Maquina Lectora

Notes of a curious mind

Category: Politics (Page 1 of 5)

Another day in the death of America by Gary Younge

The cover of Gary Younge’s book, Another day in the death of America, a happy white family in America from the 1950s, is in complete contrast to the bitter reality in America today.

Every day, on average, 7 children and teens seen their lives cut tragically short by gun violence in America.  American teens are seventeen times more likely to die from gun violence than their peers in any other high income country. Gun violence disproportionately affects children of colour.

Gary Younge has picked a random day, 23 November, 2013, to present the cases of the ten young people who were shot at this particular day, in different parts of the country. The number of fatalities that day exceeded the national daily average for 2013, which was of 6.75. The youngest was 9 and the oldest, 19 years old. All were males, seven were black, two Hispanic, and one white.

For eighteen months, Gary Younge, tracked down the families of the young victims, he talked to parents and siblings, relatives and friends, teachers and community workers. He examines the circumstances of the deaths; some were deliberate, others tragic accidents, due to easy access to guns.

This is not a book about gun control though, but about what happens when you don’t have gun control, when guns are so easily available. It is not a book about race, though a disproportionate number of those who fell that particular day were black. Certain racial themes are, therefore unavoidable.

For eighteen months, Gary Younge, tracked down the families of the victims, he talked to parents and siblings, relatives and friends, teachers and community workers. He approaches the subject of the vulnerability of the young in America with great sensitivity and empathy. He sticks closely to his case studies, avoiding any kind of polemic.  At the same time, he touches subjects more challenging and knotted than that. Poverty and inequality, poor education and lack of employment opportunities, drugs and gangs,  create a desperate situation and have detrimental effects on life chances.

Gary Younge is not optimistic that this situation will change. Despite the fact that the number of Americans that support further guns’ regulation has been increased, the National Rifle Association (NRA), the principle gun lobbyist which advocates for gun ownership, has done “an excellent job of mythologizing gun-ownership as being a ‘right’ bequeathed to them by their revolutionary forbears, that could not be violated,” while continuously maintain a sense of the world as a dangerous, insecure place.  NRA’s appeal goes beyond the weapon itself to the tested American tropes of rugged individualism, masculinity, small government and homestead. It “evokes a threat not only to an individual or a family, but to American civilization itself”, writes Gary Younge.

Gun violence can have a series of serious snowball effects in education, health, incarceration, family instability, and social capital. The distress, the trauma and the pain many poor, inner-city families experience, following the killing of a family member or close relative, deserves special attention. Better education, youth services, jobs that pay a living wage, mental health services, trauma counselling, a fair criminal justice system – “in short more opportunity”, writes Gary Younge, “would contribute to a climate where such deaths were less likely.”

Gary Younge has written a gripping, emotional and thought provoking book. It is a cry for the wealthiest country in the world that could and should do better for its children.

Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe by Anne Applebaum

“For a thousand years, the geography of the borderlands dictated their fate,” writes Anne Applebaum in her evocative and well-written book, Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe, which first published in 1994.

In the 1991 and 1992, an era of social, political and economic turmoil, Anne Applebaum travelled in the countries of former Soviet Union, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, across the borderlands that constitute Europe’s far east landscape. The Soviet empire had ended but nothing else had yet replaced it. Longstanding institutions, such as the Communist Party, had vanished. Corruption was rampant. New politicians constantly replacing old ones. The desire for freedom and national sovereignty had raised troubling questions about identity. In the next few years, political, cultural and military conflicts shook the territories that used to be part of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union.

The end of the Soviet Union, saw the “construction of homelands”, a process in which the nationalist elites and intellectuals, mobilised the myths and the images of a homeland, in order to reinforce the depiction of a nation as an ancient community and to give people a sense of belonging. Nationalism became attractive and synonymous with decentralization and democratisation and nationalists were considered democratic and progressive heroes.

Anne Applebaum take us to a journey into the past and the post-Soviet era of Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine. She travels us to an area defined throughout its history by colliding empires, cultures and religions.

“Travel here demands a forensic passion, not merely a love of art or architecture or natural beauty,” she writes.

“there are many layers of civilization in the borderlands, but they do not lie neatly on top of one another. “A traveller can meet a man born in Poland, brought up in the Soviet Union, who now lives in Belarus – and he has never left his village.”


