Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Words of the day from Styles P.
"I know a few dudes doin' life bids in jail
And they're way smarter than the white kids in Yale,
But that's how life is..."

Apparently not only did Schroeder get his biggest applause when saying that as Chancellor Germany would never support an American invasion but after equivocating during the debate, Stoiber has been forced to follow Schroeder's lead. They're both being driven by poll numbers, which are solidly opposed to war.
Alex Cockburn is an ass, but I don't know anyone in this country who could replace him as a genuine left-wing journalist. We'd have to try importing someone new, and whoever it was would be too smart to leave the British Isles. We could get someone from the Caribbean, but Americans don't take negroes seriously. Of course there's Hitchens, Cockburn's old nemesis, and though I don't like him very much he's still important. But he and William F. Buckley are cut from the same cloth. They're moralizing bastards who ooze hypocrisy; and both break out in a cold sweat hearing the word 'pussy'. I don't think either ever recovered from being buggered as schoolboys.

Alterman by comparison to Hitchens and Cockburn is an arrogant adolescent braggart. He's bright, as every Manhattanite claims to be, and he serves a purpose, but he's utterly replaceable. He does nothing for the scene that someone more articulate and self-aware couldn't do better. And his attempts at cultural seriousness amount to little more than hammering into our heads how much more liberal he is than we are for idolizing a rich rock star who imagines he speaks for every down-trodden soul on the American continent. Springsteen and Alterman share the illusion that to write a sympathetic description of someone else's experience is to share it, but art and language don't work that way. Springsteen wrote a song about the dangers and desperation of working in a meth labs in the desert but it didn't have the intimacy of a narcocorrido or of his best songs, which are about the towns he grew up in.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

In the April 26 issue of the New York Review of Books K. Anthony Appiah reviewed Sovereign Virtue: The Theory and Practice of Equality. Ronald Dworkin is an author I respect, but the degree to which apparently he bends to justify the moral imperative of economic freedom, and the degree to which Appiah follows him, is mind-bogglingly absurd. Dworkin has taken for granted, and Appiah solemnly agrees, that any effort to rein in a drive to aquire is at it's best a necessary evil. And Dworkin spends most of the book making an apologetic and incredibly convoluted argument for how to do it while not limiting some notion of freedom. I mentioned the article to my mother, the Lutheran anarchist, and she had already read it. She had an absolute fit. I think, "Fucking idiots!" was the first thing out of her mouth.
Why the need to defend the %10 (or is it %15?) of the population who actually want to be wealthy?

In the summer of 1997 I spent a few weeks on an island in the middle of the Mediterranean. On the weekends I would visit a friend living in a summer condo by the sea. Xavier lived with his wife Natalia upstairs from her parents, her younger brother, her sister's two children -Pablo age 5 and "The Terrible" Cassilda, age 7- who were living next door to a family consisting of an old friend of Xavier, his parent's and his sister, who was Natalia's brother's girlfriend. Each apartment was about the size of a small 2 bedroom hotel suite. The whole place in fact was designed like a hotel. When I was there I slept on the couch.

At night, even at 1 AM, there are about 40 people of all ages by the swimming pool. The old men are smoking cigars; the middle aged men are working out chord changes to a song by Lou Reed or Bob Marley; their wives are either working or watching the children, depending upon whether you ask the women or the men; the adolescents are flirting with each other, which also here seems to happen in groups.

One afternoon I'm sitting watching an absurd and very funny game show on TV Two small towns compete against each for prize money. One contest is an obstacle course that the contestants race over while wearing inflatible fat suits. Barely able to walk, one person after another, each looking like a fully inflated beach ball with four stubs and a padded helmet would have to make it up and down a ramp and over a rapidly moving treadmill over a fence and then step, left-right, through a set of tires. I watched a middle aged woman, who may well have been the mayor's wife, literally roll and bounce almost a foot off the ground while a live audience of 500 people from both towns roar with laughter. Next they set the winners from each town on pedestals while a member of the opposite team played torreador trying to guide a young bull with (padded) horns to knock them off. Between the bull's strength and balloon's air one man made it a meter off the ground, did a full flip with a one and half twist before landing on his head and rolling away.

After the show ends I sit on the couch with Natalia's brother watching him be harassed mercilessly by Pablo and The Terrible Cassilda. "Aren't you ever alone?" I ask.
"No, I have no privacy"
"Doesn't that bother you?"
"Why should it? This is my family"

Economists, even ones I respect seem more often than not to see their subject in some sense as their goal. Their defense of their position reminds me of the defensiveness Steven Weinberg has about science. Ask Weinberg why he became a physicist and he gives an answer based on physics. But such an answer is circular. One can not defend a choice by using the terms of your choice. You can only answer by stating the question that such a choice answers. "Why did you become an economist?"
"Because I like the way things and events and social relations can be quantified"
The quantification of the world is not the world. The quantification of human experience can never be the definition of human experience, while a work of art is such a definition, always. But that's doesn't make it a true one does it?
The contradictions of a poet's love...

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Question forJeffrey Goldfarb.

When has the US government, asked to make a choice between maintaining an economic advantage on the one hand and a defense of of democratic values in a foreign country on the other, chosen the moral course? I could ask the same for other countries, but since power corrupts and we have power, lets keep it simple.
Our support for Solidarity was based entirely on cold war politics. Do a search for articles from the period about domestic labor policy and you will see the double standard applied at the time, and articles on the subject of that double standard.

"Wheras I understood the American operation in Afghanistan as fundamentally a liberation..."
It was 'fundamentally' revenge. The fact that the Taliban, with whom we would have otherwise been happy to work, were despised by the majority meant that the interests of the people dovetailed briefly with ours. I'd call it luck on our part. And luck is running out.

Sunday, August 18, 2002

Mozart did not 'create' or 'invent' his music. He took what he had been handed by his teachers and learned from his predecessors and twisted it/ bent it/ shaped it, until he had made something that suited his taste. Perhaps he even 'improved' it, but even if this is the case he improved Hayden not Bach, who is from an older tradition some still prefer.

The individualist sees only Mozart, or sees him only in terms of some tunnel-vision Mozart/Salieri dichotomy that is ridiculous. No one person is responsible for the music of the Classical period any more than one man or woman is responsible for the blues. There is no communication without a language to communicate in, and no genius without communication.
Language is made by the collective activity of individuals, and is useless without it. Libertarian individualist philosophies, in their defense of genius, do not understand (nor at their most simplistic do they try to understand) language, art or culture. They have no idea what makes genius possible.