Friday, February 28, 2003

A letter to Arik Sharon and, in fact, to all Israelis and their American supporters.

Also: a reminder from The Horse:
The Washington Post, June 17, 2002

UNITED NATIONS — Conservative U.S. Christian organizations have joined forces with Islamic governments to halt the expansion of sexual and political protections and rights for gays, women and children at United Nations conferences.
The new alliance, which coalesced in the past year, has received a major boost from the Bush administration, which appointed anti-abortion activists to several key positions on U.S. delegations to U.N. conferences on global economic and social policy.
The alliance of conservative Islamic states and Christian organizations has placed the Bush administration in the awkward position of siding with some of its most reviled adversaries — including Iraq and Iran — in a cultural skirmish against its closest European allies, which broadly support expanding sexual and political rights.

"Hussein Kamel, the highest-ranking Iraqi official ever to defect from Saddam Hussein’s inner circle, told CIA and British intelligence officers and U.N. inspectors in the summer of 1995 that after the gulf war, Iraq destroyed all its chemical and biological weapons stocks and the missiles to deliver them."
Newsweek
Analysis by Glen Rangwala the Cambridge analyst who outed Blair's plagiarized "intelligence dossier."

Thursday, February 27, 2003

I feel awkward using my own work as an example but rhetoric is a theme of mine so if you haven't seen it before here is my own brief primer on staged emotion.
There's a good parallel to my comments on theater, Donmar Warehouse and Fiona Shaw, in an article in today's Times.

Bill Viola has been around for years. Recently he's begun to move away from the abstract ideas of body and landscape that he's known for and focus more on characterization, but he seems unaware of the logic behind the art he's trying to mimic and his actors seem equally unaware of their responsibilities.

The new works function less as images of theatrical emotion than false sincerity. The actors below, from a video shot with a high speed camera -15 seconds of real time spread out to 15 minutes- appear to be trying to express emotions rather than exhibit them, or to try to cause them in us.  The extreme slowness of the action doesn't strengthen the illusion of emotion it destroys it, turning an image of pathos into something absurd. William Wegman's early work, mentioned in the review, is a perfect answer. [I was too general. It's not film or theater it's the acting. If they wore masks or were able to turn their faces into moving masks it would have worked. It's actually the physical rhetoric that fails.]

Another obvious answer is Jeff Wall, whose works succeed in adopting the classical pictorial sensibility these works undermine against their will. Both document the product of the same transition, a return via film to openly bourgeois forms of representation. Viola's work fails. Wegman's early work was post-Warhol, late Duchampian joke.

The Quintet of the Astonished, from The Passions.  HD Video
The Labour Party just gave me a birthday present. I wonder how they knew. I'm starting the second half of my life off on a good note after all.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Another note on the theater. The problem was not the mixture of comedy and and tragedy, in either play, but that it was not done well enough.
And I spent most of today rewriting two posts. A day off, from something.
The Guardian says I'm not alone. (see previous)

I'd never seen Chekov, except as rearranged by The Wooster Group a few years ago, but I've read him, and I understood the context. The Donmar Vanya was a disaster, and Twelfth Night was deeply off balance. The Guardian says it has something to do with the scale of the theater, and that makes sense. The Donmar Warehouse itself apparently is much smaller and what seemed overwrought at BAM would have come off differently in a more intimate space. Simon Russell Beale's characters, Malvolio and Vanya might have been the terrifying messes they were supposed to be if he was slobbering all over rather than beneath you.

All that said, I think the problem was more involved. As I was watching the plays I wanted to blame film and television for what I was seeing. Actors now are often very good at inhabiting their characters, are very skillful at 'being' them, but not as good at describing them as works of art. Art means artificeit's an artificial construction, but it is an artificial construction as poetry. Chekov's play is about a group of mediocre people; if you like Chekov you'd call it a brilliant description of their mediocrity. But the actors had more respect for their characters than they had for the play, and they brought it down to their level. If Mendes had done a better job, had circumscribed their roles, controlled their gestures as a film editor cuts and pastes a scene, then the naturalism would have had more direction, and the artificiality would have been more precise. I got the impression that acting has become a memetic skill and not an art. The recreation of human character you see in almost every TV ad is amazing, but there's no art involved, just a brilliant imitation of the banality of life, and that's not what the theater is about. That kind of acting however is perfect for film; an actor's performance is cut apart and put back together ruthlessly after the fact.  In the theater the actor must do it himself, and this skill is being lost. Young actors do not understand the art of theatrical acting.

