognition that a complex society demands a sophisticated understanding among all of its citizens."
-Michael Marien, The Discovery and Decline of the Ignorant Society.

"Historical developments in the 20th century have actually placed 'emergency powers' at the heart of the rule of law as a means of administering capitalist modernity."
-Mark Neocleous, The Problem with Normality.

"There is no more opportune moment for radical change than in the aftermath of a world catastrophe."
-Warren Wagar

"Human mobility will increasingly define the 21st century."
-Dimitris Auramopoulos

"Our world is headed into a perfect storm of an interconnected financial, ecological, and social crisis."
-Ian Johnson, Club of Rome.

"Utopian speculations...must come back into fashion. They are a way of affirming faith in the possibility of solving problems that seem at the moment insoluble. Today even the survival of humanity is a utopian hope."
-Norman O. Brown, Life against Death, 1959.


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Currently Happening Presently Now: MANAGEMENT


"Television and the personal computer, even as they are now converging on a single machinic functioning ... are methods for the management of attention ... rendering bodies controllable and useful simultaneously, even as they simulate the illusion of choices and ‘interactivity’...the management of attention ... through the television set or computer monitor (at least in their overwhelmingly pervasive forms), has little to do with the visual contents of these screens and far more with a larger strategy of the individual ... with the construction of conditions that individuate, immobilize, and separate subjects, even within a world in which mobility and circulation are ubiquitous..."

-Jonathan Crary, Suspensions of perception: Attention, spectacle, and modern culture. Mit Press, 2001.

"The illusion of user control corresponds to the idea of contemporary identity as a continual performative task of self-construction. Culture today is made up of roles that must be continually reinvented – ‘chosen’ – rather than fixed identities...We are permeated with narcissism, not as self-love but in terms of the exclusive reference to ourselves, which asks: What does this event mean to me? The narcissistic subject searches for and expects ‘real’ and intense experiences only within the framework of their own needs and which social relationships are treated as pretexts for the expression of personality..."

-Daniel Palmer, "The paradox of user control." Design Philosophy Papers 1.3 (2003): 127-135.

"The neo-Panoptic environment is a space where the destrucuration of trust isn't exercised by intimidation and refutation but by circulation and provocation, i.e., by the fact that deeply trusting relationships are never given the means, time or anonymous social space to thrive and develop. In control societies social-being mirrors the soft and immaterial forms of production that permeate a radically de-socialized/hypersocialized world of exchange - where 'interactivity' and 'inter-subjective relations' largely consist of the multiplication of light interactions, tertiary acquaintanships, and virtual transactions. Even sexual relations have be commuted into 'booty calls', FWB's, simulated pleasures and every other possible form of denatured touching."

-Grant Vetter, The architecture of control: a contribution to the critique of the science of apparatuses. John Hunt Publishing, 2012.


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Currently Happening Presently Now: VISION


"Naivete is often an excuse for those who exercise power. For those upon whom that power is exercised, naivete is always a mistake...History is the fruit of power, but power itself is never so transparent that its analysis becomes superflous. The ultimate mark of power may be its invisibility; the ultimate challenge, the exposition of its roots."
― Michel-Rolph Trouillot

“In the universe, there are things that are known, and things that are unknown, and in between, there are doors.”
― William Blake

"The end of our foundation is the knowledge of causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of human empire, to the effecting of all things possible."
― Francis Bacon, New Atlantis, 1627.

"With Galileo, the desire to make his ideas prevail apparently led him to report experiments that could not have been performed exactly as described. Thus an ambiguous attitude toward data was present from the very beginning of western experimental science. On the one hand, experimental data was upheld as the ultimate arbiter of truth, on the other hand, fact was subordinated to theory when necessary and even, if it didn't fit, distorted."
- William J. Broad & Nicholas Wade, Betrayers of the truth: fraud and deciet in science

“This life's dim windows of the soul
Distorts the heavens from pole to pole
And leads you to believe a lie
When you see with, not through, the eye.”
― William Blake

"Friends, leave behind that darkened room
Where light of day is much abused,
And, bent low by crooked thought and gloom,
Our sight is anguished and confused..."
-Goethe, 'Murky Law'


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Currently Happening Presently Now: ENDGAME


Untitled 6063
Rodin, J., & Schwartz, P. (2010). Scenarios for the future of technology and international development.