Oι Ασκήσεις Ελευθερίας του Νίκου Δήμου

Όταν ένας Αθηναίος κατηγόρησε τον Αναχάρση ότι είναι Σκύθης, αυτός απάντησε: «Εγώ ίσως πρέπει να ντρέπομαι για την πατρίδα μου, η δική σου όμως πατρίδα πρέπει να ντρέπεται για σένα».

Τον Νίκο Δήμου τον ανακάλυψα το 1977. ‘Εφηβη, μπερδεμένη, προσπαθούσα να ανακαλύψω τον εαυτό μου και τον κόσμο, μέσα από τα βιβλία. Δεν ήταν και ο καλύτερος  τρόπος, αλλά στην μπερδεμένη Αθήνα της μεταπολίτευσης, δεν είχαμε και πολλούς τρόπους διαθέσιμους. Η γραφόσουν σε καμμιά πολιτική νεολαία (ΔΑΠ-ΝΔΦΚ  και ΚΝΕ ήταν τότε στο φόρτε τους), ή το’ ριχνες στη μουσική και στο διάβασμα. Rock και βιβλία ήταν ο δικός μου τρόπος.   Όχι ότι ήμουν εντελώς απολιτίκ, δεν ήταν δυνατόν να είσαι νέος και απολιτικ στην Αθήνα του 1977, απλά, από τότε είχα μια αντιπάθεια σε οτιδήποτε είχε να κάνει με εξουσίες, εντάξεις κόμματα, παρατάξεις, παρέες, κ.λ.π.

Μια μέρα, ψαχουλεύοντας τα ράφια της  Πρωτοπορίας, βρήκα το Η Δυστυχία του να είσαι Έλληνας. Δεν ήξερα τίποτα για τον Νίκο Δήμου. Άνοιξα το βιβλίο και

Ορίζουμε σαν ευτυχία την (συνήθως προσωρινή) κατάσταση, όπου η πραγματικότητα συμπίπτει με τις επιθυμίες μας

Σε αναλογία, δυστυχία πρέπει να είναι η μη σύμπτωση ανάμεσα σε επιθυμία και πραγματικότητα.

Με άλλα λόγια, δυστυχία μπορούμε να ονομάσουμε την απόσταση ανάμεσα σε επιθυμία και πραγματικότητα.

Όσο μεγαλύτερη η απόσταση, τόσο πιο δυστυχισμένοι είμαστε.

Αξίωμα: Ένας Έλληνας κάνει ότι μπορεί για να μεγαλώσει το άνοιγμα ανάμεσα σε επιθυμία και πραγματικότητα.

Αυτό ήταν, κόλλησα. Αγόρασα το βιβλίο και πέρασα τις επόμενες ώρες χωμένη στις σελίδες του. Άρχισα μάλιστα να γραφω, σε ένα τετράδιο που, ευτυχώς, εχει χαθεί εδώ και δεκαετίες,  τους δικούς μου επαναστατικούς εφηβικούς αφορισμούς

Συνέχισα να διαβάζω το Νίκο Δήμου για αρκετά χρόνια. Κάποια στιγμή τον άφησα, πίστεψα ότι είχα πάρει ότι είχε να προσφέρει. Άρχισα να διαβάζω πιο σύνθετους, παλαιότερους και πιο νεώτερους, στοχαστές. Όταν έφυγα από την Ελλάδα, πήρα μαζί μου ελάχιστα αγαπημένα βιβλία, ένα από αυτά ήταν Η Δυστυχία του να είσαι Έλληνας.

Ο Νίκος Δήμου είναι ξεχωριστή περίπτωση συγγραφέα – στοχαστή. Μακριά από σχολές και ρεύματα, αυτό που χαρακτηρίζει το έργο του είναι η αγάπη για την ελευθερία. Η ελευθερία  για τον Δήμου είναι ανάγκη, είναι ηθική στάση ζωής. “Στη μία και μόνη αξία της ελευθερίας (όλων) εδράζεται κάθε άλλη πολιτική αρετή  – και η δικαιοσύνη.” Mόνο που πρέπει να γίνει κατανοητό ότι «η ελευθερία του άλλου» είναι εξίσου σημαντική με την δική μου.

