Sunday, April 27, 2003

"Intelligence agencies accuse Bush and Blair of distorting and fabricating evidence in rush to war"
The Independent
"Colin Powell told the UN Security Council in February that the former regime had up to 18 mobile laboratories. He attributed the information to "defectors" from Iraq, without saying that their claims – including one of a "secret biological laboratory beneath the Saddam Hussein hospital in central Baghdad" – had repeatedly been disproved by UN weapons inspectors."
Does Powell have any credibility left?

Saturday, April 26, 2003

ABC News "To build its case for war with Iraq, the Bush administration argued that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but some officials now privately acknowledge the White House had another reason for war - a global show of American power and democracy. Officials inside government and advisers outside told ABCNEWS the administration emphasized the danger of Saddam's weapons to gain the legal justification for war from the United Nations and to stress the danger at home to Americans."
More on language and religion.
I got in a bit of a tiff with someone over my comments on the philosophical usefullness or uselessness of religion, my point being that its ability to navigate or explain the world is all that it is EVER used for, and when that ability is gone, faith turns sour. The article is on a dust up in the community of Ultra Orthodox jewry. In a sense it all goes back to Moses and Aaron. Should one interpret the laws or merely follow them? Why should there ever be a need for a religion to change? The existence of the debate itself implies a tacit, even if hidden, acceptance that our gods are our constructions. The tale ends up wagging the god.
I am talking here specifically about the scholastic aspect of religion. The faith of the peasantry, as has been documented over and over again, is contradictory, self serving and shot through with irony. But the world of the yeshiva and the seminary is something else, and the isolated intellectual world of the Ultra Orthodox has become a graven image of itself.

I said that a religion is a language, but it makes more sense to call it an ecosystem, an enclosed and self supporting community. The system must remain flexible to survive, which is an absurdity if you view it as ordained by gods- why should the gods care what we think?- but makes perfect sense if you see it as a practical mechanism for ensuring social stability. It has been a central fact since the dawn of politics that people are more willing to obey the commandments of an invisible and ineffable presence, even if proclaimed a man with a sword, than they are to obey the man with the sword alone.

As an aside, isn't it posible to see the vow of celebacy as a democratic force, as a pressure against the formation of an independent priestly class? I'm beginning to think we should make the same demand of our military officer corps.

The central question of anthropology and in a sense the central question of all modern society is the question of "dynamic structure."

How do you construct a viable community where obligations are enforcible without limiting personal freedoms to a point that people refuse to accept those obligations? A rationalist or an analytic philosopher will make an ass of himself trying to answer that question. A person who has more respect for observation and empiricism would look around him and ask a few more questions. Most Americans are more interested in personal freedom than Europeans. Europeans have less privacy- there's simply less room- and families and social obligations interfere in private lives, even for the educated, in ways Americans would not tolerate. It's a matter of acculturation, not rationalism.
My interest over the past few days or weeks has been to try to drive home to most of you, who seem to be either libertarians, liberal technocrats or 'reformers', the value and necessity of curiosity and the seemingly impractical: the value of the arts and humanities; the value of doubt and the fragility of two dimensional 'concepts'.

Beware of people who tell you what freedom is. Arik Sharon is not a liar. Neither are Antonin Scalia and John Ashcroft. George Bush, of course, is. But on another level he isn't at all. Is he driven only by power? Doesn't he also have a deluded notion of god and what is right? Greed and god are wrapped up together somehow. Isn't that strange? The same is true for Ashcroft and Scalia. If it's not greed for money it's greed for power. If its not greed for power it's the sin of pride. If there were a law against irrationality they'd all be in jail.

Beware of people who tell you the definition of freedom. Beware of people who tell you the definition of art. Beware of people who tell you the definition of poverty.
More on free Speech and the slippery slop of democracy: Hear the One About the Mayor Who Wanted to Ban Lying?.
"Anybody that wants to lie can just come up on the hill and cut loose," promised Charlie Brewer, 62, who owns a junkyard just outside the city limits and is known at A.J.'s as the biggest fibber for miles. "Once in a while, I do tell the truth. They kind of snicker at me." We'll I guess he's in trouble now.
And there's more to it than that. The city hall doubles as a church!
For the purpose of the free exchange of ideas and information, it's better for the government to stay out of the way. Using a specific and limited definition of 'corporate' speech recognizes the existence of a clear boundary. Looked at close up does it seems slightly arbitrary but all borders look a little absurd close up. The Mexican border looks a lot different from DC than it does from El Paso or Ciudad Juarez.

One thing more before I crash.(I'm tired and drunk) The reason White Stripes are getting flack is that they are laying claim both to the ethos of directness and simplicity of 'roots' music and to the ironic detachment of pop. What Pareles finds offensive is the ambiguity.
I was drinking in a bar tonight and heard Johnny Cash's studio recording of Folsom Prison. Two things came to mind:
He wrote the damn song while he was on an airplane. And for the last ten years he's been recording on Interscope, a label otherwise known for Metal and Rap. His producer at Interscope is Rick Rubin, cofounder with Russell Simmons -in a dorm room at NYU in the early 1980's- of Def Jam. So Johnny Cash, Anthrax, and Run DMC all have at least one thing in common.
You tell me where integrity ends and irony begins.

Friday, April 25, 2003

I popped this into the post below.

Sam linked approvingly to a piece in the Times by John Pareles, on the band White Stripes, which gives this description of an interest in such simplicity in popular music:
"The eternal promise of Back to Basics is that it will strip away the layers of self-consciousness and cleverness that get in the way of direct communication." You have to pay for the article now but here it is. Pareles says the White Stripes fail, because they can't escape their ironic detachment. I guess I'll have to throw out my Sex Pistols tapes and Stones records. Once you've left the garden, you can't go back. This leaves us in an ambiguous situation that Americans live with without seeming to know that it exists. Europeans on the other hand take their alienation for granted.

I left off yesterday with a description of a work by Andy Warhol. I've mentioned him in the past partly because I know that his work in its 'insincerity' is something that people who are preoccupied with politics - again, in this country- tend to think of as cheaply ironic and cynical. I suppose at some point he and his work were all three, but not always and his best work isn't cheap (in any way.) I feel strange reminding people that not all art is made to make them feel happier. Sometimes it's meant to remind you that you've felt like shit for years, but give you a new comfort of feeling a little less alone. This is the knowledge every American teenager shares with every middle aged European, but strangely, not with American adults, except those who make a living thinking about such things.