Schwartz, P., & Randall, D. (2003). An abrupt climate change scenario and its implications for United States national security. CALIFORNIA INST OF TECHNOLOGY PASADENA CA JET PROPULSION LAB.


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Currently Happening Presently Now: EUGENICS


Untitled 6064
Seltzer, W. (1998). Population statistics, the Holocaust, and the Nuremberg trials. Population and Development Review, 511-552.

Drawing on a variety of sources, the article examines how population statistics were used by the Nazis in planning and implementing the Holocaust and how the data systems that gathered these statistics and other information were also employed to assist in carrying out the Holocaust. This review covers experience in Germany, Poland, France, the Netherlands, and Norway. Attention is also given to the role played in this work by some of those then professionally active in demography and statistics. The use and impact of perpetrator-generated Holocaust mortality data and other estimates of Jewish losses presented at the Nuremberg trials are then described. Finally, present-day implications of the historical experience under review are discussed.

Aly, G., & Roth, K. H. (2004). The Nazi census: Identification and control in the Third Reich. Temple University Press.

Lee, R. (2004). Official Statistics and Demography in the Third Reich. In Bevölkerungslehre und Bevölkerungspolitik im „Dritten Reich “ (pp. 101-124). VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

Siddoway, M. The Indian Wars, Eugenics, and Statistics: A Broader View of Scientific Racism Before the Outbreak of WWII.

Racial theories figured to devastating effect in the Ïndian Wars" of the American West, and a half-century later in the "Final Solution" in Nazi Germany. Arguments surfaced from the across the political spectrum in late 19th century America in support of eradicating the native population. When the Minneconjou followers of Chief Big Foot were shot down at Wounded Knee Creek in 1890, marking the end of the war on the plains, US laws were already excluding immigrants on the basis of race and ethnicity. The British anthropologist Francis Galton coined the term ëugenics" in the 1880's. The US eugenics movement was very strong through the early part of the 20th century and was followed closely by adherents in Europe. Sterilization and miscegenation laws appeared in numerous states. Two of the most prominent figures in the history of statistics, Karl Pearson and Ronald Fisher both held positions in England as Professors of Eugenics in the decades before the start of WWII. By the mid 30's, when National Socialism was tightening its grip on Germany, eugenics had become a fixture in the intellectual landscape in the US and Europe. The rigor that mathematics brought to the eugenics movement through the development and study of statistics made it all the more accepted as a serious branch of science. In this talk I will look a little wider than Stefan Kühl did in his excellent book on the links between American eugenics and National Socialism by including discussion of American racial attitudes during the Ïndian Wars" and the possible role that mathematics played in legitimizing the broader eugenics movement before the outbreak of WWII.

Kraly, E. P., & McQuilton, J. (2005). The ‘protection’of Aborigines in colonial and early federation Australia: the role of population data systems. Population, Space and Place, 11(4), 225-250.

This paper reveals the role of population data systems in the governmental management of Aborigines and Aboriginal communities in Australia during the colonial era, and the first several decades after federation in 1901. State control over Aboriginal affairs was paramount during this period. In varying degrees, each of the Australian states implemented policies and programmes concerning Aboriginal persons and communities in the areas of settlement and geographical mobility, employment, marriage and cohabitation, health, criminal activities, voting, and the education of children. Each of these areas of management suggests an important role of population statistics and data systems. This paper considers the colony, then state, of Victoria as the first in a series of case studies. Archival methods are used to examine records concerning Aboriginal policy and administration. In Victoria, the call for evidence and reports on the conditions of Aborigines is heard often throughout historical records of communication between colonial representatives and governors, and subsequently between state parliamentarians and Chief Protectors. The distribution of rations and blankets to Aborigines and the regulation of movement in and out of reserves similarly were monitored using demographic accounting and registration systems. The forced removal of Aborigines to reserves in some areas, and the prohibition of half-caste persons from reserves in other locales, notably Victoria, were administered by the larger reserves through population registration and the recording and tabulation of information about individuals and families. The policy to treat Aborigines of ‘pure blood’ differently from persons of mixed heritage, and hence to maintain an official classification of lineage, similarly required population registration and classification of Aboriginal persons for legal, administrative and managerial purposes. This research contributes to the growing scholarly literature on the role of population data systems in the infliction of human rights violations.

