Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Some fixes on the last two posts.
Happy new year.
"We haven't found an iota of concealed material yet." Zilch.
Also: Josh Marshall on the stupidity of the administration's behavior towards N. Korea.
He thinks it's more of a crisis than I do. Iraq is a mess because of the events of the last 10 years, because of Hussein and of how we've responsed to him. Korea, on the other hand, is still perfectly managable. Kim Jong Il needs to be bribed and seduced, and he wants to be. He may be playing hard to get, but all he wants is for someone to ask him to dance. If Bush continues to insist on humiliation as a foreign policy, it will turn into a crisis that will have been as predictable as the end of a film by de Palma.

Monday, December 30, 2002

Comments: 115 and counting. The link (and although I haven't read them all I would bet the best and most clearheaded commentary), courtesy of Sam Heldman, who has casually outlined the best definition I know of the category of 'the political', which encompasses any opinion, on any subject, that is not considered by the vast majority of a specific group to be obviously true. What much of the country assumes, reasonably, about the meaning of the Confederate flag seems not to register much in Alabama - unless, of course, you're black. Actions or opinions taken for granted by men are seen as political by women, and what is normative for Israelis is political for Palestinians. What is seen by Americans... by heterosexuals...

2 out of 3 Americans question the need for Tax Cuts.
More on Rummy and Iraq.
"T-Lo."
The Bushies throw everything that the Clinton administration tried to do with North Korea out the window and then then when they are backed into a corner try to cover up their stupidity by arguing that they are the ones being flexible and pragmatic.
The difference between Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il is that one is a megalomaniac and the other, at this point, merely wants -craves- respect. The only ideology now in North Korea, as in China, is pride, and whether or not there is anything to be proud of, in the North's case at least, is beside the point. China has stature, and North Korea has none, except as a threat. They want a seat at the table. They need trade, and food. Seoul understands this, and we should be listening. And the fact that the new leadership was voted in for questioning the complete history of American policy -going back 50 years- is all the more reason.
"We are not planning a preemptive strike" Talking about invading North Korea, even to deny it, is pathetic and absurd. And it's scary.

Yesterday Pakistani dictator/PM Musharraf made a speech in which he said that he had made clear to his Indian counterpart during the hight of the crisis earlier this year that Pakistan would go nuclear if India invaded Kashmir. We now know how close we came, for a few weeks, to a nuclear war; much closer than we are or will ever be with Korea. Unless of course Bush insists on one-upping his playmates at every turn.

There has been some talk about hackers going after John Poindexter's personal data, and here's another nice bit of domestic blowback.

And more on the USG's support of Hussein in the 80's (copped from Atrios)

Sunday, December 29, 2002

Saturday, December 28, 2002

Another Saturday night.

Some notes that I might turn into something.
What is it Kitsch?
We live in a world of language. We comminicate by way of language. As I wrote elsewhere the difference between a lover who sounds convincing when expressing his/her love and one who sounds like a fool is the language. It is the language or the gesture that 'convinces'. It is the telling of the story that makes someone into a convert, to love or christianity, not the story.
The interesting thing, to me, about religion is that it elides the obvious: that it is the mediating form that attracts people to one specific faith or another. The language of faith/ the rhetoric of faith/ the demonstration of faith... is faith. We can not escape the means of communication and mediation, even, or especially, when that escape is the object of our desire. It's all brilliantly circular, though no believer can accept such a definition.
But what is kitsch? Kitsch is unmediated faith. It is the equivalence of the plastic Jesus with Michelangelo's Pieta; that's the standard definition. But what does it mean? It is belief without rhetoric. In a sense it is the only actual demonstration of a faith in something outside of language, or out of the world. It is the only example of a faith where the rules of rhetoric and representation do not apply. And that very fact makes it off limits to discourse; makes it considered absurd, even by the vast majority of the faithful.

In Angela's Ashes, there is a description of the horror Frank McCourt's grandmother feels when, as a young boy, McCourt pukes up the communion wafer. [I should say here that I heard McCourt tell the story, but haven't read the book] He's been sick as a dog, but she runs terrified to ask a priest what to do: her grandson's body has rejected the Host. An exasperated priest tells her not to worry, that Frank has the flu. We laugh at the story, and we are meant to, or we were meant to when he told it on the radio. But what he is describing is an example of pure faith. And we laugh at it, because it is also pure kitsch.

What is Fascism? A parody of Monarchism. It is the 98 pound weakling who says he is a member of the master race. But he does not have to convince anyone that he is because he has a gun. In other words, he ignores the rhetoric of power, the language of authority, and uses only- and the 'only' is important- the fist in the face. Monarchy is violent but the fascist reverses the order: not the pomp and then the violence, but the violence and then the pomp, to dress it up not for himself but only for others. The rules Louis IV had to live by, on the other hand, were as strict as those of his courtiers. The pomp was the rhetoric of power, a rhetoric that was as important to the king and those around him as to anyone The rhetoric demonstrated that the order was just, that the order was all encompassing. For Hitler, of the kitsch master race, the pomp was a ruse.
If you doubt my logic ask yourselves this question: If it were otherwise, why did the history of monarchy produce so much art of lasting value and fascism produce almost none? Why is fascist art considered kitsch? Is it only that we cannot judge; the crimes are so great and so recent? I don't think so.

What I think we could say is that fascism, unlike monarchism, is a violent order where the perpetators have the same understanding as the victims; the only difference being in the psychological state of the perpetrators themselves.
---
What does it mean when Antonin Scalia says "The Constitution as I interpret it, is dead"?
He's given away the game. Once one allows interpretation one allows the possibility of alternate interpretations. What a brilliant piece of casuistry. But does such logic even have a place in a court of law? [Florida]
What is it when one tries to remove from history language that in a sense has already been written? If monarchism was once considered just, and was superceded by democracy, can one replace monarchism on its pedestal without doing damage to language itself. What does it mean to be so reactionary in a democratic state?
I often toss off whole paragraphs in a curt shorthand that two hours later sound as me bad to me as to anyone else.  I go back to them and, asking myself the same question again, work through a more complex answer. Sometimes only the grammer changes, other times the tone itself. I enjoy being bitter and dismissive when I am in the mood for it. But it does not always seem approproiate, or read as well, after the fact.

I don't think the notion of evil is useful. I don't think it's useful to describe the masses of people who give tacit support to Bin Laden, and the reasons for that are clear enough -'evil is never popular' is a truism I think- nor I do I like the term being applied to Bin Laden himself. That's still a bit of a stretch to some people.

I also do not think that 'spirituality', which is amoral- it can include a god of money- has any value as the basis of a political theory. Liberation theology doesn't have it's origins in spirituality per se but in the conditions of peasant life, which includes specific beliefs. The brilliance is that it imports nothing.
To say 'we need more spirituality' is to cloud the issue.

Friday, December 27, 2002

"Finally, Murray was not defending Bin Laden, she was speaking under an assumption most of us share, that 'Evil-as-such' is never popular. "

I'm quoting myself here, from the comments to my post -same as below- on NWB.
It is an important point. The right wing, at least the unsophisticated branch, does not hold this to be true. There is 'evil' in the world, and millions of people apparently worship it. It is important to state -and not simply to take it for granted- that we know that this argument is falacious, and that we base our own arguments on more solid ground.
Sam Heldman on the the popular presumption of guilt facing black politicians the moment any questions, even spurious ones, are raised about their ethics.

Also on what may or may not become a major issue, the Patty Murray speech:
We should not defend her points, which are obvious, we should ridicule mercilessly anyone who says that they are inappropriate. Give the idiots no room to breathe. The moment liberals show any weakness on this they will get slammed. On some issues, this might be a political maneuver, but not this time. If Dashle and Lieberman make any conciliatory gestures, they should be shouted down.
If Bloggers kept the fires going under Trent Lott's ass, they -we- should do the same for anyone who attacks Murray.

Thursday, December 26, 2002

From the Washington Post, in my case courtesy of The Guardian. No surprise: The CIA is accused of Torture.

Monday, December 23, 2002

I'm away from my computer for most of the week, but I may find time to put something up- if only a link or two.

Already I couldn't resist:
"Mr Biden said the crisis was 'a greater danger immediately to US interests ... than Saddam Hussein.'
...[T]he defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, dismissed such concerns. 'We are capable of fighting two major regional conflicts,' he said. "

This is so fucking absurd. Let's find another place that's going to cause trouble and see if we can make it a trifecta.
It's useless even to try and talk sense to such people. It's a 'nucular' pissing contest between imbeciles.

