Konstruerede fortællinger og kold nødvendighed

Cory Doctorow skriver i Locus Magazine om den ubehagelige beslutnings nødvendighed – og ikke mindst om den intellektuelle uhæderlighed i de fortællinger, der iscenesætter den:

The first [example] is ‘‘The Cold Equations’’, Tom Godwin’s classic 1954 Astounding story about a shuttle pilot who has to kill a girl who has stowed away on his ship. The pilot, Barton, is on a mission to deliver medicine to a group of explorers on a distant world. They have contracted a fatal disease, and without the medicine, they will all die. The pilot has just gotten underway when he sees his fuel gauge dropping at a faster rate than it should. He deduces from this that there’s a stowaway aboard and after a search, he discovers a young girl.

She has stowed away in order to be reunited with her brother, who is on the plague-stricken world (though he’s a continent away from the sickness). She believes that she is to be fined for her rule-breaking, but then a stricken Barton explains the facts of the universe to her. The rescue ship has only enough fuel to reach the plague-planet, and with the girl’s additional mass, it won’t arrive. She will have to be pushed out of the airlock, otherwise the sick explorers will die of the plague. If Barton could, he’d sacrifice himself to let her live, but she can’t land the spaceship. It’s entirely out of his hands.

As the truth dawns on her, she weeps and protests: ‘‘I didn’t do anything!’’

But we know better, as does Barton – and as, eventually, does she. She has violated the laws of physics. The equations are there, and they say she must die. Not because the universe thirsts for her vengeance. There is no passion in her death. She must die because the inescapable, chilly math of the situation demands it.

Barton wanted her to live. Apparently, editor John W. Campbell sent back three rewrites in which the pilot figured out how to save the girl. He was adamant that the universe must punish the girl.

The universe wasn’t punishing the girl, though. Godwin was – and so was Barton (albeit reluctantly).

The parameters of ‘‘The Cold Equations’’ are not the inescapable laws of physics. Zoom out beyond the page’s edges and you’ll find the author’s hands carefully arranging the scenery so that the plague, the world, the fuel, the girl and the pilot are all poised to inevitably lead to her execution. The author, not the girl, decided that there was no autopilot that could land the ship without the pilot. The author decided that the plague was fatal to all concerned, and that the vaccine needed to be delivered within a timeframe that could only be attained through the execution of the stowaway.

It is, then, a contrivance. A circumstance engineered for a justifiable murder. An elaborate shell game that makes the poor pilot – and the company he serves – into victims every bit as much as the dead girl is a victim, forced by circumstance and girlish naïveté to stain their souls with murder.

Moral hazard is the economist’s term for a rule that encourages people to behave badly. For example, a rule that says that you’re not liable for your factory’s pollution if you don’t know about it encourages factory owners to totally ignore their effluent pipes – it turns willful ignorance into a profitable strategy.

‘‘The Cold Equations’’ is moral hazard in action. It is a story designed to excuse the ship’s operators – from the executives to ground control to the pilot – for standardizing on a spaceship with no margin of safety. A spaceship with no autopilot, no fuel reserves, and no contingency margin in its fuel calculations.

‘‘The Cold Equations’’ never asks why the explorers were sent off-planet without a supply of vaccines. It never asks what failure of health-protocol led to the spread of the disease on the distant, unexplored world.

‘‘The Cold Equations’’ shoves every one of those questions out the airlock along with the young girl. It barks at us that now is not the time for pointing fingers, because there is an emergency. It says that now is the time to pull together, the time for all foolish girls to die to save brave explorers from certain death, and not the time for assigning blame.

Doctorows overordnede konklusioner er endog meget relevante også uden for science fiction-genren:

If being in a lifeboat gives you the power to make everyone else shut the hell up and listen (or else), then wouldn’t it be awfully convenient if our ship were to go down?

Every time someone tells you that the environment is important, sure, but we can’t afford to take a bite out of the economy to mitigate global warming, ask yourself what’s out of the frame on this cold equation. Every time you hear that education is vital and taking care of the poor is our solemn duty, but we must all tighten in our belts while our lifeboat rocks in the middle of the precarious, crisis-torn economic seas, ask yourself whether the captain of our lifeboat had any role in the sinking of the ship.

Via Boing Boing.

