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.

Alan Moore om crowdfunding, overvågning og Internet


I remember watching “Fall Out,” that final episode of “The Prisoner,” on I think a Wednesday night when I was around 13. And I can remember that scene where the whole series seems to break down into an absurdist collage. Where McGoohan’s Number Six finally confronts the mysterious Number One, who has been unseen throughout the series but is now a hooded figure. McGoohan pulls off his hood and there is a crude, rubber ape mask underneath. McGoohan pulls off the ape mask, and there is Patrick McGoohan underneath, laughing maniacally. Even at the age of 13, I dimly remember what that meant, that moment when he reveals that they are the same. It was answering the question, “Who is the one who restricts us and makes us all prisoners?” And I think McGoohan’s answer to that was incredibly liberating. It’s us, isn’t it?

Læs det hele.

Kunstens (eller bedømmelsesudvalgets) forfald

Det er et slående faktum og siger en hel del om tilstanden i moderne kunst – og ikke mindst om det bedømmelsesudvalg, der står bag Sculpture by the Sea – at Tall Ships Races faktisk har et  langt stærkere visuelt udtryk.

Status for moderne skulpturkunst (og i hvert fald den, der kommer her til Århus) er altså, at den ikke kan hamle op med sejlskibe af træ. Det er da ærligt talt sørgeligt.

Spilproducenten Valve opfordrer sine brugere til at installere Ubuntu

Steam asking people to install Ubuntu

Hvis du er Windows-bruger og går ind på den store spilproducent Valves hjemmeside Steam, gør de dig ikke alene opmærksom på, at man nu kan downloade en beta-udgave af deres Steam-system, som gør det muligt at spille deres spil – de opfordrer dig til at skifte til Ubuntu for at prøve det, komplet med et link til download af Ubuntu 12.04 LTS!

Jeg mener personligt stadig, at det er et problem, at de bagvedliggende programmer (i modsætning til selve spillene) ikke er fri software, men i betragtning af, hvor stort et problem det har været med spil på Ubuntu og GNU/Linux i almindelighed, er det en meget velkommen udvikling, at så stor en spiller som Valve (producent af bl.a. CounterStrike) nu er på banen med deres Steam-platform. Selvom Steam (endnu?) ikke er fri software, vil dette skridt helt klart gør det lettere også for gamere at bruge fri software i det daglige.

Via Ubuntu Vibes.

RIP Aaron Swartz (1986-2013)

Hvis du nogensinde har brugt et RSS-feed til at læse en blog på nettet, har du brugt Swartz’ arbejde.

Og hvis du bekymrer dig om din frihed i vor moderne tidsalder, bør du vide at Swartz måske begik selvmord under indtryk af retsvæsnets helt uproportionale forfølgelse af, hvad der i bund og grund var ment som et slag for friheden på nettet.

Og læs Cory Doctorows nekrolog over Swartz: RIP, Aaron Swartz.

Game of Thrones

Jeg har nu set de første seks afsnit af TV-serien “Game of Thrones”, og det har været en god investering af min tid. Faktisk er det den bedste TV-serie, jeg har set, siden jeg så de fire første sæsoner af LOST (jeg er ikke begejstret for dennes slutning), som den foreløbig ser ud til at overgå. Foreløbig ser det ud til at kunne blive den bedste af de “nye” amerikanske TV-serier, og det siger faktisk ikke så lidt, med præstationer som LOST og THE WIRE og BREAKING BAD at holde den op mod. Go see.

Note til skribenter: Brug aldrig et ord, du ikke forstår

Det kan gå grueligt galt. Så blot, hvordan det gik my man Robert Browning:

In 1841, Browning published the long dramatic poem Pippa Passes, now best known for the lines “God’s in His heaven/ All’s right with the world.” Toward the end of it, he sets up a kind of Gothic scene, and writes:

Then, owls and bats,
Cowls and twats,
Monks and nuns, in a cloister’s moods,
Adjourn to the oak-stump pantry!

The second of these lines created no stir at all, presumably because the middle class had truly forgotten the word “twat” (just as it had forgotten “quaint,” so that Marvell’s pun on the two meanings in “To His Coy Mistress” has fallen flat for six or eight generations now). A few scholars must have recognized the word, but any who did behaved like loyal subjects when the emperor wore his new clothes, and discreetly said nothing. No editor of Browning has ever expurgated the line, even when Rossetti was diligently cutting mere “womb” out of Whitman. The first response only came forty years later when the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary, collecting examples of usage, like Johnson before them, and interested to find a contemporary use of “twat,” wrote to Browning to ask in what sense he was using it. Browning is said to have written back that he used it to mean a piece of headgear for nuns, comparable to the cowls for monks he put in the same line. The editors are then supposed to have asked if he recalled where he had learned the word. Browning replied that he knew exactly. He had read widely in seventeenth-century literature in his youth, and in a broadside poem called “Vanity of Vanities”, published in 1659, he had found these lines, referring to an ambitious cleric:

They talk’t of his having a Cardinall’s Hat;
They’d send him as soon an Old Nun’s Twat.

“Twat” blev altså i Brownings kilde ikke brugt om noget, en nonne kan tage på hovedet … sprogbloggen citerer Oxford English Dictionary, der som sin mest konkrete betydning har pudendum muliebre. Av.

Dagens citat – the golden rose

Judson Jerome, i hans The Poet and the Poem, Writer’s Digests Books 1979, s. 351:

I have heard that, before Franco, there was an annual Catalan poetry contest, the prizes for which were awarded on the steps of the cathedral in Barcelona. The third prize was a silver rose. The second prize was a golden rose. The first prize was, of course, a real rose. The poet’s most difficult wrestling with his soul is learning never to be envious of the golden rose.