Saturday, December 21, 2002

I began this post after reading the debate Nathan Newman was involved in on the logic behind affirmative action. It has transformed over the last exhausting week into the post I'm putting up, still very rough in passages, and badly organized, but which now both makes clear the ambiguity of the situation as I see it and manages to describe my interests in a way I haven't before been able to.
If you've read it twice already, please read it again.
s.e.

ps. Max Sawicky wants to nominate my site as The Angriest Blog, if such a category ever appears in the awards of Blogistan. I think he means angriest readable blog, according to his criteria, so I guess I'm honored.
------


Racism against blacks still exists in this country. It is stronger than most whites will ever admit, and most dangerous where it exists in secret. Nothing about the current Trent Lott fiasco surprises me - It was never a secret to anyone who paid attention. But I think it is time we begin to understand and take political account -for once in this country- of our, meaning humanity's, ridiculous fragility.

I don't have many links to fellow bloggers. The ones I do have are to policy blogs such as by N. Newman and Max, or more recently, Sam Heldman. There are many blogs where I can pick up news from the street, so why link to them all? But even reading the people I link to I miss something. And that is an awareness of a certain absurdity that anyone needs to face who is caught up in politics, and specifically when dealing with 'reform.'

The wonder and beauty of people, and I mean beauty on the sense that one must learn to love what one can never escape, is that we are so incredibly stupid, and so driven by fears and phobias.
The problem with liberal technocracy, and in fact with socialism which comes out of it, is in a sense the problem of all political philosophy: the need to assume definitions, standards of consciousness and awareness, for various groups in society. In republican political organization, of course, that means the same category for all, regardless of class and more recently race, gender, and sexual orientation as well. But at some point, regardless of who designs the categories, with what politics in mind, this sort of identification becomes a straitjacket.
Experience always outflanks design. Destabilizing events are the basis of almost every novel or play ever written. At some point emotion or desire, illogic or simple chance takes control of the action. And at the end, order is restored, or changed, or gone seemingly forever. The inevitability of this is something that neither conservatives nor reformers -those who define themselves as such rather than simply having some opinions on a subject- seem to understand. And so it can come down to someone making the sort of charge that Chomsky seems occasionally to be capable of making: that because Freud thought we were all a litle nuts he was attacking our ability to run our own lives; that he was attacking democracy.

But declaring our own inevitable failures is not the same as declaring someone else's inevitable success. Chomsky is an honest news hound who can see clearly through a haze of doublespeak, but as a political philosopher he is as useful as a coffee shop chatterbox who argues that everything would be fine we would only be nice to each other. And as sick as I am of Foucault et al. there is a sensibility in him that is still foreign to this country, and especially to those who involve themselves in reformist debates, if in fact never foreign to politicians themselves, who are all cynical enough to understand. I don't know where I picked this up but I love it: Late in life Andre Malraux asked an old priest he had met what life had taught him about people. His answer: "There are no grown-ups"

The problem I have always had with some reformers, of whom Chomsky is the most famous recent example, is that by assuming that everyone must be capable of behaving as an adult, they can be so anti Freudian that their politics mirrors right wing economic theory in its reliance on static rationalism.
It is a cliché to say that blacks are still affected by the legacy of slavery. But it is true. And it is not yet somehow a cliché to say that Southern culture is still affected by the bloody and barbaric history of Scotland and Ireland. What can we say about South Boston? What is the reason for the extremely high drop-out rate of Italian American high school students in New York City? Why are so many prisoners the products of violent homes?
It may seem odd to think that something that happened 300 years ago is still of psychological importance to a group of people. Or that more than 100 years after emancipation the effects linger. Do you think American mythology does not affect the lives and behavior of white Americans? Does the mythology of pre Castro Cuba not affect the ridiculous posturing of a large part of the exile population in Miami? Can anyone describe how a whiny nebbish like Woody Allen could possibly come to be seen as personifying an entire people? Or, to be less comic in reference to my father's tribe: Is it possible that the disgusting behavior of Israelis towards the Palestinians has no relation to their own attempted destruction 50 years before?

I'll put this even another way. Do you think that I'm listening to the rap cd I bought on the street six months ago -one that you can't buy in a record store- because I want to sympathize with alienated black youth? No I'm listening to music by thugs from the street, because they can describe the street better than anyone else. I don't defend the right to free speech of a 20 year old with a Mac10 because I like guns, but because it's better to know what's on the street then not to. Besides, I admit, I like the sound. Would it be better if the streets were not what they are? Of course. But the streets are what they are. And growing up under some circumstances can produce a certain kind of person. What kind of person is that? Maybe the son of the man who washes the floors at your office. Maybe the kid scares the shit out of me. But if that kid chooses to tell me a story, with all that he's seen, and if I'm moved by it, how easy can it be for me to moralize?

Another story. I've spent the last three weeks working on the house of an extremely wealthy woman. We were in a hurry yesterday to finish up for Christmas: she had guests in from Europe and company coming for a cocktail party. At 2 o'clock we installed a stunningly beautiful Italian art deco chandelier that is worth more than I made last year. At 5 I finished rehanging the drawings from her collection in the hallway. After that I went to the bathroom, washed my face and hands, and went into the living room, which she had had done a few years ago in the most beautiful stucco Veneziano that I have ever seen in this country. Until two hours before I had thought that she was a very nice woman, with a nicely personal taste, in her collection and in her choice of lighting fixtures. But still I was annoyed because of the circumstances: last minute cleaning before a party makes my job less one of a tradesman than a servant, and I felt awkward having to ask the house guests to move while I swept the floor. But that was before I was told the only people attending the party were the house guests, a retired foreign service officer, his wife and daughters, and the men who had been working on her house for the last month. I don't have much more to say. It would have been one thing if we were all college boys, but not all of us were. She was a gracious hostess, I had a great time. Do I begrudge her her wealth? Of course. Do I begrudge her her taste? I've never in my life seen so much money spent so casually or so well. Part of me begrudges her nothing: she an intelligent woman involved in a lot of activities of which I would otherwise approve, and who enjoys the pleasures of wealth in a deeply unjust world. And she enjoys them with real style. So if I can't moralize about one end of the spectrum how can I moralize about the other? And if I can't moralize about a kind woman who has always had everything, how can I do it about an angry thug who has lived most of his life with nothing? Answer: I can't.

Really, I want everyone to grow up, but they won't. I won't. Some want to profit from that assumption, claiming it gives them license to do what they wish. Some want to condemn the absurdity of others who do not live up to their standards.

One more story: A Taiwanese friend's family lost everything when they had to abandon their factories in Haiti after Duvalier fell. They lost millions. He has never understood why his anger when he tells the story bothered me, and in fact, for that and other reasons, we are no longer friends. If I had been born in Haiti while his family was there, and my parents held the same beliefs they held here, instead of having an FBI file I would be an orphan. This is something he apparently could not, or did not want, to understand. But I know that he was working in sweatshops at the age of 13. Even if they were run by his father, they were run on borrowed money, and he still had to work the machines. Why did his parents work so hard? Why did they have to be so cheap so as to need what was nearly slave labor? I have no idea. Why does Confucianism demand that his mother receive $500 a month from each of her three sons? And the parents drive a new mercedes

Reformers will always have a problem with the way people behave. And with reason. And I will always have a problem with reformers. But that is not the same as having a problem with democracy, or trying to make a moral justification for greed. There is none. Nor, for that matter, is there one for wealth. But sometimes, often, the easiest solutions to our troubles run smack into the brick wall of what it means to be human. I am less interested in writing even or especially political writing that does not take this into account.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002


This country should not be the one Bin Laden describes. This country should not mirror the one Bin Laden wants to create. This is immoral, dangerous and stupid.

A link picked up tonight from Atrios:
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hundreds of Iranian and other Middle East citizens were in southern California jails on Wednesday after coming forward to comply with a new rule to register with immigration authorities only to wind up handcuffed and behind bars.
Shocked and frustrated Islamic and immigrant groups estimate that more than 500 people have been arrested in Los Angeles, neighboring Orange County and San Diego in the past three days under a new nationwide anti-terrorism program. Some unconfirmed reports put the figure as high as 1,000.
The arrests sparked a demonstration by hundreds of Iranians outside a Los Angeles immigration office. The protesters carried banners saying "What's next? Concentration camps?" and "What happened to liberty and justice?."
A spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service said no numbers of people arrested would be made public. A Justice Department spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Back in 5 minutes
Goodnight.

Sleep well.

Pleasant Dreams.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

A new post on NoWar Blog

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Noted before sleep:
Josh Marshall: "Well, it turns out [Trent Lott's old friends] the Council of Conservative Citizens filed an amicus brief in the cross-burning case!"
I should say that I am opposed, by way of my fondness for the 1st Amendment, to any restrictions, unless the act is meant overtly as a threat . One of the assholes bringing the case was convicted of burning a cross on the original plaintiff's front lawn, so there are many ways in which he should lose without having to bypass the constitution. My opposition goes for bans on 'hate speech' as well.