I've heard there have been complaints about Russell Beale's weight. That has nothing to do with it, except as an adjunct to another aspect of the actors love for their characters, 'as they are'. I've always liked British actors for being blank slates and even empty suits off stage. I imagine Olivier as boring. Kenneth Branagh or Ralph Fiennes seem almost non persons outside their characters. Jeremy Irons, who ended up accidently holding the door for me while he was trying to sneak in unnoticed after the play, has always struck me as a perverse sort of Zelig. American actors on the other hand are generally one character, their own, or at least what the one character they imagine themselves to be, think Stallone or John Wayne. Charles Laughton professed an awe of the 'naturalness' of Gary Cooper. Why not? He wasn't an actor; he played himself. Maybe it's not film so much as the influence of the Actors Studio and method acting that's the problem: that American democratic ideal that whatever anybody is, is fine, that it all comes down to the individual and the self. It's interesting that people have said Beale is less the next Olivier than the first Simon Russell Beale, interesting that the actors in both plays were playing versions of themselves, playing to type in a way that I didn't expect.

But Russell Beale was impressive, physically and intellectually a stage actor; he presented his characters, not merely putting them forth for public view. His naturalism is an artist's naturalism, but in Twelfth Night his Malvolio was so overpoweringly tragic that it threw everything else out of whack. And again this goes back to Mendes. The orchestra had a soloist in an ensemble and no conductor.

Eveything I've said here also applies in varying degrees to Medea. Fiona Shaw is as much of a theater actor as artist as Russell Beale. Her performance was something to revisit and dissect. I can't say I liked or agreed with all of her decisions, but they were all made seriously, especially the moments of cruel humor, with a thought to the results as theater. The lack of such awareness in the actors and the direction around Simon Russell Beale holds true as well in the production surrounding Fiona Shaw.
When Thomas Friedman deigns to give a lesson in intellectual generosity he does so by condescending equally to all of us. And if he does not choose do so by recourse to realism, he does so by means of high morality, and we strike out either way. Politics is a cynical business, but there are both practical and a moral differences- differences that affect our ability to respond - between the behavior of a state authority in its treatment of its own citizens and it's treatment of vanquished and in the relevant case here, stateless, victims.
You quote William Reese-Mogg on the recent protests:

"There was, I thought, one slogan which was missing. There were quite a number which called for `Freedom for Palestine' [but] I looked in vain for one which called for `Freedom for Iraq.' . . . None of the speakers expressed any wish to free Iraq. . . ."

I was talking to my mother a few years ago and somehow the subject of Henry James came up. He was a favorite author of my father's. I said that from what little I had read I found him hard to take, and preferred Jane Austen. She agreed. I described it as the difference between condescending to members of another class, and thinking it proper only to condescend to members of one's own. This problem is something you and Rees-Mogg choose to ignore, since it suits your interests, though I am sure you would both lecture us on it's importance in some other circumstance, when you again find Realism a useful defense for your opinions.

The only way that you succeed in condescending to the Palestinians is that for reasons that have everything to do with politics and nothing at all to do with morality they have little weight in the American political marketplace. Under normal circumstances, for example, it is fine for the British and for the French to make fun of themselves, but not of each other. It is considered appropriate for anyone to laugh -freely and often- at their own foibles, but laughing at someone else's is a more complex matter. This is referred to by analytic philosphers as 'self other asymmetry' and is considered common sense. But such asymmetry nonetheless assumes the presence of two equal terms. And while the Israelis recieve the deference due a state, the Palestinians, who have none, do not.

Politics is also more bloody than a faculty lunch. Before Iraq invaded Kuwait the issue of any abuse of the domestic Iraqi population was the concern of only a few people. After the invasion, it became politically important. What Hitler was doing in Germany was not so much the issue either, at first. Is it simply the limit of political will? Cowardice? The residue of otherwise perfectly reasonable deference? You know as well as anyone that it's all of the above. When is it presumptuous to help someone without being asked? When is it presumptuous to help the people of a state before being asked by their leader? The answer depends on many things, some of which are moral and some not. But you know all this.

You are smart enough to know your shelf life as an intellectual will last about two years longer than your career as a pundit. What bothers me more than the prospect of 30 more years- if we all live that long- is that there will be someone else with an intellect as shallow and self serving as yours to take your place. It's unending. I should give up being angry about and just respond as if it were my job. But it isn't and it shouldn't be. I'm at a loss.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Hail Caesar.
It would be interesting to see research on the relationships between those in Hitler's entourage who saw themselves as great criminals, such as Goering, and those who considered their actions morally justified and noble. Fascism is always made from both groups, in alliance, sometimes within the same characters. A study of the details would be interesting.
One additional comment on Israel, since I'm imagining the response to my impatience coming this way from the weak and well meaning: If the Israeli right did not receive so much support from this country there would be no need for the left to compromise morality to practical politics. The Israeli moral economy is a bubble that will soon either collapse or burst, and which way it goes depends on Israelis having a courage they seem to lack.
Our support of their illusions only increases the odds of catastrophe.