Until we learn to be aware of our own behavior, until we learn some measure of self reflection, we will never be able to have a mature political debate in this country. That Noam Chomsky's utopian positivism should be a argued over -on the left- shocks me. He's the closest thing to a christian saint we have, and as such both a subject of worship and derision. What he's useless for and terrible at is politics.
That's still no excuse for Paul Berman's anxious stupidity or Eric Alterman's jealous rants.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Under the Supreme Court's recent precedents, commercial speech is that which "does no more than propose a commercial transaction." In a society with so much fluidity of meaning, any hard definition seems somewhat arbitrary, or based on practicality or politics. How and when to decide if speech is economic or political or personal? How to decide when a fetus becomes a human being? What is a potential economic interest? What is a potential life? When should the state interfere on the basis of a potentiality?

"Mr. Hoeber agreed that they were not in an 'advertising format.' But he said it would be a mistake to limit the definition of commercial speech to advertising, because 'that line would leave out a lot of promotions and representations that consumers rely on.'
'It's not a perfect world,' Justice Antonin Scalia responded."

Oh, Really...

People are always trying to find or create what they consider a justifiable and at least explicable sense of things. 'Oh blessed rage for order...'
I sent off a copy of my post on law and language to Sam Heldman, and he responded with more than a little confusion, so I might as well use him, and his interests, as an explanation. And Zizka might even get the Warhol post he's been waitng for.

Sam is serious aficionado of hillbilly music, specifically in it's most rooted, unaffected and 'pure' form. 'Purity,' 'Integrity,' 'Truth,' are all buzzwords associated with such forms of folk culture. In another country it might be seen as all very volkisch, with sense of reactionary kitsch such words imply. But in America it doesn't work that way. Still, what does it mean to be an urban sophisticate with a taste for peasant culture? And what is it that tends to make people who are fans of such folkways be willing to speak of reservations about modern culture?
You can see where I'm going with this: cultural sophistication and an idea of simple truth are usually accused of being at odds, even by people with no historical connection to the work and whose educated sophistication is what allows them to grasp its value to begin with. 'A Mighty Wind' has a lot of fun with this. Sam linked approvingly to a piece in the Times by John Pareles, on the band White Stripes, which gives this description of an interest in such simplicity in popular music:

"The eternal promise of Back to Basics is that it will strip away the layers of self-consciousness and cleverness that get in the way of direct communication."
You have to pay for the article now but here it is. Pareles says the White Stripes fail, because they can't escape their ironic detachment. I guess I'll have to throw out my Sex Pistols tapes and Stones records. Once you've left the garden, you can't go back. This leaves us in an ambiguous situation that Americans live with without seeming to know that it exists. Europeans on the other hand take their alienation for granted.

I left off yesterday with a description of a work by Andy Warhol. I've mentioned him in the past partly because I know that his work in its 'insincerity' is something that people who are preoccupied with politics - again, in this country- tend to think of as cheaply ironic and cynical. I suppose at some point he, or his work, were all three, but not always and certainly his best work is not cheap (in any way.) I feel strange reminding people that not all art is made to make them feel happier. Sometimes it's meant to remind you that you've felt like shit for years, but give you the small comfort of feeling a little less alone. This is the knowledge every American teenager shares with every middle aged European, but strangely, not with American adults, except those who make a living thinking about such things. Until we learn to be aware of our own behavior, until we learn some measure of self reflection, This country will never be able to have a mature political debate. That Noam Chomsky's utopian positivism should be controversial within the left is something that still shocks me. He's the closest thing to a christian saint we have, and as such both a subject of worship and derision. What he's useless for and terrible at is politics. But that's still no excuse for Berman's anxious stupidity or Alterman's jealous rant.

People want to have their ideas rest on what they perceive as solid ground. The de facto basis of the modern world is economics. Where once wealth served a state or a church 'Economic man' is now the measure. Conservatives, using the old definition, -which still applies to the social conservative partners of the neocons- are opposed to economics being granted this designation. So am I, and I think so is Sam, and so is what I would consider the principled left. And this opposition is not by way of simple Marxist economic jargon, but also from a sense that there is something 'more' to life than greed or desire. What does 'MORE' mean?

What does it mean to say that something can be 'shallow' and that something else can have 'depth'? I'll make a small leap and say that depth and 'stability' go hand in glove. I go back again and again to Antonin Scalia. He values stability more than anything else. I imagine he might almost say with Hobbes that stability IS justice. This is why I have said that we should think beyond the law to his Catholicism to understand his interests. Plainsman at Sub Judice has called him a Catholic Formalist, which is perfect, except that from his position of authority Scalia allows himself to bend the rules. it's one of the benefits of defending a monarchist philosophy that the powerful have the authority to protect us from ourselves.

But my problem with liberals is that, like neocons, they defend the ideal of economic man. Popular culture, from Hollywood on down has a more nuanced view of the anxieties of modern life than your average liberal economist. I've come off as rude or dismissive to many who consider themselves intellectuals because I've made the mistake of assuming that they had some understanding of the awkwardness and anxiety that makes up the life of the modern bourgeoisie. I could have a better conversation with Madonna.

In this country mainstream intellectualism and Individualism are joined at the hip; yet the culture at large is chock full of images of lonliness and isolation. It seems sometimes as far as intellectual life is concerned that only those who flirt with academic nihilism are willing to agree with social conservatives and practically everyone else, including Madonna, in saying that something is very off. Conservatives fight against this in ways that are either politically reactionary or conflicted- by association with neocon free market philosophy, nihilists indulge themselves in formalist rhetoric, and everybody else just shrugs and goes on as best they can. The point of my last few posts has been to make a logical argument for the role of argument and debate -on their own- as a bearer of intellectual substance, and for the depth or profundity of such an esthetic, without any basis in ideal or absolute truth, and without relying on decostructivist gerrymandering. The notion of 'imperfect justice' is key to this. The choice to base an idea on imperfection, constructed from the principle of an imperfect justice, and NOT BY TACIT ASSUMPTION BUT BY AFFIRMATION, is a good definition of a democratic philosophy that is as solidly grounded as anything imagined by any idealistic fiction.