Eric Alterman forwards this record of the courage of Tom Daschle. I ride the subways in NY, so I think I have the right, or may be about to earn the right, to say Nathan Newman who is kicking ass in general these days, is right about the strike.
Are Subcomandante Marcos and Baltasar Garzon going head to head?

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

I'd like to thank Sam Heldman for dropping my name in public, and giving me the chance to continue in this direction knowing I haven't made too much of a fool of myself yet. But that being said, I think there is still a problem in his understanding of esthetics as it applies to everyday life, including the writing and presentation of legal briefs.
As I I wrote recently Americans have developed a division between the esthetic and the intellectual that is anomalous in its relation to most of the planet. We are taught to see our shared values as imperitives, often religious or economic, and esthetics, whether rarefied or not is seen as connected more than anything else to leisure, as something for the weekend. Sam makes this bias clear when he writes: "Thinking of legal communication as being artistic in this sense may seem like an oxymoron, or at least a very very bad idea, if you think that legal writing must always strive to be as un-idiosyncratic and as crystal-clear as possible."
I am going to have fun here, because Sam has given a perfect example of the mistake many people make, and he's also my perfect audience, since a corollary to Sam's intellectual misunderstanding are the unintellectual -or anti-intellectual- and equally mistaken assumptions of the artists themselves, who are as immune to a discussion of the nature of art as theologians are to the nature of religion. Law is the perfect field for this discussion.

Art is that which convinces.
I heard a story, apparently true, of a well know analytic philosopher who gave up on his field after witnessing an exchange between lawyers in a courtroom.

Why is it that legal argument and esthetics should ever 'appear' oxymoronic? Why is it that an artistic temperment is assumed to be 'eccentric'? As I said in the post I linked above, it's often not the story that makes a case but the manner of its telling. A classically perfect piece of oratory has a material logic, in the sounds being made, the vowels, consonants, pitch and rhythm that's the perfect parallel to the clear logic of the argument. When I attempted to define a work of art I didn't say there was no art anywhere else. Perhaps I should have been clearer.  We're pattern makers; we create them even against our will. Try to speak random jibberish and you'll find that you're unable to;  immediately you begin making patterns. Sounds will repeat or will be answered: 'ug ug' 'bim boom.'

Every legal brief has art in it: word choices based on how pairings or groups sound together, words that are easy to pronounce in quick succession, metaphors used to make the issues more concrete to the reader or listener...
My comment about what makes a work of art took that logic farther. When the subtlety of the literary construction becomes inseparable from the beauty of the argument, then a legal brief, or any document can in effect do double duty. The Gettysburg Address is considered a work of art.
Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were both powerful orators. But my parents always found King's preacher's incantations overblown and annoying. For them Malcolm X was was more interesting. King would speak as a shepherd, from a superior position, while Malcolm X spoke to his audience as he would have someone speak to him, as an equal. King cajoled and exhorted, and Malcom X taught, in the sense that a teacher teaches those who will succeed him. I could go on, but the point here is only that for each, his art made manifest the choices he had made about himself and his community and history. The esthetic and the ethical mirrored one another. Their artistic devices were not mere design but acted as parallel to their intellectual and emotional lives, as is true, in a less self conscious way, for anyone. But they were skilled at it.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

"The only difference between a well reasoned argument about a metaphysical subject and a badly reasoned one is the complexity of the portrait of the author and of his ideas. There is no difference in their value outside of that. Complex sophistry remains sophistry.
All art is sophistry."

"Something can be judged a work of it art if its arguments are rendered with an idiosyncratic subtlety beyond what is necessary to communicate its ideas, and which may even oppose them, but which so colors our perceptions that we can not separate the sensibility from the idea without feeling a loss.
Subtlety beyond necessity but not without purpose."

Quoting myself from notes somewhere. And the second one posted here a few months ago.
Sam Heldman sent me a note yesterday replying to my comments about sincerity and theatricality: "...there is something special about music that is not meant primarily to be played from a stage but is instead played for the playing of it." and this in the context of his interest in bluegrass and hill country back porch footstomping music. He sent me some links to individual disks which came back 'forbidden' when I clicked them, but the site is a good one to have on your list.

I responded twice to his note. It's obvious that I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to say as I wrote, so the letter is a bit sloppy. I was tired and a little drunk. I'm posting it because I'm tired tonight as well, but also because the reasons for, methods of, and responses to communication together make up my main interest: language, esthetics, rhetoric, ethics and law.

What is to be done?
Do you know how to dance?

"Since plastering doesn't take much thought, I spent a lot of the day thinking about what it was I meant by the term sincerity. After I read your email I looked it up in my 50 year old Webster's, and I suppose what it comes down to is a problem of volition. I have a great respect for the notion of the intentional fallacy, and in that context, sincerity implies intention. Sincerity is an emotion. 'Simplicity' and 'directness' describe the manner of things themselves: songs for example, or a style of playing. I would not call a craftsman's work sincere or earnest. I wouldn't call a mason sincere, even if he were brilliant. I might say that he had a sincere love for his work, but that's not the same thing.

My dislike of that word doesn't make me a cynic and I wasn't trying to sound like one. Maybe I shouldn't have used the term 'theatrical' since it implies an audience of others, of outsiders. When everyone in a church sings together the performers are the audience. Maybe that's not theater but it is still formalized presentation, perhaps even more formalized, more rhetorical. "These are the songs my/our grandparents taught me/us, and that their grandparents taught them." You can't get more formalized then that. The notion of sincerity also implies a focus on the individual performer rather than on the song and is therefore the opposite of formalization.

I see a musician on the subway a lot who sings nothing but sad songs. And he sings them with a miserable expression on his face and always in the same plaintive whine. He obviously is miserable, and he's trying to communicate his misery to the rest of us. I feel guilty for being so sick of him. I've heard him do 'Tears in Heaven' hundreds of times. But I've also heard Mexican guitarists singing beautiful sad duets that you know they can do at this point while reading the damn newspaper. And they stand there and sing them again and again and you know as you watch and listen that what they are thinking about is not their misery- if they are miserable- but the song. It is the character's in the song who are sad. Does that make the singers insincere? But they're good at what they do.

I think what you appreciate is the selfless respect for tradition. There's a depth in that that individual achievement can't match. And there's a simplicity to a certain kind of grass roots tradition that is as much about the community as the song. It's collective art. And in a society without much in the way of community, you're drawn to it, just as I'm drawn to the Mexican singers on the subway. But sincerity is an individual's emotion, and to me it changes the subject from the emotions in the performance to the emotions in the performer. I think that's a mistake.

I'll try another tack since I haven't quite hit it yet, and I'm a little drunk. What we both sense is the communication and familiarity within the group that's associated with sincerity. The sincerity is not directed at/to the audience and isn't even the subject of the 'conversation', but is demonstrated or made manifest by the performance. Lovers don't spend every day telling each other how much they're in love, not if it's going to last more than a week, they talk about the things they have in common and the communication demonstrates the emotion. Music is the same. The sincerity and the friendship is between the players. The audience, unless it's a community church, is along for the ride.

It's not sincerity that bothers me it's the thought that it is or should be directed at the audience, or that it therefore produces good art."

Monday, December 09, 2002

I want to add something to my comments about formalism. I don't care if it's Robert Johnson, The Stanley Brothers, the Carter Family or Johnny Cash; when members of the educated bourgeoisie take an interest in 'roots' music it's not sincerity that draws them in, but a rigorous and formalized theatrical presentation, and serious craft. Listening to Ralph Stanley you know the importance of faith in his life, but it is not his faith that attracts you it's his voice (he sings better than most believers). He constructs his singing with an interior logic and it's that logic, that pattern, as the song travels from beginning to middle and end -to resolution: the structure of all narrative- that's communicated to his audience. He constructs something with a sense that it has to be just so, and listening to it we're compelled to agree.

I watched a mediocre documentary on the tube recently, about Lon Chaney. It had a great quote: It's not an actor's job to feel the emotions of his character, it's his job to make the audience feel them. Eric Alterman and John Nichols, both of whom write in The Nation, always use sincerity as a yardstick, and it's stupid.
If art were about sincerity being in love would get you laid.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

Trent Lott is a Racist. I didn't link to this before because it was getting enough play in the left coast of Blogistan, and there was no way I could help spread it much. There still isn't. But I flicked on the tube this morning and watched a couple of right wing pundits on national TV try desperately to convince themselves it isn't true. Even David Broder was shaking his head. This is getting some real play and should be pushed... Hard.

Saturday, December 07, 2002

What is 'formalism' in the arts? Whatever it is, it is ubiquitous as of when...1850? And the definitions its partisans apply don't cut it. I'd rather describe it as a natural, as opposed to chosen, technique spontaneously generated by a culture to keep the insincere from being the merely banal.