I'm all in favor of support for the anti-war effort from liberal imperialists, but Nicholas Kristof's attempt to argue against war by using Eisenhower's response to Nasser, including reference to the contemporary comparison of Nasser to Hitler, still annoys me.

Monday, February 24, 2003

"That's how the gun and the knife is"

I've posted a couple of comments to Nathan Newman's second post on the implications of current Israeli policy.

Matthew Yglesias annoys me. Arrogant thoughtfulness is not the same as thoughtful arrogance, and unlike the latter, whatever the indulgences associated with it, has no moral or philosophical validity anywhere outside the beltway. Even there it will only get you as far as an advisory position. Real politicians know the value of their own hypocrisy. It's their assistants who end up believing their own lies.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

I saw the Donmar Warehouse production of Twelfth Night on thursday, and Medea yesterday. There were things seriously wrong with both and I'm surprised that the response hasn't been more mixed, though Medea did get a harsh response from Daniel Mendelsohn in the NYRB. I'm not a theater lover as much as someone who thinks about it as an art among others, so perhaps I don't let things slip by as easily as some. I'm not being cheap or glib but I was still surprised. I'm seeing Uncle Vanya on tuesday.

Calpundit seems to have gotten in trouble with Atrios over the Bell Curve. The post made me cringe. There's not much worse than a well meaning liberal who out of ignorance and arrogance feels both moral superiority and pity.

The number of adventures Bush seems to be planning around the world has to seen as a weak point in his armor, and needs to become one.

Islamic Jihad said this week it would not target Americans in response to the arrests in Florida.
Brilliant.

Friday, February 21, 2003

"Washington is also insisting that the loans be linked to a stringent program of economic reform that is backed by the International Monetary Fund."The Guardian.

Krugman is good today, and his ability to speak from a general awareness of issues at large, including specifically the possible wider impact of our planned invasion - THE FACT THAT HE IS NOT FORCED TO LIMIT HIS FRAME OF REFERENCE TO IRAQ ITSELF- reads as good antidote to
Kenneth Pollack, who once again refuses to ask, or even seemingly acknowledge the relevance of any questions outside his chosen sphere of expertise.
Pollack's "Last Chance" is predicated on the assumption that each time we avoid a fight we encourage Hussein.

"Most ominous today, we have heard from many intelligence sources — including some of the highest-level defectors now in America and abroad — that Saddam Hussein believes that once he has acquired nuclear weapons it is the United States that will be deterred. He apparently believes that America will be so terrified of getting into a nuclear confrontation that it would not dare to stop him should he decide to invade, threaten or blackmail his neighbors."

Leaving aside the possibility, given where we are at this point, that he will be allowed to get that far (we are already, after all, on a war footing with others as well as Iraq and are not going to be standing down any time soon -and Israel already has nukes) Pollack acts, and apparently thinks , only as an analyst. He does not attempt even as an amateur, to construct a scenario for any outcome other than the one he desires. Coming from someone in his position, this is frankly bizarre. The instability of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia; The Palestinian situation; Israeli settlements; the occupation; Iran; our history as a self interested and deeply partial arbiter in the region and indeed the world; and the impact of our past behavior on the present. None of these come into play in his argument. We are already in the process of abandoning Afghanistan. We pressured the most popular figure, the former king, to step down from consideration so that we could have more control, and what have we done with Karzai? The list of relevant issues Pollack ignores is mind boggling. And still he returns to his worries about our future 'weakness.' Right now I'm worried about much more than that.
In light of the increasing rate of specialization in intellectual life, let's hear it for the generalists.

Tapped follows Salon in dissing the volunteer "human shields" in Iraq. Their take on it is stupid.
The fact is it depends on how many there are who are willing to go. If 200 get killed it was their decision. If thousands die than it will have become ours.
"What's the Password...?"
"Bergen Belsen."
In The Year of Thirteen Moons. RWF

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

It's time to go.
However much I'm grateful for the French on Iraq, Chirac's comments were stupid. Why should Western Europeans have the right to treat the East with the same condescension that Bush and Rummy use it on 'Old Europe'? There was a better way to handle it than to sound like Giscard d'Estaing.
As far as politics goes, Nathan Newman has covered all bases recently: Blair, Bush, the Kurds and Dennis Kucinich's switch on abortion. And, while we're waiting for the Senate to get back to work, read Sam Heldman on Estrada.