And about Warhol: think of him as a kinder gentler Antonin Scalia. The fact that the works weren't made by hand alone does not make them cynical. Think of the Double Elvis as a piece of fabric pretending to show the emotion on the face of a scared boy pretending to express the emotion on the face of a cowbow with a gun. You can't get farther away from integrity than that. But it's an image of an image of an image of a man alone, and nobody describes such lonliness better than Warhol. And that's depth isn't it?
I'm following the Nike case today:
A question of unintended consequences. If the definition of of commercial speech is expanded, how will that affect future debate. Reading the ACLU's Amicus brief PDF. Should an employee of a corporation have less protection than an individual opposing the company's policy? What is the definition of official capacity'? Can an employee make his/her opinions known publicly without it being assumed to be acting as an employee. If I agree with my company's policy, is it to be assumed that I can not be doing so by choice? We should not be in the position of arguing that people have no independence. The courts should not be in the position of apologizing for the passivity of the population.

Question: If I open a business making and selling T shirts that say 'Fuck the War" and I place an advertisement in the National Review, how many kinds of speech am I engaged in?

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

I think of that post on language and law as a decent, and philosophical, defense of art and democratic ethics. Continental philosophy is big on the notion of the enlightenment resulting in a 'disenchantment' of the world, meaning that it loses its 'spark' with too much sun. The english speaking world seems to have avoided this somehow (outside the university at least) and I think this has something to do with the relationship of literature and narrative to English common law. I think of argument and rhetoric as somehow being self-sustaining, as giving a basis to things that in other societies is given by religious teaching. Why is the modern idea of the the 'absurd' never more than an import? Why do Vaudeville, Shakespere and John Rawls sit so well together, like Oxbridge glee clubs? There is really no contradiction among them for us, is there? [ed. Rawls??]
The idea that democracy can be profound is still new.
William Kunstler responded this way when someone called him a radical. "I'm not a radical. Radicals don't believe in the legal system. I'm a lawyer who defends radicals, and that's not the same thing."

I'm still rewriting the post on language and law and... etc. I don't know how many 'drafts' I ve gone through, or if I'm done with it. I guess it's my idea of fun.
The history of the notion of the free speech rights of corporations. All this from a 'headnote?'
As I said: history can make the banal profound. It's called stare decisis. But then again it was never actually decided. A little more absurdity.
There are many people who are defending Powell as the thoughtful member of this administration, and I suppose he is, compared to the competition. But when asked point black if there is a 'price to pay' for France's opposition to the US policy, his response was: "Yes." Not only is this power politics at its most cynical, it's just plain stupid. It will backfire, and it damn well should. The BBC

I forgot about Newt Gingrich's attack on Powell, presumably payback for his 'victories' on N. Korea and Syria. I wonder if Powell's bluntness was because he was doing what he was told, or because he still feels he was stabbed in the back by France and Germany?
Either way, it's all so petty.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Q: What's the difference between a religion and a cult?
A: Time.

Jack Balkin on Santorum and interpretation of the law.
Activists might not agree, but that's why they're activists and he's a law professor. And although I don't have much interest in his rather fuzzy interest in the I Ching, it connects with his approach to the law in ways I appreciate. It's the metaphysical implication, the need to base debate on something more than itself that doesn't interest me so much. I don't think one should need to create an artificial engine to foster indeterminacy and doubt, when argument itself will do. Rhetoric and skill should be enough; it was enough for Shakespeare, who seems to have been a secularist, why not the Constitution?

This is an esoteric point, but in a society, if it's to be more than a collection of individuals, problems are always resolved using some sort of formalized rhetorical structure considered to be neutral by the participants. To say that a certain form of intolerance was acceptable at one point but now is not is a form of relativism, but in the long run, or from the long view, it is the only alternative to fascism, which is to say to arbitrary absolutism - amoral because it is without structure [power is not structure] Obviously, the neutrality of a system of debate exists only within the limits of the collective whole, including, but ignoring, those who are not allowed to speak. But it is nonetheless a system and not merely an ad hoc fabrication. The difference, philosophically and morally, is something modernism has never dealt with.

I think there is great moral weight in the religious discussions of politics and law in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran, but I think there is little weight to such discussions here.
If religion is a shared value, a set of laws, or indeed a language - languages are systems of rules that enable communication - then religious debate is a form of communication ABOUT OTHER THINGS. The debates in the Christian church were debates about moral responsibility, justice, and the state. They had weight in the past because Christianity was a central part of the community. It was a 'medium' as Islam is today in Iran and Iraq. Christianity is no longer such a medium in the US.

The rules for speaking a language are caught up with accident and circumstance. Why does German sound like German and French, French? Why is one guttural and the other spoken from the middle of a half closed mouth? Who knows? But there are connoisseurs of both, who love these details without wanting to explain them. There are connoisseurs of language just as there are connoisseurs of art. A connoisseur is not a historian; a historian does not fall in love with a surface, he compares surfaces to one another in what is more an intellectual than a sensual pursuit. Ideally in a speaker's mind there should be a tension between these two ideas. If a language becomes entirely formal it becomes merely a matter of taste, but if it becomes only ideological, nothing more than a means to an end, it becomes unsubtle and closed. Is it possible to speak French extremely well and be neither a dandy nor a pedant? Of course. Languages can have weight without pomposity because they have a purpose that makes them central to everything else. They are both a given and self-justifying. And most important, they can coexist. Languages don't contradict one another.

But to ask that question about religion: Is it possible to be religious in the context of the modern world without having such a problem? I don't think so. Can religion ever again be seen as self-justifying? Once you have a choice, and we have many, disenchantment -from religion as such- has won. Without either obligation or doubt, what's the point? Without both, where's the strength? When one religion is as good as any other, the reason for all, except as simple comfort, is gone.

Every morning when I'm not working I go to a donut shop in my neighborhood. Two years ago the Daily News said they made the best donuts in NY. I eat the bagels. The owner make about 4 dozen a day, by hand. Of course, they're the best bagels in NY. The owner is Greek. In Manhattan they say H&H makes the best bagels, and it's owned by Puerto Rican's; the Lubovitchers have an agreement with the owners that lets them park their 'Mitzvah Tank' in front of the store around the holidays to bring the less than ultra orthodox into the fold. In Greenpoint, I buy my bagels at the donut shop.

Chris thinks religion is very important, and he's upset that I don't have one. It's good to have a community. But, he admits we make religion. "We make God. So what? That's not the point!" He laughs. He's constantly getting in arguments with one of his Egyptian helper, Mohammed, who's a devout Muslim. Chris loves Bush. He says Bush is just like Hitler or Alexander the Great. He loved Stalin. He says he doesn't know what went wrong in Russia; he looks at me and shrugs. Americans don't understand history or irony. Chris understands both. So does Mohammed, but he doesn't talk about it.

