News 12.11.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 12.11.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 12.11.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 12.11.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The first time he spoke to her, in 1943, by the Auschwitz crematory, David Wisnia realized that Helen Spitzer was no regular inmate. Zippi, as she was known, was clean, always neat. She wore a jacket and smelled good. They were introduced by a fellow inmate, at her request.

Her presence was unusual in itself: a woman outside the women’s quarters, speaking with a male prisoner. Before Mr. Wisnia knew it, they were alone, all the prisoners around them gone. This wasn’t a coincidence, he later realized. They made a plan to meet again in a week.

On their set date, Mr. Wisnia went as planned to meet at the barracks between crematories 4 and 5. He climbed on top of a makeshift ladder made up of packages of prisoners’ clothing. Ms. Spitzer had arranged it, a space amid hundreds of piles, just large enough to fit the two of them. Mr. Wisnia was 17 years old; she was 25.

“I had no knowledge of what, when, where,” Mr. Wisnia recently reminisced at age 93. “She taught me everything.”

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times

News 12.11.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 12.11.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

A cloudless mid-September afternoon in Hong Kong. At City Hall, two flags—one of the People’s Republic of China, the other of Hong Kong—flap halfheartedly in the wind coming off the harbor. Inside, university students are engaged in intense debate. A moonfaced young man, his thick hair pulled up in a bun, rises from his seat at a long white table to attack the formula known as “one country, two systems,” which was deployed in the early eighties, by the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, as he negotiated with Britain for the handover of Hong Kong. It seemed to guarantee that after the handover, which took place in 1997, Hong Kong would continue to enjoy distinct political and socioeconomic freedoms for at least fifty years. The young man, however, declares that the formula is nothing but a “rhetorical coverup” for an erosion of liberties. Given the city’s compromised autonomy, hasn’t the central government, in Beijing, broken its promise to the people of Hong Kong?

Suddenly, a bell rings, and a woman sets out with prosecutorial vehemence the dangers of rejecting the “one country, two systems” principle. “If we fight the current framework, we will lose the existing rights and freedoms,” she says.

“What happens after fifty years?” the man counters. “Should we bid farewell to our current way of life?”

“We still have twenty-eight years to find a path of survival,” she replies, referring to the end of the fifty-year transition period, in 2047. This date, when Hong Kong is likely to be wholly integrated into the People’s Republic of China, inspires enormous foreboding.

Debates about Hong Kong’s fate are convulsing the city—at family dinner tables, online, and, above all, in the streets. Since June, demonstrations sparked by a bill to allow extraditions from Hong Kong to the mainland have drawn unprecedented numbers of protesters determined to resist Beijing’s influence. But the debate at City Hall—which, despite its name, is mostly a performance venue—was actually a piece of semi-documentary theatre called “The First and Second Half of 2047.” Much of the script was written by the students who performed it, in a process that the director, Wu Hoi Fai, described to me as “sometimes like shooting a documentary on the stage.”

As the show progressed, it reached back in time. Suitcases were strewn around the stage, and then stacked to represent the city’s skyline, conjuring the land of opportunity that drew successive generations of immigrants and refugees from mainland China. Wu explained that this material came from interviews with older people; one actor had interviewed his father, a staunch opponent of the pro-democracy protests, and now spoke his words onstage. Wu, who is fifty, said he has become increasingly aware that young people have only vague notions about Hong Kong’s past. Many of the actors in the play hadn’t even been born at the time of the 1997 handover.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

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Stories about love offer models for how you might commit your life to another person. Stories about friendship are usually about how you might commit to life itself. There’s a moment in Maxine Hong Kingston’s “Tripmaster Monkey,” one of my favorite novels, when the protagonist, a passionate young artist named Wittman Ah Sing, salutes the “winners of the party”—the stragglers at an all-night acid trip who make it to the other side to toast the morning. “It’s very good sitting here, among friends, coffee cup warm in hands, cigarette,” he thinks to himself. “Good show, gods.” It’s an ode to the everyday texture of holding friends dear, the presence and the silence of it. Having someone to tug on the shoulder and see what you are seeing.