It's a good month for art in New York. The da Vinci show at the Metropolitan, the Matisse-Picasso show at MoMA and now Manet-Velazquez also at The Met. I didn't know about this last one until I read about it in The Times on Sunday, but this show may be the one I'm most interested in, though depending on how it is curated, I might end up more frustrated by it as well. Velazquez is one of my favorite artists and Manet, and in fact the whole French 19th century, has become a minor preoccupation for me in the past couple of years. I may put up something soon on Matisse-Picasso (I'm seeing it on Monday) but I want to say something first about Manet-Velazquez, since everything about these two artists is so fitting to our present 'unenviable situation.'

Some art can have at it's center a sort of involuntary honesty. I wrote about this in relation to Velazquez in the first few weeks of this blog.  Philip IV was a weak King, and from the looks of Velazquez' portraits of him, a nebbish. But the painter was a sincere believer in the King and what he represented. He had been raised in a country where painting was seen as more a craft than a high art and yet he had helped to transform it, in his lifetime, into a symbol of educated sophistication. Velazquez was trained as a humanist in a country without a long humanist tradition, and he was a willing servant of a king who ruled, Velazquez believed, as we know, by divine right. But he not only painted the servants and the bit players as well as his employer and family, he showed the servants, including handmaidens, buffoons and dwarfs, a courtesy and respect few other artists, and no one else in his position, would ever attempt. As I wrote, he did not depict nobility itself "but an image of the nobility of the need to believe." The weight of that desire, what is in fact the weight of a pretense, is excruciating, but he has chosen it himself. The most amazing backward glance in the history of art.

Manet was in a similar position in some ways, but his honesty caused more professional problems. And he also lacked something as a technnician. Manet did not have a great hand, but he had an intelligent eye. And he was not a hypocrite. In a nation of hypocrites that's a lonely position to be in. When he painted naked women he found ways to acknowledge in painting, in the material, in the expressions on the faces, that he was paying them to sit there. If a woman was bored he painted her looking bored. When he painted prostitutes, they looked like prostitutes. And he was condemned by men who had sex with prostitutes for being vulgar. But he wasn't being vulgar for vulgarity's sake, he was trying to describe things that art was almost incapable of describing by the time he was doing it. [Q4 later: Does it also have something to do with France being a Catholic country? unlike the Netherlands? Catholic idealism etc]

Baudelaire nails it in a letter that T.J. Clark, in The Painting of Modern Life, calls a "kind and annihilating reply" to a letter from Manet whining about being rejected by the critics: (After referring to greater men who had suffered ridicule) "They did not die of it. And... I shall add that these men were exemplary, each in his own genre, and in a world which was very rich, while you, you are only the first in the decrepitude of your art."
Manet was trying to describe what he saw, and give it weight and substance -a financial transaction between a man and woman can have substance, but what kind? [again Q: Catholic v. Protestant? Weber etc.?] - while others, in many cases of greater technical skill but much less intelligence, were making a killing posing prostitutes as wood nymphs, and producing art of no substance at all.

Art has to have substance and weight to be worth remembering. And in times of crisis, that weight comes from fear. All art is to a large degree conservative -it is after all trying to conserve or husband something, some desire or event in memory- and the visual arts are the most conservative, producing commodities in small amounts (if you're only interested in the words one 'copy' of a book is as good as another).
---

Sunday, February 16, 2003

From Independent Media Center
• Rome: 2.5 million
• London: 1.5 million
• Barcelona: 1 million
• Madrid: 1 million
• Paris: 800,000
• New York City: 500,000
• Berlin: 500,000
• Seville: 250,000
• Melbourne: 200,000
• Athens: 200,000
• Oviedo, Spain: 200,000
• Montreal: 150,000
• Dublin: 100,000+
• Brussels: 100,000
• Lisbon: 100,000
• Las Palmas, Spain: 100,000
• Cadiz, Spain: 100,000
• Amsterdam: 80,000
• Toronto: 80,000
• Stockholm: 80,000
• Los Angeles: 75-100,000
• Glasgow: 60,000+
• Oslo: 60,000
• Seattle: 55,000
• Montevideo: 50,000
• Stuttgart, Germany: 50,000
• Thessaloniki, Greece: 40,000
• Copenhagen: 35-40,000
• Berne, Switzerland: 40,000
• Sao Paulo: 30,000
• Girona, Spain: 30,000
• Vancouver: 30,000
• Goteborg, Sweden: 30,000
• Tokyo: 25,000
• Budapest: 20,000
• Newcastle, Australia: 20,000
• Vienna: 20,000
• Lyon: 20,000
• Perth, Australia: 20,000
• Irunea, Basque Country: 20,000
• Montpeilier, France: 15-20,000
• Luxemburg: 15-20,000
• Buenos Aires: 15,000
• Rio de Janeiro: 15,000
• Helsinki: 15,000
• Mexico City: 10-15,000
• Canberra, Australia: 10-15,000
• Trondheim, Norway: 11,000
• Kolkata, India: 10,000
• Johannesburg: 10,000
• Minneapolis: 10,000
• Zagreb, Croatia: 10,000
• San Diego: 10,000
• Philadelphia: 10,000
• Edmonton, Canada: 10,000
• Auckland: 8-10,000