Laws are important. We make laws, as we make gods. We use laws and language BOTH as a means to an end and as a buffer. Sometimes we defend an order just because it as a language we know. If the language is a given, is the the thing which gives us definition, what can we replace it with that will have as much depth? We choose the devil we know. And pride has gotten us in trouble in the past. [It's getting us in trouble now] Has there ever been a designed system as flexible as one made by history? Is Esperanto as beautiful as Russian or Farsi or English? Most people understand this without thinking about it. And they do do so without becoming either ideologues or dandies. They exist somewhere in between, like Chris and Mohammed. Scalia is unable to imagine this. When he hears language that is not sufficiently moored, he hears the chattering of dandies. Others are unable to understand it as well, hearing only ideologues when they are forced to listen to calmer heads.

It is hard to accept that what many consider obvious injustice -in other countries and sometimes even in our own- is something that we can not just remove at will. But for the purposes of the preservation of language, or the rule of law (which is not merely a matter of a respect for 'law and order') we need to limit our activities to what we can argue in the context of a group understanding. A language, like a set of laws is a stand in for a community, for a union. And if we are to preserve a union we have to compromise. I am not arguing against activism. Activism, is in a sense, part of the game. But at the same time, I am arguing for an appreciation of the idea of 'depth.' I still haven't quite gotten over the glibness that infused the comments made by otherwise serious people, on the destruction and looting of Iraqi museums.

I think that many people who are reading this- and I doubt there are many at all- would find it strange that an Islamic republic has produced some the most important pieces of modern cinematic art in the last 10 years. Why should Iran be in this position? In the Middle East, Israel is the only fully modern state. Why is Israeli cinema so vapid and shallow? My apologies to the author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran" but where was the flowering of culture under the Shah?
The Iranian people are waking up, both from the Shah and from his replacement. The bourgeoisie are flexing their muscles, are asking questions they have not been allowed to ask before. And the government is weakening, slowly. [it should not weaken too fast] The definition of a renaissance is that it is a moment when the members of a community are both cemented together by common bonds- by rules- that they accept, and yet are each feeling and searching out their own freedoms. It is a moment when greed and curiosity are merged in the same figures: a moment of self contained contradiction. In this country it is reenacted in every immigrant community as it moves in. But it fades. As I 've said in the past I'm an un-unionized construction worker. I work with a lot of immigrants, and when I tell them their grandchildren will be empty headed assholes they nod their heads and shrug, or smile.

What should we do in Iraq? Should we shove modernity down the throats of militant Islam? Should we start importing miniskirts? Should we create a safety zone for homosexuals in Baghdad? ( We have a hard enough time shoving civilization down the throats of born again Christians in Texas.)
There are going to be calls from the left and the right, and whatever happens neither will be happy. The best we can hope for is that there is an independent order in the making, a harsh one perhaps, but living. [ Dilip Hiro has a good piece in The Times today on what we should do and why we probably won't do it.] Iran under the Shah was an artificial modernity. The democracy that is growing in Iran, and the new modernity in China as well, are not. If we had allowed the King to return to power in Afghanistan, rather than shutting him out, would we have begun a similar progression? It would have had a better chance than with Karzai.

Along with the understanding that every renaissance fades- and in fact fails- it is also true that the path to modernization, which is violent and destructive for every community, often fosters their violent and histrionic simulacra, their fascist imitators. The former was alive, and the other is dead. A renaissance is bright moment of life. But afterwards, it ends in death as well. In homage to Jean Luc Godard I would say that I too am dead, but that I like to watch immigrants because they remind me of what it was to be living.

The great Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein wrote about the need for the revolution, and for his films, to create flesh and blood out of the cardboard cutouts of ideology, to create a world that would do justice to the complexity of people and events, that would be more than shadows. His favorite author was Dickens; he was amazed by the Japanese theater, and he knew that you could 'invent' neither language, nor law. Eisenstein was one of the few exceptions. The defenders and proselytizers of modernity, left and right, paid little attention.
Somebody from The New York Times needs to infiltrate The NYPD.
A interesting section of The Guardian I found by accident.
I heard Perle say just now on the radio that Iraq is a free country and does not need the involvement of a UN 'bureaucracy'. His definition if freedom is rather odd -read: grotesque- and the Franco-Russian 'blackmail' is a perfectly appropriate response. We threatened blackmail to get them on board, they balked and are now returning the favor.

Hans Blix.

We are holding Children at Guantanamo.

Any thought that we have some sort of moral superiority over anyone else here, with the possible exception a few Ba'ath party officials, is fucking absurd.

Monday, April 21, 2003

The Guardian. New Charges in the seven year long lawsuit over royalties for Indian land,

and our Israeli policy towards Syria.

The novelist Cynthia Ozick stated years ago that before everything else she is a Jew and a defender of Israel. Any abstract idea of justice or fairness to others she said to her takes second place behind her faith and her people. I find such amorality, in someone who is educated and who claims to be a humanist, disgusting. But I wish Bill Safire had the guts to be so honest.
Mark Kleiman and M. Yglesias are counting points in the debate over the war: a debate - by and for an American audience - held in a high school auditorium somewhere in the heartland, between 5 ROTC candidates and members of the Pacifist Alliance.
It's stupidity. Nothing is over. Some people died; some people didn't. From Haifa to Islamabad, from Rome to Barcelona, people are asking about the future, but here we get the halftime report 30 seconds into the first quarter.
US sugar industry threatens to bankrupt the WHO. Is this what Republicans and Libertarians mean when they call for Freedom from Big Government?
Suzanne Goldenberg in The Guardian: Ba'athists slip quietly back into control.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Jan 22 2004 - I've rewritten this thing more times than I can count. It began as a letter to John Searle in 99(?) It's sloppy but it doesn't bother me anymore. I'm done with it.

What is consciousness? What is pain, as an aspect of consciousness?
Pain evolved as a way to make us aware of damage or disease, and as a mechanism by which our bodies make it difficult for us to engage in things that make that damage worse. If I'm working and strain a muscle, the pain tells me not to use the muscle so that it will heal more quickly, or it allows me to gauge the degree to which the muscle is or is not capable of doing its job. But pain is not a simple signal or transfer of data, it is a kind of gestalt, the result of a bombardment of data which we "experience" as a specific form of "qualia".