Frank Sinatra spoke about how the Dorseys taught him the importance of phrasing, and phrasing- the control of time- is Sinatra's genius. The beauty is cold structure; there is no love in his love songs.
Someone, probably Greil Marcus, talks about the formalism of a Rolling Stones performance. How did white middle-class kids from a England manage to rip-off working class American culture (black, white, urban and rural-Jagger copped fake white accents as well) and succeed, unlike everyone else, in making everything they stole their own? Certainly no other band was simultaneously both as derivative and as original as the Stones. The secret is not that they stole, but that they made thievery their subject. Jagger's redneck accent - listen to Beggars Banquet- is more than a copy or a parody because every song, by anyone, is always just a performance. But Stones songs are explicitly that and nothing else: they contain no real love, no real hate, no real hicks, no real black music, no real American music and no real politics (that's what Godard didn't understand about them.) Of course those things were all there: in their absence. As with Sinatra, the theatricality does not undermine the art, it is the art. The subtlety is the doubleness, the shadow of a sincerity that is not there, in an art that is somehow made out of its lack. This honesty is why Godard was interested in them in the first place.
T.J. Clark talks about Picasso's analytic cubism in a similar way, not as describing anything of the world, anything outside the painting itself -a vase or a woman- in any meaningful way, but as bodying forth meaning of a differet sort, as describing the anxiety of a situation, of the attempt and failure and repeated attempt to describe the world, and of making the absurdity profound by way of a kind of skillful but still frenetic -too frenetic, verging on desperate- presentation of the whole ridiculous mess.

Again, I'm fascinated by art and the definition of society and how various periods and forms come to terms with the imprecise- and unidealistic- nature of democracy and of democratic art: that an art about the maker can be seen by some, Picasso for example, and the Stones, or Sinatra, as the product of crisis, and by others, as the nature of things.
I've been following Nathan Newman and Sam Heldman's conversation about Bowers vs. Hardwick and judicial activism. Nathan also answered most of the questions anyone who was suspicious of the terms used to describe the United Airlines fiasco might care to ask. And today, as the Times reported, and Nathan predicted, the creditors of USAir tightened the noose around their debtor's employees.

A Glass in the Sink

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Thanks to Zizka from Vanitysite for recommending I look up the writing of Steven Toulmin in re my arguments about rhetoric.
Here's the beginning of whatever it is I'm going to write next

The debate with Scalia et al. comes down to whether a philosophy of justice should be posited as a question or a statement. The philosophy of free speech extends from the assumption that justice should be based on a question, therefore requiring -political- debate. What is freedom? What is obligation, and to whom is it owed? To be seen as consistent, Scalia's philosophy, in its opposition to the act of interpretation, must not recognize the logical and 'moral' validity of free speech (or of democracy itself).
---
A philosophy of open debate is a defense of art...
Art is the world filtered through a sensibility. In a democracy, what is law? Not the sensibility of the individual but of the group. How is the law made to change?
Since law in a democracy must be seen as a questioning and literature is nothing but questioing at the level of mimesis and abstraction, art (literature) has the legal status of a hypothetical case.

If artmaking is to be considered an important activity rather than a 'spandrel' -the result of necessity but not itself necessary- can this be argued without recourse to metaphysics?
Easily, in literature and theater.
What about the rest?


There is a little bit of a debate going on concerning whom we should refer to as 'The Left'. Who should make the call: Hitchens, Pollitt, Alterman, or now that they've gotten into it, Tapped?
Why spend so much energy defending their turf? Because no one who doesn't call himself a leftist- even a bourgeois leftist- wants to be associated with those who do. From Alterman to 'Tapped', liberals want in on the game, but they want to keep their self respect, something leftists never lose. The left makes them feel ashamed and the right makes them jealous. The left will never control the program, but as long as the liberals are afraid, the the right will continue to.

Sunday, December 01, 2002

There is no line that divides information and rhetoric. A flat plane leads from the logical to the illogical, and from the rational to the absurd. If it weren't the case there would be no need to judge one from the other or argue abourt anything; and newspapers could be written by computer.

I had more written, and I would have tossed it all, but those three sentences stuck.

Friday, November 29, 2002

On November 15th I posted a few paragraphs on the weakness of American political writing, which led me to the post I put up a few hours ago.

"What we share tend to be things that are thought of as absolute, as carrying an almost religious sense of being right or true. And on top of that we toss something called 'style', that is superfluous to the important matters at hand, but still necessary in some way we don't quite get. We don't take it seriously, even as we market to it, but we know it exists."

This is the shallow sense of style or 'art' that I find so ridiculous and so offensive. And the relation now so often posited of rationality -of science- to the market -which supposedly is not shallow- is little more than a metaphor.

Somewhere on my shelf is a book or an article that begins with the description of a conversation between a scientist, a climatologist or mathematician, and a poet or scholar of some sort -a true story- in which they're described as standing on a hill or mountain watching the wind blow clouds across the sky. The scientist begins to describe these natural occurrences scientifically as the interaction of various atoms and molecules, of various properties and rates of motion. The scholar asks if all this analysis doesn't lessen his friend's sense of wonder. One the contrary, his friend says, it increases it.
The story may have come from Steven Weinberg, who loves to take on the artistic temperament and document its failure in the age of science and objectivity to do anything but charm and entertain its guests. And I'll admit, If there's anything that annoys me as much as a scientist who claims to understand while condescending to it the value of art, it's the modern aficionado impressed or intimidated with the sciences, who tries to make art their competition.

The tools of science are capable of making objective measurements, but we are not tools: tools do not dream. Some people think our dreams are what make us interesting, but dreaming doesn't mean our dreams are true. A scientist will be interested in studying what we do when dreaming, using techniques developed while awake. But techniques are tools and we dream while at work. An artist will be interested in dreaming, though he has to be able to walk down the street without bumping into things. But he has to communicate that dream, and communication is not dreaming, or not only. In the past it was philosophically reputable for dreams to rival science as a description of the world, and now it's become reputable to argue that we do not dream, or should not, or that we -at least some of us[!]- can separate one from the other. I'm as angry with the generalizations made by physicists, mathematicians and economists as I've always have been with the romances of rabbis, priests and hippies.

What do I mean when I talk about dreaming?
In making an argument I use every means I know to draw you to my side: I use an authoritative tone; I try to make my sentences flow together, implying that my ideas do the same; I worry about punctuation and run spell check (or I'm lazy and I don't). I try to be witty. I do all these things in an attempt to seduce you into agreeing with my point of view. If I tell you Christ died for your sins, or that I love you, neither means anything without my skill with a story and an audience. To the dismay of young men and theologians it is the telling, not the tale, that convinces. If I were writing out mathematical equations it might not matter, but the logic of argument as much as we would like it to be otherwise is not pure, and the fact that we now have both scientific method and rules of evidence does not mean that such skills are no longer needed.

Every moment of the day we use rhetoric. Every gesture, every vocal inflection, every choice of clothing is a representation of our thoughts and ideas, our delusions and misconceptions about ourselves and others. These gestures are the manifestations of our dreams. And without meaning to be too hyperbolic -since people tend to discount the logic of points made with the help of pat phrases- we ignore their meaning at our peril. Witness of the dreamlife of Paul Wolfowitz.

We learn from the church what we learn from the theater. Even as secularists, we learn from its discourse on dreams. Its tracts contain wisdom on subjects about which science can say nothing. The history of the debate over what constitutes the just use of violence is something that religion can tell us more about than science, if only because science has not debated the issue for 5000 years of recorded history. And notwithstanding the possibility that genetic testing might have made Solomon's threat to slice a baby in half unnecessary, if I had to choose I would trust a judge who knows his Shakespeare over one who reads Scientific American every night before he goes to bed.
There were some obvious typos and grammatical errors below, and I'm sure there are more, but the first sentence has been fixed, and that's a start.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

More on the hypocrisy of the educated middle class.
The author of a letter to the Times today points out the irony of the government giving a payout to Eli Lilly -by sneaking a clause into the homeland security bill protecting it from lawsuits over mercury based preservatives in vaccines- while one member of the Lilly family can stuff $100 million into the pockets of the editors of a small poetry magazine. Leaving aside the fact that the best poet this country produced in recent memory was James Merrill who was born with a few hundred million of his own to play with, and whose politics, judging by his works alone, were about as repulsive as those of any other high-born Tory faggot, all I can say to the boys and girls who struck it rich, most of whom are undoubtedly liberal democrats, is enjoy yourselves.

Salman Rushdie manages to sound like a self-indulgent ass again today, also in The Times.
If I say I'm sick of Rushdie it doesn't mean I'm defending the slaughter of women in bikinis (some of my best friends wear bikinis) but let's be clear: in conservative societies women's roles are limited and tightly regulated,but they have a measure of power, sometimes small sometimes not, within their own areas of control. After all, in such societies every individual faces coercive pressure.