And other cities: Tel Aviv: 1500, Adelaide, Bellingen, Bregenz: 1500, Bratislava, Cape Town: 5000, Christchurch, Dunedin, Durban: 3000, Iraklio: 4000, Maine, Patras: 3500, Prague: 1000, Quito: 250, Rethimno: 2000, Rhodes: 2000, Santiago: 3000, Taipei, Tampere: 2000, Tudela: 5000, Turku: 5000, Volos: 3000, Warsaw, Wellington...

• Global Count of Protestors Hits Eleven Million
Google has bought Blogger.
Google-Watch.org.

Perhaps I should temper my anger over the behavior of the police yesterday with at least a little skepticism about their supposed strategy. Nathan Newman says calls it more incompetence, though incompetence based on a false and undemocratic premise. He also calls it ' Without question, a glorious day.' For my part, without meaning to sound more anti-American than I am - and by and large these days my opinions have become those of a foreigner- I found the audience either youthfully naive, unaware and insecure, or stupidly dogmatic.
I have not had or been witness to a fully satisfying conversation on issues of politics and culture involving a native of this country -who is not already an old friend- in years. Yesterday did not change that.

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Here's more on the Makiya story. Another White House fuck up? It's silly to think that the opposition is in any position to form a government. What did they expect, that Bush would shake everyone's hand and give them the keys?

Back to the marches: Since the largest turnout for the demonstrations was in Rome, and Spain had more than half a million in Madrid alone (apparently less than 10% of Spaniards support an assault) what are the numbers for the populations of the rest of our 'Coalition of the Willing'?
I did a search and found out someone's put together a list.

"The plan- discussed by Pentagon officials and military chiefs last week on the orders of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld - is designed 'to harm' the German economy to make an example of the country for what US hawks see as Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's 'treachery'."
Regardless of what you think of Kanan Makiya or his history as an apologist for American foreign policy, In this article in The Observer he says now that the administration plan for a US military government in Iraq is a betrayal.
"Every word that I have committed to paper in the last quarter of a century is, in one way or another, an application of the universal values that I have absorbed from many years of living and working in the West to the very particular conditions of Iraq.The government of the United States is about to betray, as it has done so many times in the past, those core human values of self-determination and individual liberty."
How he could imagine they would have any other plan, or that any other plan even would be feasible following an invasion, I don't know.
Whoever came up with the plan for crowd control today, it was brilliant but disgusting. The cops created bottlenecks where there were none strictly for the purpose of keeping us frustrated, though we weren't allowed to stand still. They could have opened and closed the cross streets to let traffic through and give free access to each block, but the city's crowd control designers chose not to. Apparently they were afraid that we would end up in mini-rallies on every corner, which happened anyway since they couldn't move everyone. The cops themselves were assholes. I would have expected better, considering the makeup of the crowd. The first few times I dealt with them I was friendly, but after a while I stopped giving them the benefit of the doubt. The best that could be said was that the vast majority, regardless of race or gender, and most of them of course were white men, just didn't give a shit.
You really have the sense that the state in this country, however one defines it, has a systemic incomprehension of democracy. As much as an invasion will lead to more terrorism -and from new sources- the shutting down of debate leads to it being taken over by fringe elements. I heard the word 'revolution' coming out of the loudspeakers today more times than I could count. Political immaturity breeds political immaturity.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

It's difficult trying to make entertainment out of tragedy, your own or someone else's, but that is what you need to do if your're interested in communicating emotions rather than merely feeling them yourself. The more painful the situation the greater the need for restraint and discretion. It's the difference between a scream of pain and the song that describes it. But the risk is that the sensations, instead of being strengthened are made opaque and distant, that the form becomes the subject and emotional awareness devolves into a sense of taste.
I'm not on my computer and I don't have the code memorized, so I can't insert links, but if you don't know the sites already, you can look to the side of the page.
Nathan Newman has a good post up on Sharpton and the DNC, the latter being the real threat to the Democrats though Sharpton is getting the heat. Of course he's good on Estrada as well.
back to work.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

The false ideal of objectivity and neutrality that underlies American journalism means that our leaders' statements are given the benefit of the doubt not because journalists believe what they hear but because they think everyone else either believes it or wants to, and that it is not their job to offend people by telling them the truth. This describes, on the one hand, the cynicism of the mediocre and the passive- in regards 'serious' papers such as The Times- and on the other the cynical jealousy of failed intellectuals who seek their revenge by identifying with those they otherwise consider the rabble. The best lack all conviction...
and everybody else writes for the New York Post.

