Indeed, 2019 was rich with rupture-climax events. But it might also be said that 2019 was as much the year of the anti-climax--that is, the year that events, long anticipated, finally burst fully ripened. That was, of course, the story of the impeachment of President Trump by the US House of Representatives. But it was also the case with the decoupling of the Chinese and US economies (and note, not their separation or segregation) marked by rupture at the beginning of the year and a first stage arrangement at its end. This was also the year of Brexit, but not just Brexit but of the metaphor of Brexit fro the great inversions of political affiliation that appeared to affect political communities worldwide. In some sense, this was also the great year of Jew baiting--everyone, it seems, had something to say about the People of Israel, even as their actions usually belied their words. It was also the year of explosions. There were explosions in Hong Kong, in Bolivia, in the UK, and in that stew pot that is Syria-Lebanon. This was also the year of the rise of the core of leadership--in Turkey, Russia, China, the United States, Germany, and France. When one thinks about 2019 in the future, one will think--climax, explosion, rupture, and revelation.
With no objective in particular, this post and a number that follow provides my summary of the slice of 2019 to which I paid attention through epigrams and aphorisms. It follows an end of year tradition I started in 2016 (for those see here), 2017 (for these see here), and 2018 (for those see here).
Ruminations 89: 2019 in Epigrams and Aphorisms:
Ruminations 89(1) (Blasphemies).
Ruminations 89(2) (Cults and Cult Objects).
Ruminations 89(3) (Impeachments).
Ruminations 89(4) (Data, Discretion, and Analytics in the State-Enterprise Complex).
Ruminations 89(5) (The "Jewish Question" as Global Social Ordering)
metamorphosis (n.)1530s, "change of form or structure, action or process of changing in form," originally especially by witchcraft, from Latin metamorphosis, from Greek metamorphōsis "a transforming, a transformation," from metamorphoun "to transform, to be transfigured," from meta, here indicating "change" (see meta-) + morphē "shape, form," a word of uncertain etymology. The biological sense of "extensive transformations an animal (especially an insect) undergoes after it leaves the egg" is from 1660s. As the title of Ovid's work, late 14c., Metamorphoseos, from Latin Metamorphoses (plural).
transform (v.)mid-14c., "change the form of" (transitive), from Old French transformer (14c.), from Latin transformare "change in shape, metamorphose," from trans "across, beyond" (see trans-) + formare "to form" (see form (v.)). Intransitive sense "undergo a change of form" is from 1590s.
Today, as the promise of the Great Society continues to elude us, can software algorithms, which are taking on ever more roles in our world, be trusted to deliver it, at last? Not without the help of humans, who must give a great deal more thought to what objectives these algorithms are supposed to solve, experts say. According to a recent study by researchers at Cornell University and Microsoft, software programs in the workplace, where diversity is a stated goal, may already be pursuing goals that are vastly over-simplified, thereby perpetuating bias. . . . Humans need to think about the validity of performance reviews, too. “Performance reviews can have a lot of bias embedded in them,” says Raghavan. “The people whose evaluations you are using for ground truth [to train an algorithm] may not have been very good at doing evaluations in the first place,” he points out. Software functions that measure people can be misleading. For example, video interviews can measure how quickly a job candidate speaks. If the algorithm was not exposed to many non-native English speakers when it was first developed, it could be biased to approving native speakers. But, “we don’t know that the cadence of your speech is predictive” of actual job performance, says Raghavan. The Cornell-Microsoft findings confirm some observers’ concern that not enough is done to examine human biases to begin with. “If humans are biased, I don’t quite understand how we can expect the technology to have a much better outcome than what it currently is exposed to,” says Marlon Twyman II, an assistant professor in the communications school at USC Annenberg who was not involved in the research." (As Algorithms Battle Biases, Researchers Say Hiring Software Must Be More Than Meets the A.I.).
"In Singapore, a law intended to crack down on "fake news" went into effect Wednesday, much to the dismay of free speech advocates and journalists. The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, which passed the country's parliament in May, requires online platforms — including social networking, search engine and news aggregation services — to issue corrections or remove content that the government deems false. Media companies that fail to comply face a fine of up to a 1 million Singapore dollars (about $722,000). Individuals found guilty of violating the law, both inside and outside the tiny Southeast Asian country, could face fines of up to $60,000 or prison for up to 10 years. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong defended the bill when it passed, calling it a step in the right direction. "I don't see our legislation as being in any way restrictive of free speech," Lee said in May, as quoted by the South China Morning Post. "I see this as a practical arrangement which will help us to tackle the problem [of fake news].". . . Many Southeast Asian countries have similar laws on the books — Cambodia and Thailand have versions of lèse-majesté laws, while Myanmar has a colonial-era Official Secrets Act. Last year, Malaysia enacted (and then repealed) a law against fake news, and this past January, Vietnam enacted a similar law that requires companies such as Facebook and Google to open offices there." ('Fake News' Law Goes Into Effect In Singapore, Worrying Free Speech Advocates).
