Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Migrants in the Port of Gallipoli

The news recently has contained reports from two distressed ships in the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. The burning one, and the one containing refugees, illegal immigrants, that was tugged to the port of Gallipoli in Southern Italy early on New Year's Eve (Newsweek's report). Apparently, smugglers of people often abandon ship if they fear an inspection by the authorities will cause them to be found out.
I would imagine that events such as these cause other "human traffickers" to be reminded of the risks involved in their trade and therefore to think twice before trying to carry more immigrants to Europe (or anywhere), and that is too bad. The people being smuggled evidently desire to come to Europe. The smugglers, at a price, are willing to take the legal risk to get them there. The evidence as far as I can judge suggests that the people of the recipient countries are mostly better off by the influx of others. What stands in the way for immigrants is typically nothing more than some silly legislation.
The reports from this particular incident mention a spokesman for the Italian Coastguard saying that a "disaster" was averted as the abandoned cargo ship could be safely tugged into port. While I am not clear on exactly why the ship was abandoned, it would seem that, in similar episodes, disaster could also be averted if the authorities simply stopped inspecting cargo ships in the first place. Then the people smugglers would lack one reason to abandon ship and smuggling would be safer. This would cause the prices which illegal immigrants have to pay to fall, and more people to get what they want.
The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem intends to list the many individuals who helped the Jews escape the terrible fate which the Nazis wanted for them. The so-called "human traffickers" who carry illegal immigrants to better places are not in general nearly as righteous as the ones listed in Jerusalem; they resist legislation preventing free movement of people rather than the outright killing or enslavement of them, and their motives are pecuniary (morally neutral) rather than humanitarian, but in terms of what their actions ultimately accomplish they deserve far more honour than do the ones wishing to put a stop to their trade and prevent people from peacefully crossing borders.

No news report I have seen mentions what will happen to the individuals whose risky journey to Europe is now at an end, though I guess it will be some kind of lengthy internment at first, followed by the granting of asylum at best or deportation at worst. I hope they can somehow have a better new year than that.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Mortality in a Multiverse

This is more speculative than usual, even for me, but when I was little, I remember thinking at one point that one's consciousness could not handle death at all, with the result that one does not experience death but instead lives on, if only in one's mind (I don't remember, but I think this happened after the death of my grand-mother when I was about six years old - I most likely have cleaned up my thinking a bit). Sort of like what happens in William Golding's wonderful book Pincher Martin.
Anyway, I believe it was Richard Feynman who expressed the thought that the universe bifurcates whenever something can go more than one way (a decision or a quantum event, say). A multiverse might then contain all the potential bifurcations. Combine this with the above, and the result is that people die in some universes but not in others. The interesting but apparently unfalsifiable thing about this is the potential that no-one really dies in the sense of ceasing to experience things, since one's consciousness lives on in a different universe.

I don't believe this is true, though I suppose I could believe it. The thing that makes it unbelievable to me is that the idea is beyond the ordinary and that there seems to be no really good reason to believe it. But many things beyond the ordinary may turn out to be true, or have turned out to be true, and even though there is no good reason to believe in it, there may also be no good reason to doubt it. So it would not take much prodding for me to believe in the out-there idea expressed above. Only, prodding in the realm of metaphysics is not something that happens a lot, so I will likely continue not to believe in the above.

If one is suffering from some incurable disease or commits suicide, it may be hard to imagine that one will live on in one of many universes, though maybe that problem could be solved somehow (cures could be discovered in some universes, perhaps, or someone could walk in on the person about to kill himself just in time?). Others could die, of course, just not oneself.

So, how far could this idea be stretched? Could it be that no-one ever really dies? This would be a big stretch. Although hardly anyone lives much beyond a hundred years, there would basically have to be one person (oneself) who is as old as humanity, which seems completely absurd (though not disprovable!). But maybe everyone gets to be really old. If so, healthy living is pretty good, because there are more universes in which one stays alive and remains healthy, in contrast to what happens if one leads the opposite kind of life, though great risk would have a built-in insurance against the worst kinds of risk.

These are just some silly thoughts, but on the subject of death one can perhaps afford to be more speculative than usual. With that said, I wish to say sorry for my infrequent blogging, which has been due to academic work, travelling, and Christmas. It may take me some time to get back on track. Have a Merry Christmas in the meantime!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Still Sorely Missed

Today would have been the 84th birthday of Professor Gary Becker, possibly the greatest social scientist who ever lived. He passed away in May, but still I cannot quite believe it. When I was at Chicago, I think only Ronald Coase and Robert Fogel were older than he, yet he was in many ways among the youngest of the participants in the many seminars in which I saw him, always curious and excited to learn new things and making pertinent comments and asking important questions.

Anyway, I talk about this because I notice the Becker-Friedman Institute at Chicago have released a number of videos from their recent conference in honour of my favourite teacher. There are also tributes of the written variety; this one really captures his love for his family, something I often heard of but that is frequently forgotten amidst his magnificent professional contributions. I also like the bit where his daughter said “He taught us how important it is to love your work. He showed what it is to work 16-hour days but but say, ‘I never worked a day in my life.’” My own very best "work" days are exactly like that. Professor Becker was an example for the rest of us to follow in so very many ways. Do give the links a gander.