Apparently The White house had a copy of the Bin Laden tape five days ago. I can't see how this makes Powell look any less foolish and desperate.

I really am sick of this. I spend my evenings rewriting posts about nothing. I'd rather talk about something that interests me more than politics, but at the moment I don't see how.
A final comment. The best writer I know on the American scene is probably Joan Didion. Her writing has more weight and depth than anyone else I can think of, at least anyone born in this country and writing in english. She gives politics, the idea of it if not the fact, the respect it deserves. Reading her I imagine it being something more than the struggle between the blandly uplifting and the violent. She allows me to enjoy using my mind, and that gives me pleasure, surely the best reason to be alive.
I think one of the reasons her work is so consistantly interesting is that she has spent time at both ends of the pool, something very few people do these days who make a living being taken seriously. I remember occasionally as a kid seeing Gore Vidal on the Merv Griffen Show, but he's too busy playing the fifth Cambridge spy, as an 'Out' Etonian socialist. As if there weren't any contradiction there -regarding class not sexuality (but one may wonder.)
Now I'm catting it up as if I were playing one myself. One may wonder about that as well I suppose.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

I don't have much to say on the days events. I'm reading the same stories everyone else is, and waiting to see if the French et al. hold out. I live in New York so I'll be at the demo.
As I've always said, the real pressure has to come from conservatives, and it seems now as if there is some grumbling on all sides. If the war were two month's away I would say both that things were going in the right direction and that there was still time. As it stands now things are going well. The White House is getting hit from every direction. The Belgians are being more forceful in their opposition than either France or Germany - partly, perhaps, as a result of their recent forthright admission of their own crimes. Max Sawicky had a great post a few days ago on the economies of the various countries that are backing us (Denmark has a smaller economy than Dallas.) The al Jazeera tape fiasco would be funny if it weren't about a war. All of this is good news, but we don't have two months.

Apparently Answer won't let Michael Lerner speak at the rally. I can't stand Lerner but banning him is indefensible, if only for reasons of politics. It's causing problems we don't need. It's stupid.
It's late and, again, I'm tired.
Contrary to the opinions of many this is not the beginning of the American Empire, it is probably the end. If we are lucky our president's policies may yet bring about an independent Europe, with strong ties to the east and to China, and a newly sped-up process of democratization in the middle east. And all because the man's a loudmouth with so many weapons that everybody else is terrified. I admit it's risky, but it's brilliant. He's probably a mole working for Kofi Annan.
If there's no war I'm nominating him for a Nobel Peace Prize.

I've read enough crap recently to last my lifetime as to why art is or should be moral. Art is not moral, it's honest, and that's not the same thing. Or rather I'd say that, of course, it is about someone's morality, but not necessarily yours or mine. On Sunday I saw the show of da Vinci drawings that just opened at the Met. His work practically defines the rebuttal to such an argument. If he were alive today he would be designing missile systems.

I do not have the interest in da Vinci I once had. It's not the result so much of my adult, and middle aged(?) comprehension of the meaning of war machines and machiavellianism, as it is of my dislike of the thing from which they both derive: a cold academicism. He is the first and greatest painter of the French Academy. For all his skill and technical curiosity he lacked something, seemingly without realizing that it was missing. His arrogance precludes such an awareness.

Saturday, February 08, 2003

Iraq Opens Suspicious Sites to Eyes of Media.
From the LA Times, courtesy of Thomas Spencer at Stand Down. If you are not registered, use 'untoward' 'klingel' to read the article.
From Electronic Intifada and Voices in the Wilderness:
Electronic Iraq
The authors whose works were plagiarized by Blair's interns oppose the war.
And veteran intelligence officers take on Powell.
It was an exhausting week. I sometimes think my life is being played out as a variation on The Blithedale Romance in which I play all the characters. I'm not having much fun.

The point in my Stand Down post this week was not, as one idiot commented, about conspiracy but something simpler and obvious.
I have a habit of showing up for work 5 to 10 minutes late. I also rarely leave the job quickly at the end of the day. I deduct the time I miss but rarely add the time I stay (unless it's over 30 minutes). I'm responsible, and am one of the most versatile members of any crew I work on. I think and plan ahead. I take on more responsibility than I need to, and when I do a job I try to do it better, more quickly and cleanly, this time than the last. I try to get better at everything I do. All of this keeps me from getting sick of the whole thing, or from just being bored. Economically, if my employer wants good work- and that's a big 'if'- I'm a good investment, but I come in 10 minutes late.