4. The metamorphosis of the individual into the mass produces both a highly malleable single subject for management, and a potent force against such management.
"Street demonstrations rocked cities around the world in 2019, with some leading to the downfall of longtime leaders who once appeared invulnerable while others put their governments on notice in a year that proved to be one of widespread discontent. Protesters are demanding the removal of corrupt governments, better living standards, greater freedoms and more rights.The leaders of Bolivia, Algeria, Lebanon, Iraq and Sudan have been pushed out as a consequence. Elsewhere, such as in Chile and Ecuador, protesters have won concessions from their governments." (A year of discontent: Protests of 2019 toppled world leaders from Bolivia to Sudan).
“Symbol” in protests is a sign that represents a common ideology or concept, and for a group of protesters with the same demands, it has a deeper meaning. This sign is chosen to incite people. The effect of the symbol is so strong that it can be used as a weapon for years. Many countries try to symbolize and then incite citizens to undermine their rivals. It should be noted that the symbol does not cause a protest, but it serves as a means to control it. In recent decades, "color revolutions" have been one of the U.S. tools for interfering in other countries’ affairs, in which the use of symbols has been widely practiced. This type of revolutions are one of soft subversion’s methods that includes a kind of power transformation and displacement, coupled with negative struggle and civil disobedience. . . . Joker is the name of a character formerly known as an anti-hero in the Batman story, and in most of the past stories had an unknown identity, though he was previously known as a "popular criminal" by audience. Recently, a movie was made about the life if a “Joker” and why he became a criminal, which changed the way that audience connect to this anti-hero. . . .
He only triggers chaos without any plans and sheds blood without trial. The people of Gotham (his hometown), who are victims of class distinctions and discrimination just like the Joker, follow his lead and take into streets. The rioters rob shops, set public places on fire, commit crimes and kill rulers. As the movie was opened at the same time as uprisings in the West Asian region, some analysts suggest that the movie aimed at symbolizing and training protesters in these countries. Although this matter does not mean that the Joker movie staged the protests in these countries, the violence accompanied the protests and the killings by the demonstrators suggest that there is a will to derail popular protests against shortcomings and discrimination. In other words, the Joker's role here is to "justify" the violence, and it seems that after failing in the peaceful conflicts, this time the enemy's plan is to agitate and justify the protests by using new symbolization. (From a ‘color organization’ to ‘Joker’s mask’).
5. The great metamorphosis of the individual--from the essence of the self to the detritus of a life spent to no particular purpose; self-worth can now be measured by the market value of data streams.
On October 17, 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) approved the installation of a Closed-Circuit Television (“CCTV”) surveillance system which was used to monitor supermarket cashiers without informing those employees of the fact that it had been installed. . . The ECHR stated that “domestic courts must ensure that the introduction by an employer of surveillance measures that infringe the employees’ privacy rights is proportionate and is implemented with adequate and sufficient safeguards against abuse”, referring to its previous case law [ECHR, Grand Chamber, September 5, 2017, n°641996/08, Bărbulescu c. Roumanie; ECHR, decision, October 5, 2010, 420/07, Köpke c. Germany.]. (Employee Video Surveillance: Position of the European Court of Human Rights).
The digital upgrade of welfare delivery is often presented by government as a neutral, even benign, phenomenon, which allows services to be optimized and resources to be spent efficiently. The reality, according to the special rapporteur’s report, is that these transformations are “revolutionary [and] politically-driven.” It is a reality in which “citizens become ever more visible to their governments, but not the other way around.” Such a rebalance of power is the mundane, insidious consequence of living in a society without any respect for privacy. Critics of such programs have faced retaliation from the government and harassment by state agencies. Disputing automated decisions can be virtually impossible, at times comically so, as individuals get caught up in bureaucratic loops. Rather than ameliorating inequality, Virginia Eubanks’s book, Automating Inequality, illustrates how these programs exacerbate it. Such programs do not seek to eradicate poverty. Rather, they aim to manage the poor, confining them to a cycle of stigmatization and entrenched disadvantage. ‘Technologies of poverty management are not neutral,” she writes. “They are shaped by our nation’s fear of economic insecurity and hatred of the poor; they in turn shape the politics and experience of poverty.” This is not just about government agencies — industry has been quick to capitalize on state investments in digital infrastructure. The notorious Palantir, the data-mining company started by Peter Thiel, has been used in predictive policing operations for authorities in the United States and cost-reduction strategies for local councils in the UK. Palantir’s products generate analytics from disparate data sets — including social media and government sources. The market for biometric technology is estimated to be worth up to $50 billion by 2024, with security and government sectors of North America representing a significant share. (It’s Time to Throw Off Our Digital Chains).