When powerful outside forces come into the community, forces outside the control of the collective, this produces new tensions. Rich countries offer freedom to individuals but the end of any sense of local control. The community, led by the male population, and used to power, has no choice in the matter. And of course the new powers that be are about as interested in humanitarianism as a casino is interested in seeing you win at the slots. If you need convincing of that just read the letter from the PR flack from the National Association of Manufacturers in defense of Lilly.

I don't dismiss criticism of fundamentalist belief. I'm a New Yorker and I'm not an idiot. But I am angered if the criticism is based on the vague moralizing of the habitues of the land of the leasured. Painful transitions are now being forced upon people who have no idea what is happening to them, and who feel that they have no control of the outcome. And there are intelligent cynics who will use that anger to create and maintain power for themselves, based solely on their ability to steer anger in one direction or another. Do I have to list the ones who have done it recently? Add to this that the first power girls are able to feel when they have no other -and which is tightly regulated but not always to extremes- is the power of sex. The power over male desire is limited, and if it's used to the extent of its being defined as the only power the result is often but not always tragic. For the lucky few, life can be a breeze. But telling every poor girl she can be a model is the same of telling every street kid he can make it in the NBA, and sports take brains and skill. Not that I mind anyone who does, but how much skill does it take to look good sucking cock? Who has more control of her life, a woman in chador, or a prostitute? Who has more means of mediating the means of male control. The woman with many skills to barter with, or only one?

For Rushdie to grouse about Germaine Greer's annoyance at the importation of the Miss World Pagent to London is just stupid. Rushdie after all was once married to a well known novelist with a mind of her own, but now happily describes the pleasures of true love with a much younger woman who may have her own thoughts as well, but who's known primarily as a choice piece of ass.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Max Sawicky posted a soon to be published piece by Michael Berube on NWB. I posted my response this morning before I went to work and I'll repost it here:

Berube exhibits the same symptoms as the rest of the American populace. He is waiting for someone to lead, someone he can 'trust.' Everybody needs to be loved, and nobody wants to be left out in the cold, as a leader always is. So they wait for someone else to take the responsibility.
The majority of the population on this planet thinks this war is driven by ridiculous ideology and greed. There have been protests from London to Tokyo, while liberals in this country think about thinking about being opposed to it, and the eccentric left leads the marches. I will sign every petition sent to me about this stupid self destructive war. I'll even make common cause with Maoists and Libertarians.
What exactly does Berube say that hasn't been said before? What direction does he suggest? Discoursing on the need to be reasonable does nothing to advance an argument. Yes, he should be leading teach-ins -as my father did in Philadelphia (in 1965). And no he wasn't a Maoist. Berube should be thinking more clearly.
If, for example, we argue against first strike use of nuclear weapons, then where are we going to aim them? The only answer is at civilian populations, to be murdered as punishment for the actions of their leaders. Is this any more or less moral than the "first strike" policy? His opponents in this argument, though not popular -in this country- were logically and morally on the ball. And as for his critique of the right of self determination for independent states, he is arguing against the rule of law. He understands, I think, that the sheriff and the law are not one and the same. If the US does what it pleases, it acts as both, which is not allowed, nor would Berube defend it, in domestic cases. Why should we not strengthen the UN rather than weaken it, as we always try to? And every unilateral action weakens it more. His argument reminds me of those against an America national health service. "Look how bad it is in England." But it wouldn't be so bad if they hadn't slashed the budget.
If you want to argue the value of practical Machievellianism, do so. If you want to argue against it, then do that. But the reason people do not take liberals seriously is that liberals use situational ethics while denying they do so, even to themselves. The only way to convince the people that this war is an mistake is to speak simply and directly and in these terms: On pure principle the war is wrong. It follows immoral precedents and strengthens them. Lecture the people, who will listen, on international law, and on the idea of law. For the rest, tell them that as amoral geopolitical gamesmanship, for which no one has to give a damn about the Kurds, or anyone else, as long as the markets and our own safety are not affected, the war is stupid and dangerous, and the president's policymakers either ideologues, amateurs or both.
We should not be in the business of bullying bullies. And if all the other kids in the playground are more worried about us than they are about him, we have a problem. It really doesn't matter which reason you choose. You can choose both, as I have. That is why I'm here [at NWB]. But this article is about dithering, however articulately it may present it, and that is something most Americans have no patience with.

Monday, November 25, 2002

Some quick comments on the day's comments.

On the problems of being a christian evangelist from the US in an Islamic country:
"N.S. ... baby",  which in my father's version meant not 'no shit' but 'no sympathy.' Has there ever been an evangelical movement not linked, if only at the level of psychology, to economically expansionist policy?  If one is not produced by the other, they're twins. Religion expanding by trade between equal partners is one thing, but the "free market" philosophy of religion is as specious as the philosophy of economics proper.

From Richard Bernstein's review of of Amos Elon's new book on the history of the Jews in Germany:
"But [German acceptance] was not to be, because the conformist tyranny that Germany was unable to put into the past (until the Allied conquest of World War II)[sic] is exactly what prevented the emancipation of the Jews."
How does war end"'conformist tyranny"? Did the Civil War end it for the American south? The diplomatic courtesy is silly. The German's never understood democracy and don't understand it now.

Again and again over the past 50 years democracy is described as being needed, as being necessary for Germany as castration is seen by some as necessary for a sex offender. But the underlying assumption, the banality of democracy, is never opposed. Germany is an autistic country, emotionally numbed by the past and actively engaged in the production of production, of order, engineering and design, but unable to create a new emotional order out of the physical world. Gerhard Richter, the country's most famous living artist put it well when he described why he believes in nothing: believing in something is too dangerous. It leads to extremism (for Germans).
But one can still wonder, why not 'believe' in democracy?

Examples of this struggle abound in German culture since the war. Since when did Fassbinder ever believe in democracy? Watch Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire and listen carefully to the conversation between the two angels sitting in the car in an automobile showroom. Even Heinrich Boll is more a celebrant of martyrdom than of democracy.

Finally it's conformity, not democracy, that's allows Germans, and Europeans generally, to express their dislike for this war. Do readers here understand the irony?

Sunday, November 24, 2002

Double post on Stand Down/NWB:
The US Government has pulled the Special Forces and is now using mercs from DynCorp to protect Karzai. With their record of incompetence and criminal behavior, there should be an investigation.
Can the hawks really defend this decision? It does not seem even to be rational. Colombia policy often flies under the radar, but Afghanistan seems the wrong place, and now the wrong time -for purely political reasons- to test run such a policy. Perhaps the White House thinks Americans won't notice (which is quite possible) or that foreign opinion does not matter. Bush et al. have been acting as if they can safely assume both things are true. Perle and Wolfowitz have been doing nothing but stirring up trouble. As Matthew Hogan said below [on NWB here] these guys are the true isolationists, and in the long run we all agree their policies are going to hurt the country. But I think they are going to hurt Bush as well. There is something absurd about all of this crap. It's too ideological, and too public.
"[He] came out of the UN compound waving a blue UN flag, and the Israeli soldiers' only response was to broadcast with their microphone in English, 'We don't care if you are the United Nations or who you are. Fuck off and go home!' They were trying to go home. Iain said that things were not going well."
The killing of Ian Hook.

Saturday, November 23, 2002

It's been an interesting week I guess. Things are moving along nicely, in about 10 different directions. Nathan Newman has the best take on Bush and Iraq. Al Gore remains an idiot, but only the British press is willing to admit the game's a game. Americans have a habit of taking people at their word, and then laughing at them behind their back, [Link] though Frank Rich is an exception.