Imagine that I'm out hunting and am attacked by a lion, who claws me leaving a deep gash in my leg. I run away but the pain slows me down. If I run I increase the injury, but if I stay I'll be killed. The choice is obvious yet my body continues to experience a division. Endorphins and adrenaline are partial overrides but they're autonomic, and very rarely if ever does the pain or the division go away completely. Pain has a regulating function that has nothing to do with decision-making itself. It's not subject to rational controls and yet it's part of what we call consciousness.

We rely both on rationality and instinct. If we react habitually in a given way to a specific range of situations, but now face a problem that fits largely in that range but logically demands an alternate response, something has to give way to allow us to break the pattern. But it doesn't give way easily. We can't turn off instinct any more than we can turn off pain. Habit is reflex and reflexes have a purpose. A neurotic activity is one that the mind has been conditioned to perform because at some unconscious level it facilitates psychic continuity and by logical extension physical survival. Neuroses continue patterns learned in childhood, affecting our relations with people and experiences that have little to do with those of the past except in terms of structure. We never stop being influenced by this sort of learned response, or by others more benign; everybody is neurotic.

It's common now for people to talk about mental activity in biological terms. There are studies of behavior that link social activities to chemicals and genetics. Yet there are also studies showing that an infant’s brain constructs itself by reinforcing the most often used neural pathways. We're born with an immense number of connections and through the act of living apparently we program ourselves, experiencing not only psychological but also biological adaptation. And once such adaptation is complete, it can't be erased. This seems to me to be a more interesting explanation for our linguistic capabilities than Chomsky’s LAD or innate universal grammar. Rather than specific tools that allow us to create and acquire language, and that apparently wither away within a few years if not used, why not imagine a network that may or may not be constructed? If we think of the mind as a glass that can be filled with different sorts of liquids, that blend together each time we add more, then this doesn't fit what we know. But if we think not in terms of liquids but solids this explanation makes sense. If we fill a glass first with sand, then with gravel, and then with dirt, how can we reverse or rearrange the order? Adding more sand at the top will change the ratio of sand to gravel, but the same amount of sand is at the bottom of the glass. A 14 year old without language would have great difficulty picking it up because the synaptic pathways, the foundation of her psyche, will have been constructed without it. It would be interesting to think that in some instances mental disorders which we now associate with chemical imbalances could be reattributed, chemicals included, to learned responses.

We call living creatures sentient, conscious, or aware, but these words only describe the sensations of our experience of ‘consciousness’. We slide quickly into tautology. What separates us from computers is not consciousness, which we have had such a bad time trying to define, but the unconscious. Desire and fear, reflexes and pain stay with us even when they're inappropriate. If we don't follow them we still sense their shadow. Our desires/instincts/neuroses may also be contradictory, or even self-destructive. But all of them are sensory before they're intellectual. Consciousness is the state produced by the body/brain's negotiation of the conflict between conditioned response and reason. That is its beauty and why we find it so difficult to understand. We experience consciousness as one thing, but only can define it as the space between two. We experience it a as a thing ‘being’, but can only define it as the place where it exists.
The first moment of indecision is the first act of consciousness. Any creature capable of indecision is conscious.
Literary Theory
Spinoza vs Descartes

4 articles from the Times. Except for Madonna they're all from Saturday. The meeting described in the first article made the members of the panel seem so pathetic as to approach the obscene. The review of the Madonna exhibition refers to the show as "not art" which is absurd on it's face, regardless of whether the show is any good. [Madonna's collaborator and I share cousins.] The article on Beethoven is a discussion of the history of the interpretations of the 9th Symphony and of the various contradictory causes it's been used, not altogether inappropriately, to support. On Spinoza: It's not so much that emotions play a part in rationality, it's that they play a part in communication. People lie -to others and themselves- and it makes sense we should learn to understand our tricks and games. I've read Colin McGinn. There are things he seems not to understand.

All in all the above add up to a cruel joke, though Edward Rothstein -on Beethoven- and perhaps Madonna seem to be the only ones who get it. I suppose it does come down to Descartes, and the assumption that our conscious minds are in control of our emotions and our bodies. But that's never been true. The absurdity of Chomsky (mentioned in the theory article) is that he has no idea what drives people. He doesn't understand what it is to be bitter and enraged. In a sense he doesn't understand politics at all. How good is a political philosophy that takes no account of the existence of greed? The greedy don't care if their greed is irrational. Roberta Smith writes that Madonna's collaboration with Steven Klein isn't art because she refuses to recognize theater. Vaudeville is cheap theater, but theater is art, and Charlie Chaplin is more important than Pollock. Her snobbery is similar to that of the literary critics who feel the world passing them by and therefore choose to abandon it. Madonna makes something that recognizes its own limitations - it's pop crap- but 'Art' has to be something high and pure: art is not meant to be popular. But Shakespeare was an entertainer.

Contra Descartes (and Chomsky): it's Wolfowitz after all, who thinks he understands what it is he's doing and why. The asshole THINKS he's being moral. Bill Kristol thinks he's being moral as well. [Though I think Kristol is scared] Yet the knowledge that both of them have their heads up their asses doesn't give us the right to assume that our heads will never end up our own asses as well. The ability to criticize does not render us above criticism. As in law, each case is new. That's what intellectuals in this country seem never to understand. They want the conclusion. Modernity [Modernism] seems to recognze absurdity only in order to pretend to overcome it.
No such luck.

The Deep End and the Shallow End.
Why are American intellectuals so removed from the daily life of the country? Is America really so anti-intellectual? Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, and Joan Didion are the three writers I can think of who cross back and forth. An article on Jurgen Habermas in the NYRB said that he had no equivalent here. Is that only the fault of the people at large? I have no doubt their willful ignorance plays a large part in it. I was touched by the description by the Iraqi doctor of the American female POW we've heard about but who's name I've forgotten [Jessica Lynch]: His affectionate condescension towards her was deeply humane. He called her uneducated, almost innocent. But American intellectuals feel above "the body politic." There is a mind body problem. And it is a very American problem.
The Puritan heritage. The reformist notion of betterment and progress. The present is empty; the only thing that matters is the future. There is no middle class reality: I want to be rich.

