Archive for Karl Marx

along Avenue Karl Marx [jatp]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on May 29, 2019 by xi'an

Dan Leno & the Limehouse Golem [book review]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2017 by xi'an

Another book that came to my bedside rather randomly! It is in fact a 1994 book by Peter Ackroyd, not to be confused with Roger Ackroyd, a mystery book by Agatha Christie I remember reading in my teenage years! And takes place in Victorian London, around a woman Elisabeth Cree, who is a music hall celebrity and stands accused of murdering her husband. With the background of a series of gratuitous and inexplicable murders soon attributed to a supernatural creature. Called a golem for its ability to appear and vanish with no witness… There is a great idea in the plot but its implementation is quite tedious, with a plodding style that makes the conclusion a very long wait. This is not helped by Ackroyd borrowing so much from the life of a few well-known historical characters like Karl Marx, George Gissing, Dan Leno and Charles Babbage himself! Simply because they truly existed does not make these characters particularly exciting within the plot. Especially Babbage and his difference engine. (Which was exploited in a much better steampunk novel by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling!) The worst part is when Ackroyd reflects in the book on the engine being a “forerunner of the modern computer”, ruining the whole perspective. As I do not want to get into spoilers about the almost unexpected twists in the conclusion, let me conclude with quotes attributed to Babbage (or followers) about social statistics, for which he had devised the analytical engine.

“To be exactly informed about the lot of humankind (…) is to create the conditions in which it can be ameliorated. We must know before we can understand, and statistic evidence is the surest form of evidence currently in our possession.” (p.113)

“…the errors which arise from unsound reasoning neglecting true data are far more numerous and more durable than those which result from the absence of facts.” (p.119)


Das Kapital [not a book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 18, 2017 by xi'an

A rather bland article by Gareth Stedman Jones in Nature reminded me that the first volume of Karl Marx’ Das Kapital is 150 years old this year. Which makes it appear quite close in historical terms [just before the Franco-German war of 1870] and rather remote in scientific terms. I remember going painstakingly through the books in 1982 and 1983, mostly during weekly train trips between Paris and Caen, and not getting much out of it! Even with the help of a cartoon introduction I had received as a 1982 Xmas gift! I had no difficulty in reading the text per se, as opposed to my attempt of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason the previous summer [along with the other attempt to windsurf!], as the discourse was definitely grounded in economics and not in philosophy. But the heavy prose did not deliver a convincing theory of the evolution of capitalism [and of its ineluctable demise]. While the fundamental argument of workers’ labour being an essential balance to investors’ capital for profitable production was clearly if extensively stated, the extrapolations on diminishing profits associated with decreasing labour input [and the resulting collapse] were murkier and sounded more ideological than scientific. Not that I claim any competence in the matter: my attempts at getting the concepts behind Marxist economics stopped at this point and I have not been seriously thinking about it since! But it still seems to me that the theory did age very well, missing the increasing power of financial agents in running companies. And of course [unsurprisingly] the numerical revolution and its impact on the (des)organisation of work and the disintegration of proletariat as Marx envisioned it. For instance turning former workers into forced and poor entrepreneurs (Uber, anyone?!). Not that the working conditions are particularly rosy for many, from a scarsity of low-skill jobs, to a nurtured competition between workers for existing jobs (leading to extremes like the scandalous zero hour contracts!), to minimum wages turned useless by the fragmentation of the working space and the explosion of housing costs in major cities, to the hopelessness of social democracies to get back some leverage on international companies…

Gray matters [not much, truly]

Posted in Books, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2015 by xi'an

Through the blog of Andrew Jaffe, Leaves on the Lines, I became aware of John Gray‘s tribune in The Guardian, “What scares the new atheists“. Gray’s central points against “campaigning” or “evangelical” atheists are that their claim to scientific backup is baseless, that they mostly express a fear about the diminishing influence of the liberal West, and that they cannot produce an alternative form of morality. The title already put me off and the beginning of the tribune just got worse, as it goes on and on about the eugenics tendencies of some 1930’s atheists and on how they influenced Nazi ideology. It is never a good sign in a debate when the speaker strives to link the opposite side with National Socialist ideas and deeds. Even less so in a supposedly philosophical tribune! (To add injury to insult, Gray also brings Karl Marx in the picture with a similar blame for ethnocentrism…) Continue reading


Posted in pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , on July 4, 2011 by xi'an