Archive for slavery

the liberation [book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 9, 2021 by xi'an

The third volume of Ian Tregillis’ The Alchemy Wars arrived in the mail, and I could not resist bing-read it, induced by a heat wave that made anything close to serious work near impossible in the late afternoons… The characters are essentially the same, with two central (human) female characters whose trajectories once again converge to the critical point. Plus, two female robots playing a contrapunt. And the biblical Daniel, reborn from slavery into a free willed, tolerant and pacific being.

“The Clockmakers had been playing a losing game of catch-up (…) They were too soft, too coddled, too accustomed to standing atop the pile. They weren’t well suited to life as underdogs. They were not French.”

The core of the action takes place in Amsterdam, occupied by liberated robots, prone to pogroms as well as re-enslaving other robots. The weakness in the plot is that there is no strong reason these robots do not completely take over the formerly ruling Guild of Alchemists, and lengthy plot-resolving discussions between fighting characters always irk me no end, but the conclusion still feels proper, with the author not at all reluctant to hack at bits and pieces of his character to raise the body-count. À ls George Martin! And the mild philosophical musing about the reversal of dominant-dominated positions in this society are overall enjoyable if not particularly deep. Overall, a striking trilogy.


Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2021 by xi'an

Just heard via ISBA that the Cass Business School of City University London is changing its name to the Bayes Business School “after it was found (!) that some of Sir John Cass’s wealth was obtained through his links to the slave trade.” One of the school buildings is located on Bunhill Row, which leads to Bunhill Fields cemetery where Thomas Bayes (and Richard Price) were buried. And which stands near the Royal Statistical Society building.

“Bayes’ theorem suggests that we get closer to the truth by constantly updating our beliefs in proportion to the weight of new evidence. It is this idea – not only the person – that is the motivation behind adopting this name.”

While it is a notable recognition of the field that Thomas Bayes was selected by [some members of] the City community, I hope the name will not become a registered trademark! And ponder the relevance of naming schools, buildings, prizes, whatever after individuals who should remain mere mortals rather than carrying the larger-than-life burden of representing ideals and values. And the irony of having a business school named after someone who never worked, being financially wealthy by inheritance (from his Sheffield cutler ancestors).  Or of promoting diversity through a religious zealot leaning towards Arianism.

“In Bayes Business School, we believe we now have a name that reflects who we are and the values we hold. Even though Bayes lived a long time ago, his ideas and his name are very much connected to the future rather than the past.”

Mission implausible

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2021 by xi'an

I watched two movies with the same starting point, namely an old man being forced to take care of an unknown girl, despite his lack of fatherhood experience and no initial inclination to do so, while later defying odds and surviving together… One is News of the World (absurdly translated as The Mission in French, hence my poor pun) with Tom Hanks and (fabulous!) Helena Zengel, the other is Midnight Sky, with the improved French title of Midnight in the Universe, with George Clooney and Caoilinn Springall. The first one is a (modern) Western, set in Texas right after the Civil War and sometimes presented as a modern (and over-washed) version of Ford’s The Searchers, while the second one is an ecological science-fiction film, set in 2049, as the Earth is collapsing under an unspecified but all encompassing disaster. The first is passable if implausible, the second one is a disaster at all levels.

In News of the World Tom Hanks is again doing his Jimmy Stewart impersonation, always doing the “right” thing even when this is rather implausible. The fact that no-one seems to care that a stranger goes away with a young girl may be plausible in the late 1800’s Texas, although I am surprised none of the very few women in the story, one of them the girl’s own aunt, does even object. On the other hand, the motive for the compulsory gun duel sounds very weak if darker than the rest of the story (and is there any chance a shotgun cartridge filled by coins (of the right diameter!) can fly true to its target?!) The choice of depicting Kiowa Indians as silent spectres walking away may be artistically motivated but it does not carry much weight, just like Hank in the movie is not making much progress in denunciation of slavery and genocide, besides keeping his own decency.

In Midnight Sky, George Clooney is a grumpy old scientist stuck in a Far North observatory, in terminal phase of a blood disease and who is gradually revealed as having always failed on the personal relation side. [Anyone wondering at the scientific pertinence of the presence of a most traditional observatory [incl. manual orienteering] at this latitude? Although I found that Canada has recently set an observatory on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut.] As Earth is collapsing under deadly radiation, Clooney finds himself alone until he discovers a little girl conveniently left behind during the evacuation of the station. As a space ship is returning to Earth, unaware of the disaster, the pair sets on an impossible mission to reach a better communication station. first on a snowmobile, then on foot!, with no goggles and a woolen hat in a snow storm!, just to make sure we can recognise Clooney!, while the disaster that see the pair stranded with only their clothes on a frozen tundra makes no sense. For instance, falling into Arctic water has a very low survival probability, esp. for a a sick and old man. And the part taking place on the very-low-tech space ship is light-years away from anything remotely realistic. Ending up (spoiler!) with the ship turning back to this habitable moon of Jupiter as if this would make any difference… Have a safe trip!

say their names [a New Yorker cover]

Posted in Books, pictures, Running with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 21, 2020 by xi'an

Parasite in chief [verbatim]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2020 by xi'an

““How bad were the Academy Awards this year? Did you see? And the winner is a movie from South Korea. What the hell was that all about? We’ve got enough problems with South Korea, with trade. On top of it, they give them the best movie of the year? Was it good? I don’t know. Can we get, like, ‘Gone With the Wind’ back, please?” DT, 20022020