The Madonna show wasn't particularly good, but it was interesting to see her interest in the Jan Svankmajer. She's not dumb, and for all her self-absorption, sometimes it becomes a subject and not merely a symptom. On Roberta Smith and her impatience with theater: in her appropriately cutting comments on Nan Goldin, she manages to set aside and acknowledge something special about Bjork, who's some sort of genius. Culture is a slippery slope from the high to the low and the sublime to the ridiculous; as morality slides from responsibility to negligence.
From the conscious to the unconscious: our novelists understand this more than our college professors.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Titian, Emperor Charles V at Mühlberg, Museo del Prado
I received a complaint today. That's what the last post was about. The Prado is probably my favorite museum in the world, though there are still quite a few I haven't seen.
For its importance it's small; the Metropolitan and the Louvre are much bigger, and I can't imagine how it would compare to the Hermitage. Pound for pound however, it's amazing. The Titian's alone are worth the price of the trip. There was a strong link between Venice and Madrid. And if Florence is not well represented, northern Europe is: Bosch, Durer, Baldung. Velazquez: The conflict between a reactionary Catholic idealism and an empirical humanism was what so fascinated and impressed post revolutionary France. A Catholic, rather than a Protestant, realism.
Actually Warhol represented the same thing. Deeply conservative but profoundly moral, and observant of those around him. His early work, the electric chairs. Double Elvis. Austere and tragic.

Interesting bit of gossip: Warhol worked in a soup kitchen once a week, on sunday, until the day he died.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

"If they'd been destroyed by a meteor only the art historians would have cared.."
I had a photography teacher who said that we should never take a photograph of anyone without asking the person's permission.

News photographers- in this case war photographers- like most commercial photographers are basically hacks. It is a field where the claim is to represent the emotions of others but without actually engaging the subjects in a conversation, or even giving them a choice. If I photograph a still life I can arrange the objects any way I like. The oranges don't mind where they sit; they tell the stories I want them to tell. A war photographer treats his subject as if they were inanimate objects, but claims -and this is the important part- to be describing not his reaction to what has occured, but theirs.
Think about that for a minute before you call me an asshole.

Beyond a certain point a questioning intelligence can lead to a philosophical quietism that is politically passive and useless. I am not pretending otherwise.

I am getting busy and have to spend more time in the studio. People are asking where the new work is and I haven't been making a lot. But I have 2(?) shows coming up and visitors on the way so...

I may revert to the shorthand I use for my notes. I may be hard to follow. And I will bop back and forth from art to politics more than I have been. I've read two reviews of 'Reading Lolita in Tehran" so I suppose I could comment on the fact that it takes a foreigner to explain the value of the humanities to the political junkies of this country. And the reviews themselves were condescending, not to her but to her country. You wouldn't know that Iran is one of the most important film centers in the world, and that most critics agree that many of the best films of the past ten years were made there. Look up Abbas Kiarostami, or The Apple a film made by an 18 year old girl named Samira Makhmalbaf .
I'm still rewriting it the last post. Someone asked me to clarify why I think Warhol is so important, so I think I'll tackle that next.
One important thing before I crash, and it's a suggestion before I go into Warhol: The next time you see a newspaper photograph of civilians in Iraq, imagine yourself in the position of the photographer, about to take the shot. Imagine yourself bending over a mother and a wounded child to get a better look into the child's face, and then decide if you would allow yourself in good conscience to do what the photographer is doing.
Ask yourself that question the next time you read a newspaper and you will be shocked at how many times will be ashamed to hold that paper in your hand.

Monday, April 14, 2003

I find it not even remarkable but only depressing that Eric Alterman can ask his readers that they not ignore an article by Frank Rich " just because he’s in the... Arts and Leisure section," and that Atrios underplays, if only slightly, the tragedy of the looting of a museum. Alterman was joking, of course, but that changes nothing.

I was reading the New York Review today and was struck by how many articles touched on the barbarous stupidity of the war, even ones that had no need to. There were three pieces on the war itself, but Tim Parks writing on the Medici made a few cutting remarks on the relation of the Florentine republic to our own, and though he was not specific and I could be reading in too much, Jasper Griffin's description of Cicero's despair at the fall of his republic felt awkwardly real and present.

Of all the bloggers I read, including academics and lawyers, the only one I can think of who speaks with a voice I would call 'humanist' is Sam Heldman. He is the only one who refers to the most important subjects as questions, even when it comes to politics - the only one I would actually refer to as being curious by nature. Most others leave their questions for the less important subjects like art or 'spirituality' (whatever that word means.)

The first post I read by Sam was on the question of when or if, the historical significance of a plaque or statue trumps its obvious unconstitutionality. Is it right to remove a copy of the Ten Commandments from the local courthouse if it has been there for one hundred and fifty years? I think he said it is, but to me that mattered less than the fact that he asked the damn question to begin with, and understood its weight.
Alterman and Atrios come from the everything I learned about being nice I learned in kindergarten school of philosophy. Atrios extends that logic about as far as it can go. He's a no-nothing with a strong moral compass, which is better than can be said for most. I might trust his gut response more than my own. Alterman thinks his ideas amount to more, but they don't. To be more you have to feel curiousity and doubt beyond your own assumptions, in Alterman's case beyond the arrogance his knowledge seems to him to justify.
I'm afraid it is not the the French and Germans who will go down as the failed appeasers, but Blair and the rest of those who went along for the ride.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

I'm still rewriting this.
There is a link between what I sometimes refer to as the 'real' -meaning principled- left, and the conservative right. There is nothing new in admitting it. Liberals, on the other hand, and to put them in the least charitable light, want to have their cake and eat it too. They want the power and be liked for it.
Liberals are interested in freedom, their own and by extension, and most often only as extension, the freedom of others. The Left on the other hand sees capitalism as a fragmenting of social order; regardless of its benefits, after a brief flowering, the result is atomization and destruction. By such a definition, health, welfare, and education are more important freedoms than the one of economic independence.

I am not interested in economic freedom. I don't want to be wealthy, and I find the desire in others distasteful. The idea that I can or should hire someone else to clean my bathroom floor I find offensive. Private accumulation is inevitable, but that doesn't mean I have to celebrate it; on the contrary, it needs to be controlled and regulated. But then again most shopkeepers don't want to go around gobbling up their competetion, so there should be nothing really abnormal or about my opinion. Still, in this country many people, whether they are educated or not defend desires in strangers that in they shy away from or even abhor in their own lives.

To a principled conservative, however, freedom is at least as problematic as it is to a leftist. A conservative after all wants stability, and capitalism prides itself on being the opposite. In the best of times it works by 'creative' distruction; even if the surface is calm, it's always churning below. Neoconservativism is famous for papering over such conflicts. Because of this, I've enjoyed reading Sub Judice.