I've been fired a few times for this. I once showed up 5 minutes late for a job that was only going to last a few weeks, but which would have been a good connection for the future. A cabinetmaker who usually worked alone, a friend of a friend, needed an assistant for one job. I showed up at 9:05; my employer was not pleased. It's only 5 minutes, I said. And I'll work till 5:05. "That's not the point" he said.  I said I didn't know what difference it would make. He said if I work for him I should show up on time. I shrugged. My indifference made him more annoyed, and the rest of the morning was a contest between the two of us: him waiting for me to make a mistake -I made none- and me being as fast and precise as I could and finishing each assignment well before he expected it, and then waiting for him to figure out the next project. By lunchtime it had become ridiculous. I called up a cabinetmaker I knew who had offered me a few weeks work, she came by on her motorcycle, and I left.

"That's not the point" I heard that phrase again this week from the guy I've been working with for the past few months. Though in every other way I'm practically the only man he can rely on my lateness annoys him more than others' mistakes. That is precisely the point. There are people who need to be bosses more than they need money. It's their revenge.
I wasn't always as responsible as I am now; that was my laziness.

George Bush is not interested in defeating Saddam Hussein; he's interested in making Hussein admit it. It doesn't matter to Bush whether or not Iraq has been rendered incapable of military aggression. As long as Hussein is capable of putting on a show, Bush will want to go in. Handcuffed and on the ground, as long as Hussein can still mouth the words "Fuck You" George Bush will still call him a dangerous criminal. He needs not only to win but to humiliate the beaten foe for the crime of cursing him. This is about the shadows our president sees with anyone who disses him. And he's willing to kill hundreds of thousands of people, and risk the lives of millions more, solely for the purpose of beating back those shadows. Conspiracy has nothing to do with it. It is nothing but insipid mediocrity.
The banality of evil.

Friday, February 07, 2003

"My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence....
"I would call my colleagues' attention to the fine paper that the United Kingdom distributed yesterday which describes in exquisite detail Iraqi deception activities."

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

This question has been asked previously, but has not been pushed nearly enough: Why has the US not given any and all new information to the inspectors immediately after it was received? Intercepts and over flights are not sources that need to be protected. I can think of no other reason for the behavior of the Bush White House than that the goal of their policy is not to disarm but to punish Saddam Hussein for not bowing to our authority. If the goal were disarmament, it seems more obvious than ever that this is can be achieved without war, if the US were to cooperate.
The war is a test case. It is not about oil but power, of which control of oil is only one aspect. One does not have to be a pacifist to understand the implications -to understand how valueless to such people are the lives of those who stand in their path, even by an accident of fate.

Monday, February 03, 2003

According to a few sources Dini is a Christian and according to The NY Times, a devout Catholic. The debate should be over. But Mark Kleiman still chooses politics over science.
The question over whether creationism limits one's ability to conduct science is tricky. It would have to be taken on a case by case basis, and would require an examintion in itself. A comment on Electrolite says drug-resistant bacteria do not challenge a creationist viewpoint. Is this true? I don't know. What I do know is that many people, and even some lawyers including Eugene Volokh, do not even understand the point of the question. Kleiman himself says "Medicine is not a science' preferring to see it, in it's need for social interaction, as a 'Profession.' Actually, for a good doctor, it is both.
Perhaps this confusion comes about because lawyers may make use of a casuistic logic- indeed are required to- while biologists do not have that luxury. Dini therefore limits such indulgences to his private life and asks his students to do likewise.
The issue seems pretty clear, but I will admit to a Kleiman-like appreciation of fact that Dini takes his religion seriously. It takes some of the pressure off. But then again, I never said there wasn't any, only that it shouldn't come from 'us'; or more sensibly, that we should judge it all carefully before deciding.

That's it for now. It's Monday and again, I'm tired and dusty. The job is coming along well. Next up I think we're ripping up the kitchen floor and pouring a slab with a 'radiant heat' system. One of the guys on the job know is a graduate of an East German trade school. Some interesting conversations.
tschüs!