Nej til krig mod Syrien – nu med britisk parlament

Det britiske parlament giver mig ret. In your face, Cameron!

Forfatteren Arne Herløv Petersen kommenterer krigsplanerne således:

– Bandekriminaliteten i København er forfærdende. De slås indbyrdes, og de kaster sig over uskyldige forbipassende og slår dem til lirekassemænd. Hvad skal vi dog gøre?
– Nu har jeg det. Vi går op i Rundetårn og smider nogle store sten ned over fodgængerne.
– Hvordan skulle det dog kunne hjælpe?
– Næ. Men så har vi da sendt et signal.

Fri os for krig og nyttesløse signaler. Hvis der skal gøres noget, så lad os gøre noget konstruktivt i stedet. Noget, som ikke med sikkerhed vil forværre situationen.

Boykot Legoland

Legoland ejes af kapitalfonden Merlin, der ejer en masse lignende forlystelsesparker rundt om i verden og år for år indhøster svimlende overskud.

Disse penge tjener de på bekostning af deres ansatte, som de alle andre steder end i Danmark betaler sulteløn. For nylig kom flere hundrede tyske Legoland-ansatte af samme grund til Billund for at demonstrere mod Merlin-koncernens udnyttelse af dem.

Avisen.dk skriver:

Utilfredse tyske ansatte kan glemme alt om en overenskomst med Legolands ejere, koncernen Merlin. Det skriver Fagbladet 3F.

– Det er fuldstændigt udelukket, at vi vil indgå en overenskomst med en fagforening i nogen af de lande, vi har attraktioner, siger Sally Ann Wilkinson, der er kommunikationschef hos Merlin.

Lørdag besøgte to busser med vrede tyske Legoland-ansatte forlystelsesparken i Billund for at protestere over lønninger på 60 kroner i timen i Legoland i Günzberg i Sydtyskland. Fagforbundet NGG fortæller, at mange af de ansatte tjener så lidt, at de er nødt til at modtage socialhjælp ved siden af deres løn.

Fagbladet 3F skriver endvidere:

Det er betænkeligt, mener arbejdsmarkedsforsker Henning Jørgensen fra Aalborg Universitet.

– Det er en meget udansk måde at opføre sig på for Legoland. Vi har en tradition for aftaler mellem arbejdsmarkedets parter. Uden en overenskomst har de ansatte ingen kollektive rettigheder. Det bliver i stedet et arbejdsgiverparadis, hvor firmaet bestemmer uden indblanding fra andre, siger Henning Jørgensen.

Kirkbifonden, der ejer 34 procent af Merlin, er som erhvervsfond omfattet af en høj grad af skattefrihed. Fonden meddeler, at den har fuld tillid til Merlins ledelse i sagen.

– Det er en amerikansk strategi, der har bredt sig til Europa, hvor flere koncerner fjerner sig fra aftalemodellen. Det underminerer den model, det har taget 100 år at bygge op i flere europæiske lande, siger Henning Jørgensen.

Fagforbundet NGG fortæller, at mange ansatte i Legoland i Günzberg tjener så lidt, at de er nødt til at modtage socialhjælp ved siden af deres løn. I øjeblikket kører de en retssag om fyring af en tillidsmand i forlystelsesparken.

Kirkbi-fonden er de oprindelige Lego-grundlæggeres familiefond. Det er tankevækkende, at de skattefrit kan skovle penge ind, som de tjener ved at betale så lave lønninger, at deres ansatte må søge bistandshjælp. Jeg har i hvert fald sat mine ben i Legoland for sidste gang.

Terroreksperter: “Komplet vanvittigt” at evakuere ambassader

Cory Doctorow skriver på Boing Boing:

By an amazing coincidence, the worst terrorist attack that never happened since 9/11 is not happening right now, proving that everyone who was worried about out-of-control NSA spying had lost the plot. Which is ZOMGTERRISM. So 28 US diplomatic posts have been evacuated (that is to say, “experienced an ordered departure”), including ones in places like Mauritius or Madagascar, where al Qaeda has nefariously never operated as part of its devious plan to lure everyone there into a false sense of security.