Άρχισα να ξαναδιαβάζω τον Δήμου όταν ανακάλυψα την ηλεκτρονική ιστοσελίδα του. Και ξανακόλλησα. Κάθε φορά που βρίσκομαι στην Αθήνα ψάχνω να βρω τα βιβλία του. Πολλά είναι πλέον εξαντλημένα.  Πριν ένα-δυο χρόνια, σε ένα από τα ταξίδια μου στην Αθήνα,  βρήκα, σε ένα πάγκο με μεταχειρισμένα βιβλία, το Ασκήσεις Ελευθερίας, μια σειρά κειμένων, από τα μέσα περίπου του 1970ς μέχρι και το 2005. Πρόκειται για μια καταγραφή απόψεων και θέσεων για την Ελευθερία και τον ολοκληρωτισμό,  τον εθνικισμό και το ρατσισμό, τη μισαλλοδοξία και τον ορθολογισμό.

Τους τελευταίους μήνες, το χέρι μου πήγαινε συνεχώς στο ράφι που βρίσκεται τοποθετημένο. Το έβγαζα, το ξεφύλλιζα, το άφηνα, και  άντε πάλι από την αρχή.

Αυτόν τον Αύγουστο όμως δεν το άφησα. Το πήρα και άρχισα να το διαβάζω. Η χρονική περίοδος δεν είναι τυχαία. Η οικονομική κρίση έφερε στο φως,  μια κοινωνία που αν την ξαπλώναμε στο ντιβάνι του ψυχαναλυτή, θα ξεδιπλώναμε μια ασταθή και διχασμένη προσωπικότητα – με κύρια χαρακτηριστικά την  έλλειψη ανοχής, την ανασφάλεια και αρκετές φορές την παράνοια.

Το Ασκήσεις Ελευθερίας είναι μια ανθολογία κειμένων, αναλύσεις, φιλοσοφικά και πολιτικά δοκίμια, ημερολογιακά επίκαιρα, που γράφτηκαν από τα μέσα περίπου του 1970 μέχρι και το 2005. Πρόκειται για μια καταγραφή απόψεων και θέσεων για την Ελευθερία και τον ολοκληρωτισμό,  τον εθνικισμό και το ρατσισμό, τη φενάκη του έθνους και τη βία. τη μισαλλοδοξία και τον ορθολογισμό.  Είναι μια ιδιότυπη ιστορία γεγονότων και ιδεών της μεταπολιτευτικής Ελλάδας.

Το διάβασα, κυρίως, για να θυμηθώ και να καταλάβω.  Γιατί φτάσαμε εδώ που φτάσαμε. Γιατί φερόμαστε σαν κακομαθημένα παιδιά , περιμένοντας ‘ειδική μεταχείριση’ από τους πάντες. Γιατί ψηφίζουμε αυτούς που ψηφίζουμε. Και γιατί σήμερα, έχουμε αυτή την ευτελή κυβέρνηση.

Εκλεισα το βιβλίο και ένα αόρατο ερωτηματικό έμεινε στο τέλος. Αυτό το ερωτηματικό είναι η ελευθερία μου.

Weapons of math destruction by Cathy O’Neil

It was mostly the subtitle that made me interested in Cathy O’Neil’s book Weapons of Math Destruction.

“How big data increases inequality and threatens democracy.”

Weapons of math destruction (WMDs), is the term coined by O’Neil to describe the ways that mathematical models adversely affect a large number of people, especially the poor and disadvantaged.  They are used to generate scores that are used in critical decisions, such as teacher performance scores, criminal recidivism scores, or credit scores that are used in hiring people, approve loans and mortgages, in sentencing criminals, and in influencing how we vote.

The current Big Data craze is not new. During the last 20 years there has been a great interest in storing and analysing large data sets. It is a digital revolution that will transform the way society is organized.

Today, algorithms know almost everything about us. All of our clicks in the Internet are being recorded and evaluated. Algorithms know our profession, where we live, our hobbies, and our shopping activities. They know how we feel; they can even control how we feel. Algorithms can be used to manipulate and influence our attitudes and behaviour, it is called persuasive computing. Does these technologies are threatening our democracy?

Following the housing crash, Cathy O’Neil woke up to the proliferation of WMDs in banking and to the danger they posed to the economy. A Harvard trained mathematician, former academic mathematician, Cathy O’Neil was working until early 2011 for DE Shaw, one of the world’s leading hedge funds. After quitting her job, she rebranded herself as a data scientist and joined an e-commerce start-up. She has been involved in Occupy Wall Street,  she is the author of the blog and recently started a company called ORCAA, an algorithmic auditing company. Cathy o’Neil is the ideal person to write this book.

