what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Friday, March 18, 2011

money, fear, sonorous music and stupid efficiency

Am I the only person who keeps adding books to his Google library (on the 1,000 mark at the moment) – and rarely goes back to read them? I’m going to try to mention the additions here for a week or so – to see if that will encourage me to go back and at least flick the new arrivals.
I have just added two recent books which show how what little democracy there was is being undermined by money and fear. The first is “Democracy Distorted; wealth, influence and democratic politics” by Jacob Rowbottom (2010) which focuses on Britain.
The second is “Freedom for Sale; Why the world is trading democracy for security” by John Kaempfer (2009)

Serendipity is a strange thing. A very sombre and powerful string ensemble piece yesterday morning on “Muzical”, the classical programme which accompanies me here all day here in the mountain house, turned out to be Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen (for 23 string instruments) (von Karajan version)(Kempel version) composed in 1945 in the debris of Germany. We all know about Shostakovitch’s 1941 Leningrad symphony composed during the 900 day siege of that city but this is the first I knew of this great Strauss piece – one of his last. Shortly afterwards I was skimming the work of Ronald Dore – the great specialist on Japan – and, for some reason, decided to click the music link on my site which I rarely access. And there was a string Requiem of a similar harrowing power, composed in 1957 by a Japanese composer of whom I have never heard – Takemitsu. For some reason I thought that Shostakovitch's 8th string quartet was also from the Leningrad siege - but the internet put me right!

Finally – a great post on the Real Economics blog about efficiency
–“ I hate efficiency. I hate it with a passion. It always seems to drive people into making absurd and dangerous decisions. In a world where the future is unknowable, that is where uncertainty reins supreme, it is a very stupid strategy to attempt to be efficient. Dinosaurs were very efficient. Supremely so. They thus ruled the earth for a length of time that makes us look like tiny and insignificant amateurs. Their problem was that they became too efficient. They stopped thinking. They had no back up plan. They had no redundancy. So they could not withstand a shock in their environment. The unknown eventually popped up and rendered all that efficiency as monumentally inefficient. I realize that this is a gross simplification, but bear with me, it’s an analogy.
“Or, for the more modern amongst us, think of the Maginot line. A perfect defense system designed to withstand all that could be thrown against it. But not too good if the enemy simply drives around it.
Efficiency, it seems, is entirely contextual. What works well today and thus appears to be the height of elegant engineering, with efficiency fairly oozing from every corner, will collapse in an undignified heap tomorrow when the earth shifts, the environment or tastes change, or when new technologies simply make it all seem so quaint.
So I hate efficiency because it feels and looks like a fool’s game.
I say keep something in reserve. Because you never know.
The problem is that other people adore efficiency.”
Read the full post here. Definitely a link to make to that term in my sceptic's glossary!

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