In the late nineteen-eighties, the philosopher Jacques Derrida delivered a series of seminar lectures on the subject of friendship. He was, at that point, one of the most famous philosophers in the world, having become more or less synonymous with the idea of deconstruction. Derrida wanted to disrupt our drive to generate meaning through dichotomies—speech versus writing, reason versus passion, masculinity versus femininity. These seeming opposites were mutually constitutive, he pointed out: just because one concept prevailed over the other didn’t mean that either was stable or self-defined. Straightness exists only by continually marginalizing queerness. His methods required a closer examination of what was being lost or suppressed—in doing so, he and his acolytes argued, we would come to recognize that concepts that seem natural to us are full of contradictions and anxieties. Perhaps accepting this messiness would lead us to a more conscious and intelligent way of living.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 12.11.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 12.11.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Henry Noll was one of the most famous workers in American history, though not by his own choice and not under his own name. Employed at Bethlehem Steel for $1.15 a day, and known among workmates for his physical vigor and thriftiness, Noll was—as the somewhat embellished story goes—selected by an ambitious young management consultant named Frederick Winslow Taylor for an experiment in 1899. One day on the job, Taylor approached Noll—whom he later made famous under the pseudonym “Schmidt”—and asked him, “Are you a high-priced man?” As Taylor rendered the story in his book The Principles of Scientific Management, “Schmidt” replied to the obvious trick question cautiously: “Vell, I don’t know vat you mean.”

“Oh yes, you do,” insisted Taylor. “What I want to know is whether you are a high-priced man or not.”

“Vell,” repeated Schmidt, “I don’t know vat you mean.”

“Oh, come now, you answer my questions,” smirked Taylor. “What I want to find out is whether you are a high-priced man or one of these cheap fellows here. What I want to find out is whether you want to earn $1.85 a day or whether you are satisfied with $1.15, just the same as all those cheap fellows are getting.”

Schmidt then responded that yes, obviously, he would accept the additional 70 cents (“I vas a high-priced man”). Then, the rub: “You see that pile of pig iron?” Taylor explained that a high-priced man did exactly as told, “from morning till night.” Schmidt, whom Taylor compared unfavorably to an “intelligent gorilla,” would be timed and—as we would put it today—optimized in his every movement. “He worked when he was told to work, and rested when he was told to rest.” In this way, Taylor boasted, Schmidt’s output increased from twelve tons of pig iron moved every day to 47.

This was the primal scene of “scientific management,” versions of which spread rapidly across the world’s workplaces. The bargain between Schmidt and Taylor represented the explicit formulation of what would become the defining compromise of twentieth-century American capitalism: Increase your output, get paid more. Wages go up with productivity.

Read the rest of this article at: New Republic

News 12.11.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Isaiah Berlin’s lecture on political liberty ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ (1958) created a new standard for understanding the individual and society. It has become a classic work. What set it apart was not so much that an Oxford don was prepared to engage directly and polemically with a theme of near-universal human concern but the way in which its author explored political morality itself. His account of liberty refused to conform to the narrow scope of ordinary academic discourse. Berlin sought to treat our personal and public lives in the only way he felt they can be grasped, that is, as reflecting our interaction with ideas and ideals in their particular historical context. What his approach exposed was not simply the ethical emptiness and practical uselessness of the prevailing philosophical schools of logical positivism and linguistic analysis; it also provided an example of the sort of understanding, even knowledge, that can emerge from exploring political values such as liberty, equality and justice through a genuinely humanistic and historical but no less analytically rigorous lens. In short, he produced a uniquely arresting political theory for real human beings.

Berlin was born in Riga on 6 June 1909, the then capital of the governorate of Livonia, which formed part of the Russian Empire. As a youngster, he lived through the February and October revolutions of 1917, and witnessed on a walk with his governess in Petrograd (now St Petersburg) a policeman being dragged away by a mob to his certain death. The memory of this event, he said on the BBC Radio 4 show Desert Island Discs in 1992, ‘gave me a permanent horror of physical violence which has remained with me for the rest of my life’. The turbulence of Bolshevik rule eventually led the Berlins to emigrate to England in 1921. Having won a place at Oxford, Berlin became the first Jew to be awarded a prize fellowship to All Souls College.

With the onset of war, Berlin’s life acquired an entirely new set of experiences. He served in the British Information Services in New York, followed by assignments in the British embassies in Washington and Moscow between 1942 and 1946. During his wartime diplomatic service, he met the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova in Leningrad, an episode that profoundly affected him for life, and prompted her to describe him as a ‘guest from the future’ in her ‘Poem without a Hero’ (1967). Following the war, Berlin abandoned philosophy, or rather the Oxford school of ordinary language philosophy, for the history of ideas, on the basis that the latter offered a better opportunity ‘to know more at the end of one’s life than when one had begun’, as he wrote in the preface to Concepts and Categories (1978).

Read the rest of this article at: aeon

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