Highlights from Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

When you shoot a person, you say why and do it, without excuse. This is how the Radchaai are.

She was old enough to know firsthand that we had, indeed, shot people in the past. She could hardly be blamed for fearing we might do so in the future.

There had been a time when a property owner like her would have been shot early on, so someone’s client could take over her plantation.

And within the gravity well of the planet Shis’urna itself—or for that matter any planet—lay the Underworld, the land of the dead from which humanity had had to escape in order to become fully free of its demonic influence.

And you don’t like my saying that, but here’s the truth: luxury always comes at someone else’s expense. One of the many advantages of civilization is that one doesn’t generally have to see that, if one doesn’t wish. You’re free to enjoy its benefits without troubling your conscience.”

Human bodies to make into ancillaries weren’t exactly a scarce resource.

Among the wealthy, clientage was a very hierarchical relationship—a patron promised certain sorts of assistance to her client, both financial and social, and a client provided support and services to her patron. These were promises that could last generations. In the oldest, most prestigious houses the servants were nearly all the descendants of clients, for instance, and many businesses owned by wealthy houses were staffed by client branches of lower ones.

“Only criminals, or people who aren’t functioning well, are reeducated. Nobody really cares what you think, as long as you do what you’re supposed to.”

Others took longer to leave, testing my authority, perhaps, though not far—anyone with the stomach to do such a thing had been shot sometime in the last five years, or at least had learned to restrain such a near-suicidal impulse.

You see murder and destruction on an unimaginable scale, but they see the spread of civilization, of Justice and Propriety, of Benefit for the universe. The death and destruction, these are unavoidable by-products of this one, supreme good.

To noncitizens, who only ever see Radchaai in melodramatic entertainments, who know nothing of the Radch besides ancillaries and annexations and what they think of as brainwashing, such an order might be appalling, but hardly surprising. But the idea of shooting citizens was, in fact, extremely shocking and upsetting. What, after all, was the point of civilization if not the well-being of citizens? And these people were citizens now.

Justice, propriety, and benefit, isn’t it? Let every act be just, and proper, and beneficial.

Highlights for Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Memory is redundant: it repeats signs so that the city can begin to exist.

Perhaps, Kublai thought, the empire is nothing but a zodiac of the mind’s phantasms.

the emperor is he who is a foreigner to each of his subjects,

that the more one was lost in unfamiliar quarters of distant cities, the more one understood the other cities he had crossed to arrive there;

By now, from that real or hypothetical past of his, he is excluded; he cannot stop; he must go on to another city, where another of his pasts awaits him, or something perhaps that had been a possible future of his and is now someone else’s present.

Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.”

“Memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased,”

“You return from your voyages with a cargo of regrets!”

Kublai reflected on the invisible order that sustains cities, on the rules that decreed how they rise, take shape and prosper, adapting themselves to the seasons, and then how they sadden and fall in ruins.

There is the city where you arrive for the first time; and there is another city which you leave never to return.

“I speak and speak,” Marco says, “but the listener retains only the words he is expecting.”

Traveling, you realize that differences are lost: each city takes to resembling all cities, places exchange their form, order, distances, a shapeless dust cloud invades the continents.

The catalogue of forms is endless: until every shape has found its city, new cities will continue to be born.

Convinced that every innovation in the city influences the sky’s pattern, before taking any decision they calculate the risks and advantages for themselves and for the city and for all worlds.

I recognize only cities and cannot distinguish what is outside them. In uninhabited places each stone and each clump of grass mingles, in my eyes, with every other stone and clump.

If I tell you that the city toward which my journey tends is discontinuous in space and time, now scattered, now more condensed, you must not believe the search for it can stop.

The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.

Highlights for Certain to Win by Chet Richards

War strategies, however, rest on a deeper foundation of people working together under stress and uncertainty, and good ones shape the terms of the conflict to their liking before combat begins.

What the commanders had, at best, was information about the enemy within a few miles of them.

Rather than dig in and “consolidate his position,” or otherwise savor the fruits of victory, he proceeded to use his advantage in time to neutralize his opponents’ forces and weapons.

Your other choice, if you believe that you do not have the resources to carry out the order, or that it is just plain dumb, is to challenge it. The German system encouraged this, but once agreement was reached, the superior could assume that the mission would be accomplished.

the greater risk is the loss of time that comes from always trying to be explicit.

He must observe the environment, which includes himself, his opponent, the physical, mental, and moral situation, and potential allies and opponents.

The idea behind strategy is to create chaos in the opponent, not in ourselves.

Strategy is a mental tapestry of changing intentions for harmonizing and focusing our efforts as a basis for realizing some aim or purpose in an unfolding and often unforeseen world of many bewildering events and many contending interests.

He starts blaming the customer, or insisting that his sales force “educate the customer.”

Basic Rule of All Competition (BRAC): You are not smarter than either the customer or the competition.

Another, and more insidious strategic effect of complex methodologies is that they can turn the attention of the company inwards. Most of them, for example, require extensive input.

As Musashi summarized it, in the translation by Hanshi Steve Kaufman, which was Boyd’s favorite:Practice is the only way that you will ever come to understand what the Way of the warrior is about . . . Words can only bring you to the foot of the path . . .”