Well, some people are cynical and just don’t believe it, despite all the overwhelming secret evidence that we’re not allowed to see or know about or hear about or even have described to us. People like State Department counterterrorism advisor Will McCants, who called the evacuation of the diplomatic posts “Crazy Pants” (“you can quote me”). Loose cannons like Michael Leiter, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, who called the terrifying and nonspecific warnings “absurd hyperbole that is coming almost entirely from reckless commentators or ill-informed or ill-spoken [Capitol] Hill folks…no one who really knows al Qaeda or its history thinks that this is as huge a deal as portrayed—and certainly nothing remotely close to the worst thing we have seen since 9/11.” But what the hell does he know?

“It’s not completely random,” said another expert of the administration’s reaction, “but most people are, like, ‘Whaaat?'” Other terms used to describe it in addition to “Whaaat?” and “crazy pants”: “willy-nilly,” “baffling,” “tenuous,” “head-scratching,” and “who really knows, anyway?” White House spokesman Jay Carney wasn’t helping any: “What we know is the threat emanates from, and may be focused on, occurring in the Arabian Peninsula,” he said yesterday. “It could potentially be beyond that, or elsewhere. We cannot be more specific.” So, just stay away from everywhere, thanks.

But we have to do something, don’t we, because isn’t this “the most serious threat [Sen. Saxby Chambliss has] seen in the last several years,” reminiscent of “what we saw before 9/11”? Actually, “[t]hat is absurd hyperbole that is coming almost entirely from reckless commentators or ill-informed or ill-spoken [Capitol] Hill folks,” or so said Michael Leiter, but what does a former director of the National Counterterrorism Center know about counterterrorism? “I don’t think this was purposeful hype,” Leiter continued, “but no one who really knows al Qaeda or its history thinks that this is as huge a deal as portrayed—and certainly nothing remotely close to the worst thing we have seen since 9/11.”

Security Expert: Broad U.S. Terror Alert Is “Crazy Pants” [Lowering the Bar]

Og ja, hvis man var rigtig kynisk, kunne man få den tanke, at panikken faktisk handler om at få os alle til at synes, at NSAs overvågning af alt og alle er fjing fjong. I alle tilfælde har terroreksperterne og Doctorow ret i, at så overbevisende ser det heller ikke ud.

Kvinden, der næsten døde af at lave din iPad

Håber, den ligger godt i hånden:

Tian Yu

Tian Yu tried to kill herself in 2010, as did 17 of her Foxconn colleagues. Photograph: University Research Group

At around 8am on 17 March 2010, Tian Yu threw herself from the fourth floor of her factory dormitory in Shenzhen, southern China. For the past month, the teenager had worked on an assembly line churning out parts for Apple iPhones and iPads. At Foxconn’s Longhua facility, that is what the 400,000 employees do: produce the smartphones and tablets that are sold by Samsung or Sony or Dell and end up in British and American homes.

But most famously of all, China’s biggest factory makes gadgets for Apple. Without its No 1 supplier, the Cupertino giant’s current riches would be unimaginable: in 2010, Longhua employees made 137,000 iPhones a day, or around 90 a minute.

That same year, 18 workers – none older than 25 – attempted suicide at Foxconn facilities. Fourteen died. Tian Yu was one of the lucky ones: emerging from a 12-day coma, she was left with fractures to her spine and hips and paralysed from the waist down. She was 17.

When news broke of the suicide spree, reporters battled to piece together what was wrong in Apple’s supply chain. Photos were printed of safety nets strung by the company under dorm windows; interviews with workers revealed just how bad conditions were. Some quibbled over how unusual the Foxconn deaths were, arguing that they were in line with China’s high rate of self-killing. However conscience-soothing that claim was in both Shenzhen and California, it overlooked how those who take their own lives are often elderly or women in villages, rather than youngsters who have just moved to cities to seek their fortunes.

For the three years since, that’s the spot where the debate has been paused. In all the talk of corporate social responsibility and activists’ counter-claims that the producers of iPads and iPhones are still sweating in “labour camp” conditions, you hardly ever hear those who actually work at Foxconn speak at length and in their own terms. People such as Tian Yu.

Og jo, det er Apples skyld, at forholdene er så dårlige:

The suicide spate prompted Apple CEO Tim Cook to call on Foxconn to improve working conditions. But there is no record of him providing any money to do so, or even relaxing the draconian contractual conditions imposed on Foxconn. Asked about it yesterday, Apple’s press office said it did not discuss such matters.