Sunday, February 02, 2003

Since I made my comments on religion yesterday, here and at Maxspeak, I remembered that I do, after all have a link to Alt.Muslem on my site, if not to Aziz Poonawalla. Links to islamic sites make up the only links I 've made to anything remotely religious.
Islam is the only faith that is both central to a political debate and relevant to my interests. Since I am a secularist this may be condescenscion on my part, but that judgement applies much less to Islam than it does to any debates within Christianity or Judaism. We are witnessing the growth of a secular humanist culture of an Islamic heritage. Once that is fully out in the open Islam will lose interest for me, as the others have. But as long as meaningful debate continues, even within a religious context, over the questions of what constitute the rights and obligations of individuals and those of the state, I'm there.
File under Intellectually simple but emotionally and politically complex.
Here are Dini's instructions to recommendation seekers. Here is Mark Kleiman's first post. Go there and scroll up and you'll find a link to Calpundit and Electrolite where I posted the response I've amended below.
Kleiman begins by calling Dini a 'fool' and says it's "perfectly possible to understand a theory without accepting it.
The issue is not understanding, but acceptance. If one does not accept that diseases can become drug resistant through evolution one should have have no right to a license to prescribe drugs. Dini is a hardass, but is well within his rights. I think it would have been smarter if he had asked at what point religious beliefs intersect with the student's daily life. If the student said evolution applied to to the history of disease, and to animals, but not to humans, or that evolution applies now but not at the beginning of time, that might arguably give the student wiggle room. The student may lie, but there's nothing to say he or she wouldn't lie anyway. But most creationists are not believers in 'Sunday Truths." and I'm willing to bet the kid bringing the suit is not either.
To argue that evolution did not occur is to argue that at some point in time, or in some situations, 1+1 does not equal 2. Evolution is, after all, a fact as we define the term. There are 'theories' about its effects. If someone is willing to state that from his understanding, the point at which this division between empirical fact and mysticism occurs does not in any way intersect what occurs in the present- that evolution applies to everything after "creation"- then maybe that student deserves a pass, regardless of his faith. Dini does not agree, but there should be no means to force him to.

Klieman writes as a Jew in a world of Gentiles, and avers he's :"delighted that the teacher in question wasn't an atheist named Rabinowitz." He speaks as one condescendingly aware of the dangers 'we' face but which others ignore. He exhibits the glib cynicism of the ghetto realist. He should not generalize from his own insecurities, but only do so while acknowledging them. Then we can begin to discuss the politics of the situation.
I'm a little annoyed at myself because I recieved, and then tossed, an email from one of the lists I'm on about the safety warnings that NASA and the government have been ignoring. I heard the news about the shuttle on the radio at my local donut shop.
I have never been interested in the shuttle program. Except in its current use as part of the militarization of space -the director of NASA has said that all future shuttle missions will be 'dual use' civilian and military- my impression is it's more theater than science. I also assume, and judging by the talking heads who have been brought out I think it's safe to do so, that someone as smart as Richard Feynman won't be on the review panel this time. It is doubtful that anyone will be given the opportunity to perform a trick similar to his, which needed only an o-ring, a c-clamp and a glass of ice water.
Seven people are dead whom I did not know. One likes to think they knew the risks, but they may not have. I can't mourn their loss as much as understand why their families do. And I am cynical enough to know that the families will be trotted out to memorialize not just their children and sisters but the military program itself. Myself I can only think of the horror those children felt at the end of their lives.
And that makes me sad.
Alphabetically I guess this should follow Heldman on my links:Sam Pepys

Saturday, February 01, 2003

The brains behind the war.
I don't know how to respond to this stupidity. Can I say Shock and Awe?
I quoted Pollack a couple of months ago, when I heard him asked, on NPR, about the possible effect on Pakistan of an invasion of Iraq: "I can't respond to that. I don't know the first thing about Pakistan" What business does he have making arguments about international policy if he denies knowing anything outside his specialty?
And Kristol adds: "The Europeans sometimes make it seem as if we're about to invade Madagascar"
Say what!?
These idiots don't understand a goddamn thing. Since when does arrogance and wishful thinking pass for political wisdom? This makes Vietnam seem like an honest mistake.
I wonder how the American people will feel when they see Baghdad in ashes. Will they sound like the Germans after Auschwitz? We didn't know. What could we do?

" Harlan Ullman, the military strategist who apparently developed the plan, last week characterized the Baghdad assault thusly: 'You have this simultaneous effect, rather like the nuclear weapons of Hiroshima, not taking days or weeks but minutes.' "
Max is making nice to god, in the form of Allah. [No, Max is not Allah, that would be interesting but problematic. Max is just being nice] I disagree on principle, not as regards Allah, but the gods in general.
Faith rarely leads to clarity of thought, on issues of morality or anything else. Poetry yes, but not clarity. It's like booze. Just because it's fun, and made on occasion by men, and women, of great skill, doesn't mean you should drink and drive.