Deming rails against organizations that don’t understand the importance of requiring first-line supervisors to have expertise in the jobs they manage. How can a supervisor have a “feel” for how his operation is going if he’s never done it?

Communications is the bottoms-up aspect of command and control, and the Marines define “control,” to be this stream of information.

Obviously it takes a lot of mutual trust to know whom to appoint to which missions and especially to admit and quickly communicate mistakes.

Concentrate instead on the essence of the concept, which is to devolve maximum responsibility onto the subordinate, in return for his or her pledge to use his/her initiative and creativity to accomplish the task, consistent with your ground rules.

You must try these concepts, practice them, create mechanisms for sharing experiences, develop common outlooks and orientations, and manage by them.

No probabilities here; you’ve made yourself certain to win.

Because you never know what will prod your creativity and the more widely you prospect, the more likely you are to find that something to set your offerings apart from all of your competitors.

Studies of innovation reveal that practically everything new consists of bits and pieces of other concepts, often from fields that appeared to be unrelated, that somebody had the genius to reassemble to form something new and exciting.

As Boyd pointed out, a plan is only an intention, and a strategy is merely a scheme for creating and managing plans.

If you want your system to run faster, what you have to do is change it in ways that decrease the time it takes to do the most important things you do, those that affect the customer.

Highlights for Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

“Whenever scientists say they’re Christian,” Sax said, “I take it to be an aesthetic statement.”

“You Americans would like to end politics and history, so you can stay in a world you dominate!”

Evolution is a matter of environment and chance, acting over millions of years. But history is a matter of environment and choice, acting within lifetimes, and sometimes within years, or months, or days!

Mutual professional respect, a great maker of friendships. And so nice to talk nothing but business.

It means rather fitting into it as it is, and worshiping it with our attention.

Beauty is power and elegance, right action, form fitting function, intelligence, and reasonability.

Only three who could even try, and Frank’s French was worse than no French at all, like listening to someone attack the language with a hatchet.

In practice, as last night had made clear, it had the U.N.’s usual toothlessness before national armies and transnational money.

Economics is like astrology in that sense, except that economics serves to justify the current power structure, and so it has a lot of fervent believers among the powerful.

They are richer than us. And in this system, richer is more powerful.

If any men in the world were treated like you treat your women, the U.N. would ostracize that nation. But because it is a matter of women, the men in power look away. They say it is a cultural matter, a religious matter, not to be interfered with. Or it is not called slavery because it is only an exaggeration of how women are treated elsewhere.

Young men and women, educated very carefully to be apolitical, to be technicians who thought they disliked politics, making them putty in the hands of their rulers, just like always.

Some of them defined ideology as an imaginary relationship to a real situation.

And as she cleaned the dishes, she felt her stiff throat move; she croaked out her part of the conversation, and helped, with her little strand, to weave the human illusion.

Welt am Draht

I strolled through the massive exhibition ‘Welt am Draht’ at Leipziger Strasse this weekend. This is a selection of video art from the massive Julia Stoschek Collection exhibited in the former Czech Cultural center.

Like everybody says the quality of video art in general is extremely inconsistent. That is true in this exhibit as well. There are a bunch of works where it is not at all obvious why somebody finished it, somebody approved it and somebody paid money for it.

The works that were most interesting in this exhibition consistently were not the video ones but those created with a game engine. That may be my own novelty bias at work, but a fully digital workflow like that allows: 1. more and faster iteration 2. fully dynamic products, the combination of which leads to totally new kinds of things that can be produced.

Some examples:

I forget what this was, but despite the concept being more or less ridiculous it has a compelling internal consistency.

RMB City by Cao Fei is a rich and spectacular playground of randomness.

I can’t really argue with any of Ed Atkins’s work which stands out for the pure skill of the renderings combined with spoken word that is not trite (so rare).

Ian Cheng’s Emissary Forks at Perfection is an ongoing collage of elements in a dynamic simulation that looks like an edgy version of the large scale installations Theo Watson makes.

Why Käthe Kollwitz is one of Germany’s most important figurative artists

Today I got a tour of the Käthe Kollwitz museum in Berlin. I had wanted to visit this museum for a while but this proved the concrete reason to finally go (though the café next door makes some mean pancakes if you find yourself in the area).

I was recently attended to her existence by MacGregor’s series on German history (episode). I now believe that she is one of the most important German artists of the past couple of centuries. If there are any other significant candidates, I would like to hear about them.

What makes her stand out as an artist are:

  • Her mastery of both drawing and sculpture.
  • That she depicts ‘common’ people and social themes prominently. She thought these people were beautiful in their own way and that their plight was one that merited attention. For me this is a stark contrast with how current (artistic) elites try to ignore the ‘common and stupid’ people (like Trump voters).
  • The loss of her son and how that permeates her later work.

Our tour guide didn’t make the connection but I find it more than fitting that on May 1st we would be looking at for instance the Weavers cycle (one of which I have pasted below).


Tweet coverage of the 2016 Bot Summit at the V&A in London

I was at the 2016 Bot Summit in London a couple of weeks ago. I did my best to capture salient points from every talk in a tweet. Here are all of them in order.