6. Signs require symbols; the symbolic can takes on quite intense physical form; it was not for nothing that the ancients read signs; the difficulty is not in the sign but in its interpretation.
7. An old insight with a new face; sacrifice is always necessary for metamorphosis--and it in on the bodies of the sacrificed that one can see the form of the thing transformed.
8. One used to climb mountains to come closer to a remote divine power; now the mountain transformed, like the search for the divine presence (internal or external), into a form of entertainment.
"Once only accessible to well-heeled elite mountaineers, Nepal’s booming climbing market has driven down the cost of an expedition, opening Everest up to hobbyists and adventure-seekers. They are required to have a doctors’ note deeming them physically fit, but not to prove their stamina at such extreme heights. Because of the altitude, climbers have just hours to reach the top before they are at risk of a pulmonary edema, when the lungs fill with liquid. From Camp Four at 8,000 meters (26,240 feet) to the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) peak, the final push on Everest is known as the “death zone.” The conditions are so intense at such times that when a person dies, no one can afford to expend energy on carrying the body down from the mountain. “Every minute counts there,” said Eric Murphy, a mountain guide from Bellingham, Washington, who climbed Everest for a third time on May 23. He said what should have taken 12 hours took 17 hours because of struggling climbers who were clearly exhausted but had no one to guide or help them. Just a handful of inexperienced climbers, he said, is “enough to have a profound effect.”" (Overcrowding on Mount Everest contributes to rise in deaths).9. Betrayal is the name given to the consumption of one human community by another; that consumption is transformative.
Is the United States a reliable partner? That’s a question countries are increasingly asking. Beginning in 2014 the United States supported the Syrian Kurds to check the rising power of the Islamic State. The alliance was instrumental in taking back territory the Islamic State had gained; the Syrian Kurds lost 11,000 fighters in the effort. The U.S. presence in northern Syria rankled President Trump, however. In December 2018, he announced he was withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria, a decision that prompted Secretary of Defense James Mattis to resign. The decision was quietly reversed, but Trump didn’t give up. On October 7, after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. Special Forces from northern Syria. Even some of the president’s closest allies called the move a “disaster in the making.” The disaster materialized two days later when Turkey invaded Syria. Abandoned by the United States, though not for the first time, the Kurds threw their lot in with Bashir al-Assad’s government. Even so, by year’s end U.S. troops and Syrian Kurds had resumed counterterrorism operations against Islamic State forces. Meanwhile, experts debated the consequences of an unpredictable U.S. foreign policy. (Council on Foreign Relations).10. For a political community; the forms of its organization may be like the cloths that we wear; they become dirty and eventually must be discarded for something fresh; some states acknowledge the transformation, others see in this metamorphosis the confirmation of stasis.
We will leave the European Union as one United Kingdom, taking back control of our laws, borders, money, our trade, immigration system, delivering on the democratic mandate of the people and at the same time this one nation Conservative government will massively increase our investment in the NHS, the health service that represents the very best of our country with this single beautiful idea that whoever we are - rich, poor, young, old - the NHS is there for us when we are sick and everyday that service performs miracles. . . . You voted for all of these things and it is now this government, this people’s government, our solemn duty to deliver on each and every one of those commitments and it is a great and heavy responsibility, a sacred trust for me, for every other elected Conservative MP. For everyone in this room and everyone in this party and I repeat, in winning this election we have won votes and the trust of people that have never voted Conservative before and people who have always voted for other parties. Those people want change. We cannot, must not, must not, let them down and in delivering change we must change to. We must recognise the incredible reality that we now speak as a one nation Conservative Party literally for everyone from Woking to Workington, from Kensington I'm proud to say to Clwyd South, from Surrey Heath to Sedgefield, from Wimbledon to Wolverhampton. And as the nation hands us this historic mandate we must rise to the challenge and to the level of expectations and Parliament must change so that we in Parliament are working for you the British people. And that is what we will now do. Isn’t it. That is what we will do. Let’s go out and get on with it. (I Won't Let you Down).