There is a segment of the right wing in this country that takes it's freedoms seriously. The barbarism that Europeans are always decrying, except when they lecture us about Hemingway or Charlie Parker, has it's corollary in a stubborn desire to be left alone, even if that isolation leads to chaos and a shorter life. The controlling technocracy which is working its way into our lives, on the other hand, is more radical than conservative in the sense that it seeks to reform social relations in a subsidiary relation to the market. In the past, and in the conservative tradition, social relations were subsidiary to family, church, and community. The market, the philosophy of the economic liberty of the individual, destroys that community. This is something that Libertarians do not understand, and that neocons, who are basically hypocrites, ignore.
The great and glorious contradiction in American life is between the individual and the collective. When people discover that the collective is not a collective but a cabal, they begin to fidget. The advantage Bush has is the advantage of the man with the carrot the possibility of riches as well as the stick, to which Gore can only respond with the condescending decency of the the factory boss's son. What Dick Armey and Bob Barr offer on the other hand is an anger that is fundamentally as anti-intellectual and irresponsible as the majority of the American people. Given a choice between freedom and loyalty, greed and humility, they write in "all of the above."
What a country.
According The NYTimes, Bob Barr has followed Dick Armey into employment as a consultant for the ACLU. The director, Anthony Romero is a smart man.
Thom Merrick in Frankfurt.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

"We remain caged, a final tribute to Zionist Vladimir Jabotinsky, who in his Revisionist Zionist writings of 1923 suggested chasing us away, killing us or caging us. Journalists decry the dangers young Israelis face when they want to go out for ice cream or to celebrate a birthday. No one points out that most of these young people are here because of an earlier generation's violent Zionist ambitions. If they are harmed, I agree, it's not their fault and it's a genuine horror for us all. But there are no stories about our young people, whose ancestors have lived here for century after century. Israeli curfews force them home and inside a locked metal door by 3 pm -- forget about ice cream or parties of any kind." Arabnews.com

The author of a letter to the Times this morning has noticed that nowhere in the discussion of the Total Information Awareness program has she seen reference to tracking gun sales. But, of course, gun sales are going to be tracked, along with everything else. As Alex Cockburn always points out, this is just the sort of government activity gun nuts are afraid of. And it's why the ACLU has always stayed out of the gun debate.
This is where the populist left and right will find common cause. Our country is more than a little barbaric, but Bush and Cheney are cynics, who make use our barbarism it to serve their own interests.
Barbarism is a violent system that applies to all. Fascism is a system one applies to others. It is the barbarism of cowards.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Israel Blog Aron Trauring is one of the good things about Stand Down/No War Blog.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

"Leon Daniel, like others who reported from Vietnam during the 1960s, knew about war and death. So he was puzzled by the lack of corpses at the tip of the Neutral Zone between Saudi Arabia and Iraq on Feb. 25, 1991." A link picked up from No War Blog: War without death.

And another link from NWB. This one a demographer's report on civilian caualties, which has been covered up by the Pentagon.

Monday, November 18, 2002

I have not heard it described this way anywhere else: "The arrival of the UN team coincided with air attacks on Iraqi defensive positions. The Iraqis fired back, a move the US insists contravenes the UN resolution passed this month."
That was the last sentence in this piece in today's Guardian, which is otherwise about Hans Blix's response to the abuse being thrown his way by our hawks in the White House. I suppose the US is saying that the Iraqis scoped the planes first, and that we fired in self defense- it has been claimed before- but I haven't heard that yet. Even if true, could it be proven? The Security Council won't buy it.

The Times says today that the US will not submit the new violations to the Security Council for the obvious reasons, but the article does not describe the violations in detail, which makes me wonder whether they were provoked.
Martin, you're just making us more competitive. I'm going to have to start checking in every day just to see if my last post was good enough to make the list! On the other hand, I admit, I'll have to work harder. Life's nothing but contradiction I guess.
Eric Alterman makes clear what's at stake with with the Homeland Security legislation. Here are the email addresses of your representatives in congress.
For the last century this country has relied on the supression of democracy in other countries to maintain its power structure, but has not had to rely upon it here. Bribery, on the whole, was found to be sufficient. Now liberals have as much to worry about as the rest of us.
Two things, briefly.
In The Times yesterday Robin Toner had a piece explaining how the parties in Congress are now led by commited advocates of the left and right. "Nancy Pelosi is as liberal as Tom Delay is conservative." This is a perfect example of the misuse of synchronic analysis. Two people can stand on opposite ends of a train. What direction the train is moving does not matter.
Not unless you're a historian.

A week or so ago I made a comment about the future of Europe as a partner with Russia. Now Ian Black in The Guardian has described some of the bumps in the road. Being lazy I had not realized the the gamesmanship of Giscard d'Estaing's otherwise insipid comments about Turkey and the E.U. By playing the proud christian, he is weakening the European hand. Perhaps he agrees with Ian Paisley that it's better to pretend to be what one imagines than to be right. Paisley didn't put it quite that way but it's close enough.

Goodnight.

Sunday, November 17, 2002

Friday, November 15, 2002

A First Draft.

I'm tired of simple politics for the moment. I've been thinking about other things, though they spiral back to politics, as most things do for me.
Why is it that America has such an impoverished notion of politics and argument, that our pundits are so culturally illiterate? Why is a sense of style so anathema to politics for us?

I think it comes from the strangeness of our sense of the collective and the individual. According to Libertarians and mainstream economists, both of whom define our lives and value as economic, differing only in what that implies, what we share is a Market, and the market gives us what, as individuals, we want. Science of course, does the same thing- defining our value in terms of a sort of progress for its own sake rather than ours, and similarly downplaying the moral weight of individuals- as the market in fact does by defining the individual as either a buyer or a seller and nothing else. What we share tend to be things that are thought of absulute, as having an almost religious sense of being right or true. And on top of that we toss something called 'style', that is superfluous to the important matters at hand, but still necessary is some way we don't quite get. We don't take it seriously, even as we market to it, but we know it exists.
This amounts to a description of the weakness of most of the political writing I read that is written in the US, including almost every blog I know, even or especially the one's I follow closely.
I think that the emptiness of American political writing comes from the fact that culture and style are products of a collective in ways that the others are not; they are sloppier and less easy to control. This makes people nervous. Science may require collective effort, it is still technocratic. The rules cannot be changed- outside I suppose theoretical physics, where they are still arguing what they are. Economics is the same since it magnifies one facet of our activities and generalizes about everything else from that single plane.
But this all seems absurd when we are talking about politics, which is closer to theater than to anything else. And the same is true for economics as any literate man or woman who is not an economist will tell you. The best political writers have a sense of style because they understand theater, because they understand, or are at least aware of, something we are now afraid to call human nature- the nature of what it is to be human- whether they can define it or not.
What is interesting about the religious revival that seems to be occuring arround the world, is that while things are still changing- 'progress' is continuing- the romance with it is fading. The sterility of political writing as it fails to refer meaningfully to other things, and the revival of rhetoric coincides with a religious revival becuase both are predicated on an activity of collective creation. A good writer follows her ideas about an external ideal of 'good' writing. A witty talker follows, or at least plays with, the acceptible notion of wit. A scientist or a marketing consultant has much less freedom to work with.
It facinates me how many techncratic liberals worship the cultural productions of fundamentally religious folk traditions. And how many brag about their record collections, without being able to articulate the sadness they are describing in themselves.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

More student protests in Iran. The situation is very fragile. Things should be allowed to proceed at their own pace, which means not that the students shouldn't march, but that we shouldn't make things more difficult fot them. Our idiot in the White House, who appears more and more the figurehead for a group of hot headed idealists, understands nothing. He may have some political instincts, but how in god's name can anyone call him smart? Is there anyone around him who is?
Chickenhawk calls Europe a coward. Does he think this is going to help his cause?
I can't help laughing.
A post and some responses at NWB. The piece in The New Left Review is worth reading.

Monday, November 11, 2002

I've been dancing around this for a while, and I have to got to work, which for me, unlike most of you has nothing to do with either a desk or a computer.
We have come to a point where the accumulation of wealth by a few is celebrated as moral, whereas at most points in the history of civilization it was assumed by most, rightly, to be merely unavoidable. Individualism is a fact of our lives, and some amount of economic freedom is an important part of any society, if only as an irritant. But the self righteous rage of rich liberals at this point leaves me disgusted. Greed comes first, then the church comes in to protect the wealthy, who then offer us their charity. It were ever thus. But now the church is Our Lady of the Perpetual Market. And the liberals, a designation which can only refer to a percentage of those who can afford to be so called, are saddened that their 'bitter medicine', which they offer hypocritically to their servants, has been rejected, if only by a margin of 22,000 votes nationwide. But what does this have to do with the war? It has to do with everything about the politics of this country.

A conservative is a man who fucks a whore, pays up, and walks out the door. A liberal fucks the whore, pays for it with a sad expression on his face, and asks her if she's happy. You may vote for someone whom you fear, but would you vote for someone for whom you have contempt?



Sunday, November 10, 2002

Meanwhile the NY Times today says that the swing voters were the 'exurbanites'.
The Republicans argue the morality of shortsighted greed and the shortsighted and greedy pay them back. These voters love their sprawl and their tasteless, badly made McMansions, their 4x4's and their sweet little maid named Consuela, whose husband comes by once a week to mow the lawn.

Saturday, November 09, 2002

A liberal is a person unwilling to alter his behavior to suit his convictions. A conservative happily suits his convictions to his behavior. It's a shallow philosophy, but it's honest.

The difference between a liberal and a leftist is the difference between a believer and a priest.

Priests are more likely to be hypocrites.

What's the difference between being a leftist by choice and by necessity?