In Weapons of Math Destruction, she explores the damage inflicted by WMDs and the injustice they perpetuate. She focuses on the potential or actual harm of powerful, and often secret and unaccountable mathematical models on people’s lives, and how they often reinforce inequality in America, with unfair discrimination against minorities, particularly African-Americans, and the poor.

“.. fairness isn’t calculated into WMDs. And the result is massive, industrial production of unfairness. If you think of WMD as a factory, unfairness in the black stuff belching out of the smoke stacks. It’s an emission a toxic one.”

Don’t expect to find mathematical formulas in the book. There is none. This is not a book about math at all – “it’s a book about power masquerading as neutral technology.” Its purpose is to demystify algorithms, and equip the reader with the knowledge to question the authority of the most influential and opaque algorithms that govern our lives.

The Weapons of Math Destruction is a very thought-provoking book and Kathy O’Niel’s writing is clear, concise and direct. In the last chapter, she calls on modelers to take more responsibility for their algorithms and shares a few ideas about how we can use big data for good. She advocates an ethics of data science and she proposes a Hippocratic Oath for data scientists.

The book focusses only on US case studies. It would be useful to see if there are similar examples or cases in Europe or elsewhere and how policy makers regulate the use of WMDs.

Perilous Interventions: The Security Council and the Politics of Chaos by Hardeep Singh Puri

The United Nations is an international organisation created in 1945 shortly after WWII to encourage resolution of international conflicts, to uphold international justice and to promote social progress. In the words of Dag Hammarskjöld, second UN secretary general, the United Nations was created not to lead mankind to heaven but to save humanity from hell.” Since 1945 the United Nations helped save millions from poverty and diseases, and from diseases and local wars and conflicts.  Today it has 193 country members and the challenges it faces are varied and vast.

Hardeep Singh Puri, an eminent Indian diplomat, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013, is the author of Perilous Interventions: The Security Council and the Politics of Chaos. He served in the Security Council from 2011 to 2013, during which time a wave of political upheaval and civil wars swept whole regions and affected the lives of millions of people.

This book is a chronicle of the interventions the UN Security Council (UNSC) has made in the past few years, in deeply divided countries, from the perspective of an Indian diplomat, non-permanent member of the UNSC.  It deals with some of the most terrible events of our day, the overstepping of the mandate on Libya at the beginning of 2011, Russia’s unilateral decision to annex the Crimea from Ukraine, the lack of consensus among member-states in Syria, the use of force in Yemen, and finally with the doctrine Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which was endorsed by all member states of the United Nations at the 2005 World Summit.

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No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein

I have stopped following Donald Trump. And I don’t mean his twitter account, I never became a follower and I never cared to read the hateful, nonsensical 140 characters of a little angry man. What I mean is that I have stopped watching his news conferences, speeches or interviews, or listening to him on the radio. It is not that I don’t care about his presidency, I really care, in fact I think it impacts everyone on Earth.

It is because I discovered that as I watched Trump, I was becoming more and more sick to my stomach. This man literally makes me physically ill. He personifies everything I despise, misogynism, racism, sexism, extreme nationalism, anti-globalization, xenophobia, viciousness, war on climate change and disrespect for the truth and the rule of law. He makes me want to shout, NO! No to Trump and everything he and his clique represent.

In her book, No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, Naomi Klein says that No is not enough.

Naomi Klein wrote this book very quickly, in just five months, because she wanted to come out before any major crisis hits the United States, although Trump himself and his administration can really be considered as a major crisis. In No its not enough, Klein summarises her previous works, No Logo, and The Shock Doctrine, to explain how Trump exploited the conventions of reality TV, along with his personal brand, to become the president of the United States. Trump is not a leader, he is a promoter and protector of a brand at America’s expense.

As disastrous as the Trump policies are so far, the worst is yet to come, says Naomi Klein. He and the people around him are very open of what they want to do, in terms of human rights, immigration, crime, health, and climate change. We have already seen Trump’s respond to the London and Manchester attacks. We need to get ready for shock politics, argues Klein.

No It Is Not Enough, was marketed as a blueprint for resistance. I think it is much more. It is a call for a progressive alliance, a call for collaboration and cooperation against, not a person (Trump), but a system (Trumpism). I was particularly intrigued by Canada’s Leap Movement, the values, positiveness, inclusiveness, diversity, and the hope it brings.

Despite the writing rush and the repetition of some of the themes, it is an excellent and useful book.

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