The contradiction conservatives in capitalist cultures face is simple: if they are conservatives by sensibility, and not merely in the service of shallow self interest- the kind republicans enjoy and which gives liberals such tsuris, then they would be as conservative, and as principled - and maybe even happier- somewhere else. Plainsman is caught in a dilemma. On one level he might enjoy the debates going on in Tehran right now. On another level the limits on freedom would disturb him. He can't make up his mind between self interest and principle. It's interesting to watch the back and forth.
Every week I throw out most of the Times Sunday edition on the way to the coffee shop. The business section, Sports section, Real Estate, Style, and Jobs all hit the trash can. I end up with Arts and Leisure- which is basically a style section for those who take such things seriously- The Week in Review, and the news sections. But today I almost threw the whole thing out.
Everyone's building castles and talking to one another about their plans. The fact that they're building on a field of shit doesn't come up, except as subtext.

Saturday, April 12, 2003

According to Jack Balkin, the war has "demonstrated that the United States could, at comparatively little cost, and with comparatively little loss of American lives, overthrow the government of a middle sized regime."
This is not the case any more than it was for the smaller and weaker Afghanistan. What has been proven is that the US can overthrow, on those terms, a weak regime with no popular base of support and no friends.
Bush is beginning to try blackmail against Syria, using oil to 'create' a domino effect.
The Horse thinks Moran is out of line. What has he said that's not true? He's going againt AIPAC and I wish him luck. Needless to say, I hope his history with Jews, as opposed to Israel, is clean or he'll make it worse for all of us.
Mark Kleiman on Tulia.
It's silly for Americans who argued against the war to spend time worrying about how they went wrong. Their self questioning is as self indulgent as their activism. Peace and freedom are ideals, not absolutes, but they have been as simplistically defended by liberals opposed to the war as they have been by the chicken hawks demanding it.

I always said that it was up to conservatives and realists, in this country, and to the broad based protests in other countries to stop the war, and they couldn't do it. I agree with everything Nathan Newman says. He's fighting the good fight, but there are still too many things too many Americans don't understand.

I want to add something to my last post on sexuality, and in doing so, I've realized, I'll be able to tie together a few strands of argument that I've been engaged in.
I'd like to improve a little on Andrew Hacker's true story. "They're a charming couple. I've slept with both of them." would be better if it were written as a conversation:
"They're a charming couple"
"You should know [dear (?)], you've slept with both of them."
The tinge of arrogance on the speaker's part was a little off-putting, and this resolves it nicely. And my little fictional corrective is useful in other ways. It can be used to demonstrate the importance of art, as a description of intelligence as communication between equals- between the two fictional characters, between myself and Andew Hacker, and from Hacker to the original speaker- and as a primer on the philosophical and ethical significance of narrative and the dialectical or dialogical imagination. From there it's a small step to the defense of an open ended and flexible, and therefore just, rule of law, and against the Catholic formalism- flexible in it's hypocrisy if nothing else- of Antonon Scalia.
I guess I'm in high "Gore Vidal" mode today.

Friday, April 11, 2003

A quote from Iraq: "This isn't liberation, this is anarchy."
They had no idea or plan
Chaos and the Geneva Convention

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Atrios links to a couple of posts on homosexuality and genetics. I read them and their links and ended up here. The teenager says he was not impressed with Andrew Hacker's piece in The New York Review. I spent five minutes trying to dig it out of whatever pile it's lying in on the floor of my apartment, but I couldn't find it, so being lazy I skipped to the last paragraph on the web, where I read this:

"Perhaps it is a triumph of our species that there's no clear accounting for the imaginativeness of sexual fantasy and the permutations of sexual pleasure. Much of what I am suggesting was captured by the wedding guest—gender not specified—who was overheard remarking of the bride and groom: "They're a charming couple. I've slept with both of them."

I laughed out loud. If this world were only full of such people (and of course they were all about 5'11 and attractive.)

Before I got to the Hacker piece, I was not in such a good mood and I posted this on Kieran Healy's page:
"Absolute sexual exclusivity is nothing other than a social convention and when it becomes an ideology the hypocrisy makes it dangerously reactionary. There is an obvious relation between homosocial environments, environments based on fear of outsiders, and fascism."

I've wanted to post something on this recently, but I didn't know how to go about it. I wasn't in the mood to go into a defense of my statement and I'm still not. I am really sick of reactionary homosexual ideology. It's fascist and it pisses me off. I'm sick of the politics and poetics of power, I'm sick of it. I'm sick of the pontifications of every Persian Boy who ever worshipped the power of old men. Self-described heterosexuals are bad enough, but I'm sick to death of faggots. Anyone who doesn't have enough imagination to know when to shrug just bores me.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

A friend passes this along: Chris Hedges in The Nation.
Max Sawicky asks that anyone send: "all the clips, links, and other dirt you care to about U.S. contracting with regard to Iraq. I'll be setting up a separate page on my otherwise moribund web site. In the process I hope we can learn more about how privatization actually works, and for whom."
Max's email is here.
I'm trying to write this in a computer store on my lunch break. I've ended up with three paragraphs that overlap. I'll fix it later.

Remember that we forced the most popular figure, the former king, to remove himself from contention for power in Afghanistan. And now we will be working with Chalabi in Iraq.
As in the last invasion, we are dealing with a population that was defeated long before we arrived, having been ruled for decades by our former vassal. There may be cheering in Basra and Baghdad today, but the people are cheering for themselves more than for us.

The search for WMD's, the original justification for the assault, is going to be replaced in the popular imagination, by the the smiling faces of the newly liberated Iraqis. We now have a huge responsibility, one that judged by the history of this administration, they are not up to, or even interested in. They seem barely interested in running their own country, let alone another.

War is a bloody mess. And if we concentrate only on casualty rates- I am remembering my own anger as I posted the link to Suzanne Goldenberg last night- we will miss the more important issues. Politics has to be a cold calculus, for both the left and right. Liberals try to hide that fact and often end up called weak, unprincipled, or hypocritical. But this was a dangerous and reckless war. It has done more to change the world then the atrocities of Sept 11th. Those interested in the survival of our country have a lot more to worry about than we did a few weeks ago. And a few images of smiling faces do not change that fact.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

I will not listen to the official accounts made by the government of my country.