Friday, November 08, 2002

Zizka of Vanitysite hits me (in a letter not on his site) for my comments about Liberals, but I stand by my statements. One of the reasons a good deal of the working class dislikes the liberal middle class is for the condescension that is heaped on them by, among others, their new neighbors: the liberals who move into areas no rich Republican would ever set foot in. I've lived in university towns and seen the destruction the educated class brings to the communities it overwhelms. As far as my own experience goes, I've ridden a lot of freight elevators in my time, including many in the famously liberal enclave of the upper west side of Manhattan. And I know what kind of greeting to expect from a doorman when I'm dressed for work in a building- on a jobsite- and how different it is from the greeting I recieve when I walk in wearing even a shabby overcoat and loafers, dressed as if I live there, or know someone who does. It's all about class.
My comments on wednesday were a bit glib. I've changed them enough to get rid of that.

Thursday, November 07, 2002

Say goodnight, Gracie.
The killing of Aimal Khan Kasi.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

The Republicans lead, and the Democrats follow. That is the way it has been for years. I am not surprised by the election.
A friend of mine knows a couple who are extremely wealthy. They spent years living a casual life, with none of the accoutrements of their position. But at some point they decided to indulge themselves a little and live the lives they could afford. They bought a large and beautiful apartment in uptown Manhattan, and hired a staff of servants. But after 6 months they had to fire them. They had both made the mistake of treating their servants as their friends, and that made the situation untenable. You can't order your friends around, can you? So they hired a new staff whom they treated as they were supposed to, and everything went fine.
This is why I have contempt for liberals. They want people to work for them clean their toilets and take care of their children, and still be their friends. Bill Clinton succeed personally because he was a charmer, but he failed politically because he was little else.

I'm not a big Bergman fan, but there is a nice moment in 'Best Intentions' (which he wrote but didn't direct) that occurs during an afternoon tea at the house of the main character, a Minister serving in a dismal backwater, and based on Bergman's father. The parishioners are fond of him because they have assumed that he is stuck there as much as they are, so when he tells them that he has turned down a promotion to high office to stay with them, what he thinks of as a noble gesture they immediately see, and see rightly, as condescension. Soon after he tells them what he thinks is the good news they politely but coldly get up and leave, and he has no idea why.
In response to Radley Balko.
India and China? India didn't allow Pepsi into its market until a couple of years ago. It was India's protectionist policies that bought the economy the time to get up to steam rather than simply be swamped by foreign interests. There was a good piece in the NY Review on China a few weeks ago discussing the same issues. Maybe you should get a subscription. [or perhaps K Friedman amd I should each get ours renewed for free since we're plugging it so much]

Trade between unequal partners is not fair trade. If a country does not have an internal balance, could not function without trade, then controls are necessary. In any crisis, they may be necessary. The Mideast economies run on oil and not much else. Their governments each play the game with only one card in hand. But they own that card. To think that trade in itself will bring the third world out of poverty is absurd, as absurd as arguing that oil wealth leads to democracy. The powerful want materials, not trading partners, and if they can get servants to do the work they'll do that way. More than one American bigshot has commented on how much easier it is to deal with tidy autocracies rather than sloppy republics. Free trade as an ideology is either utopian ideology or criminal hypocrisy. It can not be free trade if you have no choice. You are arguing for economic imperialism and don't have the guts to admit it.
If you want to argue against welfare dependency don't argue that taking away people's independence and putting them in little neighborhoods where they are herded around and told what to do will give them freedom. Social life is concerned with forming and preserving social bonds and community. Your arguments are for the amassing of individual wealth. If you don't understand the conflict between those two ideals, you have no business talking about any of this.

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

I've been spending more time on the other site than here, but mostly I've been driving around in a truck. Tonight I'm following the election, and tomorrow I'm back in the truck (It's a boring way to make a living.)
Here's a bit of mine from No War Blog. It has to do with someone's silly comments about 'The Left' not liking America very much, and the respondent's sense that a good part of 'The Left', in fact, likes this country a lot.

"We live in an artificial entity known as a State. This one has a system of government that was at one time considered revolutionary in its ideas of freedom and ordered, rather than chaotic, liberty, and, as such, has been considered by many to be a model of good design. As a result of the joining of this political philosophy with other elements of our culture and history an economic dynamism has been created, here, the scale of which the world has never before seen. And having power, we want more. This desire now conflicts with our democratic ideals.

I am not a nationalist. The life of a newborn baby in Nebraska means no more to me than the life of one born in Guatemala, so why would I be a patriot? Is politics some sort of football rivalry? My parents spent a good deal of their lives defending the Constitution. But if another country created a better one I would support it. The brilliance and originality of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is that they would allow me to do so freely.
The reason the right always wins the love it or leave it debate is that they don't understand the significance of those documents. They are too busy defending their money, if they have it, or their right to make it, if the don't, to have an objective understanding."

Saturday, November 02, 2002

What is the definition of a combatant?

Let's say Germany invaded Poland in 1939, annexing the western half of the country and stopped at that. Poles were driven from their homes and fled eastward. As German immigrants flooded into this new part of the expanded German state, those Poles who remained were forced to live under a system which, while not murderous in itself, strictly limited their social political and economic activity, in the interests of protecting "the integrity of German culture." Now let's make things more complex.
20 years later, after the world has become acclimated to the new borders, foreign protests have slowed, and the world has gone back to business, the Polish government, which has retained control in the eastern half of what was their country, joins with their eastern neighbors to oust the invaders in a sudden and bloddy war. The assault fails miserably. Germany by this point has secured the military and financial backing of western Europe, and despite their immense material resourses, the political culture of the eastern states is fragmented and disorganized after centuries of the economic and cultural strip-mining that define all relations between the provinces and any financial and political hub. Germany expands into the new territory, causing a new round of protests and international condemnation which continues to this day, placing limits on its ability to maintain control over the territories, even as small groups of determined and well armed Germans, including families, with tacit and occasionally overt government approval, continue to move in.

Friday, November 01, 2002

The Turkish election front runner faces ban.

The US government should make clear that it opposes any attempts to close off the political process to Islamic parties. A ban will, over time, and obviously, backfire.
From Nathan Newman: Paul O'Neill was on the board of Lucent Technologies from 96 to 2000. Now the board members, including O'Neill are being investigated for possible accounting Fraud
Saddam Hussein is playing "chicken" with the lives of his people and ours. Is he doing this because he thinks he can win? I doubt it; he's not stupid. Does he think the US will back down and face humiliation as an impotent 'Paper Tiger', having twice 'failed' to overthrow him? He has a megalomaniac's penchant for underestimating his opponents. There is a third possibility, as symtomatic of mental imbalance as the second, but which gives him credit for being aware of what an invasion might mean for us as well as for him (an awareness which does us no good since our leaders don't seem to share it.)
Our intelligence agencies have already reported their analysts think, even if he would not do so otherwise, that Hussein would use whatever WMD's he has if he were trapped. So doesn't it make him only slightly more crazy to imagine he might dare us to invade, knowing the result would be an absolute disaster for us, and that our later collapse- as he imagines it- would be enough to satisfy his need for glory? Remember that the mythology of the Serbian nationalists sprang from the memory not of victory but of defeat. Fascism and glorious failure go hand in hand. The Thousand Year Reich was based the prophesy that it would become decadent and be violently overthrown, eventually. It's all very 'B' movie: Saddam Hussein sees himself as a man standing at the edge of a cliff, daring his opponent to jump him, knowing that the force of the attack will drive them both off the cliff and into the sea. The fact that's it's cheap melodrama doesn't make it less scary.
And I guess it's just another excuse for me to decry the absence of the sort of political culture that might recognize this sort of game more easily. As I read what I've written it seems obvious. But I've been writing this for two hours and I didn't think about it two months ago, when perhaps I could have if I had had a little more imagination.
Just a rundown of a few things that interest me:
Russian lawmakers are pushing to limit press coverage of anti-terror operations;
The new hawk in Israel, and the elections in Bahrain and Turkey.
It's not a good time for snap judgements. I am more comfortable with a close loss by secularists that is seen by all as fair, than I am by a success that leaves the loser bitter. Democracy is more important than metaphysical arguments. Bush, Putin, Musharraf, Vajpayee, and Sharon would not agree. Neither would Arafat, if he had a government or a country to control. But he has neither.

Oil and Gas International News.


It's been a long day.

Thursday, October 31, 2002

I've begun double-posting my Iraq comments on No War Blog.

The Guardian "The conventional wisdom... was that Iraq was going to help the president and Republicans running for office," said Lawrence Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota. "Nobody doubted that.
"But the Iraq vote has boomeranged - at least in Minnesota."
So the senate could go either way because the voters can't tell the difference between the parties. And if they remain passive it could mean more wins for Bush just because there are no alternatives. The voters seem to have some Naderesque opinions, at least as regards the war. And it seems they've already achieved left/right cooperation.