Cowan, R. S. (1972). Francis Galton's statistical ideas: the influence of eugenics. Isis, 509-528.

Dilettante that he was, it seems unlikely that Galton would have suffered the pains of discovery if he had not been strongly motivated; his motivation was, as we shall see, largely political. Galton pursued statistics because he believed that statistics would solve the problem of heredity and that heredity, once understood, could be used to resolve the political and social conflicts that plague the race of men. For Galton this was a real political program, not just empty rhetoric. He sincerely believed that statistics could be used to construct the perfect eugenic state.

Louçã, F. (2009). Emancipation Through Interaction–How Eugenics and Statistics Converged and Diverged. Journal of the History of Biology, 42(4), 649-684.

The paper discusses the scope and influence of eugenics in defining the scientific programme of statistics and the impact of the evolution of biology on social scientists. It argues that eugenics was instrumental in providing a bridge between sciences, and therefore created both the impulse and the institutions necessary for the birth of modern statistics in its applications first to biology and then to the social sciences. Looking at the question from the point of view of the history of statistics and the social sciences, and mostly concentrating on evidence from the British debates, the paper discusses how these disciplines became emancipated from eugenics precisely because of the inspiration of biology. It also relates how social scientists were fascinated and perplexed by the innovations taking place in statistical theory and practice.

Habermann, H. (2006). Ethics, confidentiality and data dissemination. Journal of Official Statistics, 22(4), 599.

Last year, a New York Times article regarding tabulations the U.S. Census Bureau provided to another agency, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, highlighted certain statements and allegations. The article drew comparisons to actions in the Census Bureau’s past, and suggested the Census Bureau—by providing statistical data, which did not reveal any individuals—had acted in bad faith, violating the trust under which it collected the census from individuals and households. The article compared the preparation of extracts for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to the work that the Census Bureau did in 1942 for the War Department, specifically the Army’s Western Defense Command in San Francisco, during World War II, for the purposes of relocating the Japanese community living in the west coast. The comparison between the tabulations the Census Bureau provided to the Department of Homeland Security and the work it did for the army rekindled long-standing doubts and allegations about the Census Bureau’s commitment to the confidentiality protections of the Census Law, and the extent to which statistics are used to the detriment of certain populations.

Okamura, R. Y. (1981). The myth of census confidentiality. Amerasia Journal, 8(2), 111-120.

Seltzer, W. (2005). Official statistics and statistical ethics: Selected issues. International Statistical Institute, 55th Session.

Seltzer, W., & Anderson, M. (2005). On the use of population data systems to target vulnerable population subgroups for human rights abuses. Coyuntura Social, 32, 31-44.

Seltzer, W., & Anderson, M. (2008). Using population data systems to target vulnerable population subgroups and individuals: Issues and incidents. Statistical Methods for Human Rights, 273-328.

This chapter focuses on (a) presenting and discussing concepts and perspectives needed to understand how population data systems have been misused to target individuals and population subgroups, (b) presenting a review of instances, sometimes in the context of major human rights abuses, where population data systems have been used for such targeting, where such efforts were initiated, or where such targeting has been seriously contemplated or suspected, (c) a brief review of a range of safeguards that can help to prevent or reduce the impact of such misuses, and (d) in light of the material presented, a discussion of the role and responsibilities of government statistical agencies and their staffs and the statistical profession more generally.


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