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

The War Resisters League list of actions and demonstrations
No War Blog is an attempt by Max Sawicky and some libertarians from Cato to create a left right coalition against the war. Bloggers who sign up should double-post all comments on the war, but not on other subjects.
My mother chaired a lawyers' commitee drafting legal positions on the rights of soldiers during Vietnam: retired JAG officers on one side of the table, lawyers from the movement on the other. The point was their shared concern for the soldiers themselves and not for the powers that be.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

I have a number of problems with this piece from the NYRB: with the author's opinions as well as the book being reviewed, which is about the evolutionary 'success' of the idea of religion. But in the meantime, it will serve to remind us of the charms of The Good Book, which are important to bear in mind now that everybody is worrying about the Koran.
The Bible, especially the Old Testament, is full of exhortations to be cruel to heathens. Deuteronomy 20:10–18, for example, explains the obligation of the Israelites to practice genocide: when your army approaches a distant city, you should enslave all its inhabitants if it surrenders, and kill all its men and enslave its women and children and steal their cattle and everything else if it doesn't surrender. But if it's a city of the Canaanites or Hittites or any of those other abominable believers in false gods, then the true God commands you to kill everything that breathes in the city. The Book of Joshua describes approvingly how Joshua became a hero by carrying out those instructions, slaughtering all the inhabitants of over four hundred cities. The book of rabbinical commentaries known as the Talmud analyzes the potential ambiguities arising from conflicts between those two principles of "Thou shalt not kill [believers in thine own God]" and "Thou must kill [believers in another god]." For instance, according to some Talmudic commentators an Israelite is guilty of murder if he intentionally kills a fellow Israelite; is innocent if he intentionally kills a non-Israelite; and is also innocent if he kills an Israelite while throwing a stone into a group consisting of nine Israelites plus one heathen (because he might have been aiming at the one heathen).
I sent this to Max first but I might as well add it myself: another example of American moral relativism, obscene, and at this point in history, in practical terms, just stupid.

Monday, October 28, 2002

By pure luck I get to argue my point in more detail. Tapped today linked to this piece in the Washington Post which the writer at Tapped calls a defense of science and technology over fantasy, while the author at the Post sees it also as a defense of regular life and ordinary people over magic and elves.

I have no particular interest in Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, or Harry Potter, while the author, Chris Mooney, admits to being a fan of all of them, films included. But they're all predicated on a misconception of the value of mythology and of fiction itself: that of the escape 'from' daily life and 'into' Meaning. Fantasy is made up, and the point of mythology is that it's handed down. A myth tells the story of the people who made it. The Bible is the story of its own creation and of laws, and fiction writing as an art is the description of the world and time that made it. As most novelists will tell you, the value of literature is in description, not plot. You don't create depth, you describe it. I read an essay once by a critic who was a fan of Tolkien. He talked about another well known critic who distained him. I forget the names. "He made it all up" the friend said. To my shock the writer added, "I don't know what he meant".  Fantasy writers conflate the value of the story with the plot and by trying to 'create' meaning, end with illustration.

The arguments against technocracy are complex. But writers for liberal mouthpieces like Tapped are all too willing to lump imagination together with fantasy, and many fans, as idealist and idealistic as the technocrats they oppose, are all too willing to agree. Both are wrong. Fantasy doesn't argue against technocracy; humanism argues against both.
---

The first link is dead, (the text below via archive.org) and the other was changed. It's good for now but may not last.

Tapped
TECHNOLOGY VS. FANTASY. Don't miss this article from The Washington Post's Outlook section, by Prospect contributing writer Chris Mooney. He writes about the tension in fantasy writing -- particulary the Harry Potter books -- between technology and science, which authors like J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien generally cast as distortions of reality, and the imagined fantasy world, which they cast as the apotheosis of it. Tapped knows Mooney as a science writer who loves Lord of the Rings, so this is a piece only he could write.
Posted at 11:21 AM
Mooney: There's Sheer Wizardry In Us Muggles
...Rowling's critique of people like the Dursleys owes a great deal to two other British writers of fantasy, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Both writers believed that fantasy and the imagination -- in stark contrast with technology and modernism -- can help us access a deeper, more magical and enchanted existence. As biographer Humphrey Carpenter described Tolkien's views: "Only by myth-making, only by becoming a 'sub-creator' and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbor, while materialistic 'progress' leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil." Or as Ron Weasley advised Harry in a letter: "Don't let the Muggles get you down!"

To be honest, Muggles actually fire me up. I find charm in their foibles. And I don't see anything wrong with people devoting themselves to their jobs and wanting something to show for it -- even if that something is a flashy car or an iMac or a fancy kitchen appliance.

Rowling lives in a different moral universe. The daily grind and worldly possessions, particularly mechanical ones, distract Muggles from the truth. Thus in a letter to his godfather Sirius Black in "The Goblet of Fire," Harry describes how Dudley threw his PlayStation out the window in a fit of rage: "Bit stupid really, now he hasn't even got Mega-Mutilation Part Three to take his mind off things." By contrast, the wizarding world is depicted throughout the Harry Potter books as a place of archaic rituals and devices. Technological gizmos don't work on the grounds of the wizard school, Hogwarts, and the students go around scribbling on parchment with quills. No Palm Pilots for this bunch, clearly.

At the risk of sounding like Vernon Dursley, I must confess to being puzzled by this. Don't scientists, those who lay the groundwork for technology, peer more closely at reality than anybody else -- often uncovering fundamental truths about the essence of life? Aren't some of our cars and appliances occasionally things of elegance, at least as much as, say, a broomstick? ...
Lula is in. Now we have to watch how The Powers That Be respond. Given the current climate, any cynical attempts by international finance to undermine him will be seen as such by people who ten years ago might not have paid attention. I remember the stories that circulated around David Rockefeller after he appeared before the senate to complain about US support for Unita. He had a stake in the refineries that the Cuban troops were defending, and Angola paid its debts. Lets see how resilient Lula is, and what tricks are pulled against him.
Some nice words on Lula from Nathan Newman.

Mexico is with France against the new US program for Iraq
And the use of extortion is being discussed more openly by it's defenders and not only by its critics.

It's frustrating the degree to which, in this country, political and cultural sophistication seem so mutually exclusive, how much the philosophy of culture in the respectable left is as mechanistic as that of the right. Alterman discoursing on Springsteen has more to do with a middle class Jewish intellectual's need for acceptance by the (Goyishe) white working class than anything else. But the general tendency on the left to imagine that art is or should be somehow educational or edifying and therefore useful is disturbing, especially since as a backlash, art, and politics, are defended as nothing but inarticulate expression and a freedom from responsibility. That the pursuit of pleasure as pleasure, and as complexity, should need to be described as either moral or amoral is ridiculous. Ironically, this is one of the reasons so much of American culture, as opposed to American politics, was given open rather than grudging respect in Europe. The freedom from expectation is one of the the reasons American art -music, film and to a lesser extent literature- was as preeminent as it was for a time.

No other country on the planet is ruled by such simple dichotomies.

Sunday, October 27, 2002

Maxspeak
And I would add that on a cultural level, after all that Jews did to help civilize Europe -by way of their outsider status and their intellectual tradition, which together allowed them to observe their host culture with critical eyes- Israel, with with all of its self mythologizing crap, is now an intellectual backwater, and more culturally barren than Iran by far. Islam is becoming modern; it stands a good chance of being the only enlightened religion left. Christianity certainly is not that.
I'm an atheist. I have no regrets about it. But I prefer a religion where the faithful are debating freedom and responsibility amongst themselves to one that preaches only subservience. And what is Rome saying now? What are the Jews on the west bank saying now. What are Israelis saying now with their rank hypocrisy?
The American middle class by and large are not believers, whatever they say. Their only religion is their greed. And the poor are believers in desperation. Islam has a following among a middle class who have a core respect for things other than money and their own self interest. That will fade as well as capitalism weaves it's way. But in the meantime I'll defend civility and civilization where I find it.
Who heeds conspiracy theories?
The problem is not that we are still playing The Great Game, but that the Bushies think we can win. The very ideas behind the Game are not only that it is amoral, on the assumption of its masters that such is an honest assessment of our nature, but that it is unwinnable, and that we all earn a certain stability in an otherwise chaotic world as a result of our acceptance of such a cold logic. The mixture of drooling greed and romantic enthusiasm on the part of our current leaders, on the other hand, is astounding.
The policies of Bush, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and co. may not yet be fascist but they are making the world safe for fascism, the most unstable form of government we know.

Saturday, October 26, 2002

So this is our new morality.
From a friend:
"This year's thanksgiving themes: 'Thank god I'm not a Chechen.' and
'My terrorism is worse than your terrorism. But its thanksgiving, so we should all love each other and support each others wars.' "

Also: North Korea has a point.