Suzanne Goldenberg for The Guardian in Baghdad:
"In two adjoining stalls of the casualty ward of Kindi hospital, the main trauma centre of eastern Baghdad, a girl, long black plait held off her forehead by a red Alice band, was laid out beside her little brother. Their mother lay across the aisle, beige dress soaked in blood from hem to armpits. Another brother slumped on the floor, insensible to the fact that he was sitting in his mother's blood.

A neighbour who had followed the family to hospital said the girl had been called Noor Sabah and was 12 years old, though she looked smaller next to the doctors who surged into the examining cubicle. Her brother, Abdel Khader, who began the day neatly dressed in dark trousers and a check shirt, was four or five. When their two small corpses were loaded on to the same gurney to take them to the morgue, even the nurses were reduced to tears.

The elderly female orderlies who had been constantly lugging blood-encrusted gurneys back and forth to the ambulances and battered cars that pulled up at the gates wailed until they were hoarse, and thumped their pain out on the walls."
Nathan Newman and Sam Heldman on Cross Burning.
When is it intimdation, and when is it not? When is speech an act? What is the definition of a threat, of an incitement to riot?
I suppose I'm with the absolutists on this one, but I have a hard time imagining a cross burning, even in an open field with invited guests, that is not a call to violence.
Bush has made statements that Iraqis should be in charge of their own country, not the US and not the UN. Read: a government of exiles backed by US arms and with little or no street cred. The BBC. CNN

I created a loop with a link to a query on google that linked to another post on the site: "The chick got in the way". But now that post, which was empty taken out of context, has usurped the first one on google, which linked to the story itself. My link linked to a link which linked back to itself etc. There are art careers made out of such tricks. I've deleted that second post, or rather moved it here, and here, again, is the relevant piece in The Times.

Monday, April 07, 2003

I rewritten my post on from 4/5 a bit. The parallel between objectivity and justice did not work.

"More importantly, objectivity should not - can not - be a policy any more than justice can, or should, be. Objectivity is an illusion. Truth, however, is not. Like justice, truth is a GOAL. When we defend both we defend a process, not an isolated, and perhaps erroneous result. To have justice as a policy is to define it in ways that can not be done without eventually doing it harm. [Scalia, for example, does just that.] In times of crisis - a court being a place that is only used during a crisis- neither Kleiman nor I would want a lawyer who declares himself neutral, any more then we would want someone to legislate what is or is not true."
I got as far as I could in the Kimmelman piece. He writes as if unaware of what the word 'decadence' means. That's not a cheap shot at the art, mind you, I love much of the work he discusses. In one way or another, I grew up with it. But with a few exceptions its reach will be seen to have exceeded it's grasp. Judd's work is becoming somewhat brittle with age. Serra, who is still one of the best 'makers of things' alive, indulges a bluntness which is his work's only limitation. And recently he's become a bit of a mannerist. Simply calling them 'the greatest generation' is no different than calling Scorsese and Coppola the best directors in the history of Hollywood. But in a sense the artists had an advantage. Serra and Judd were the first artists who wanted to be called 'auteurs'. They were the first artists not to just refuse to ignore film, or even to comment on it, but to compete with it: with the narrative and spectacle. That did not make them necessarily 'great', whatever that designation means [relative to what?] but made them artists whom we recognize as kin, as people with tastes otherwise like our own regardless of the strangeness of their work. They were the first generation of American artists who recognized that our cultural roots are narrative and literary, not archetectonic, and who chose to make use of that understranding rather then fight it. The result is that the spectacular nature of some of the largest work, which nonetheless still seeks to impose an ideal, often without irony, on messy substance, reminds you that the position of the visual artist in a literary culture is always a little shaky. Warhol is still the only one who succeeded in describing both sides, the idealism and it's failure, on equal terms.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

Dear Josh,
Let me ask just one fucking question here. How do you suppose the white population would have felt if Britain and France had decided to "Democratize" the United States in 1860, when we needed it even more than we do now. The slaves might have been pretty happy, but nobody else would.
How the fuck does one democratize ANOTHER COUNTRY anyway?

-Of course it is possible to impose democracy. I should not have said otherwise. But what does it mean to try to do it? And what does it mean to discuss such an imposition so casually, as if it were a natural and obvious -and easy- solution, though it is none of these?
Since it is my field I might as well put my two cents in:
I'm not much of a fan of Michael Kimmelman's art criticism. He's better writing about music. Before medical problems set in he was apparently on his way to a career as a concert pianist. He writes about art with the same seriousness he brings to music, a seriousness that puts him ahead of most of the critics at The Times, but it's not enough.
I haven't read the whole piece, though I will, and off the bat he is making generalizations he shouldn't, but his central point is on target. It is not the painters of the early 50's Pollock and deKooning who will represent the high water mark of American modernism, nor even the next generation of Rauchenberg and Johns, it is the one following. He seems to be waxing romantic about the whole thing, which is too bad. I'll read it later. Bear in mind, however, that although you political types know his work only through it's popularization as a cynical manipulation, the most important American 'artist' of the 20th century [and the scare-quotes are used to show that this absurdly excludes John Ford and Orson Welles] was Warhol. Without a doubt.
I know it's not meant to be offensive, it's just that I think it wasn't meant to be ironic either.
From today's Times Magazine: "There are whispers in Washington that Iran is next in line. But Iranian reformers like Emadeddin Baghi would rather take a go-slow approach to democracy."

And again, it's not the war, it's the future.

Saturday, April 05, 2003

Al Jazeera is back.
Already people are arguing about whether the Anti-War types were 'wrong' and about what. But it's not over. Except for a few pacifists It was never about the war, but the aftermath. And it's ridiculous to think that if there were ever to be terrorist attacks that they would have happenend by now. Americans have no patience. They always think short term.

Now we wait.
In the Nation this week, Eric Alterman, speaking only for himself, defines when one form of nationalism trumps another, and when it does not. His candor is duly noted. But there are those of his tribe who were never nationalist to begin with. For them the questions that cause him so much tsuris are irrelevant
On Moralizing Rationalism (I'm gonna have a little fun with this one.)

Only in this country- I'm getting sick of this phrase but it applies- do we have debates about objectivity, especially regarding news.
The reporting of the news is a form of argument, and argument is not a science. The history of science is not science, no more than the history of mathematics is mathematics. 'Confirmation bias' is not a disease to be cured, but merely a symptom of life. The ideal of objective neutrality and objectivity in the American press does not even begin to work. It's nothing but the remnant of a logical positivism that lives on in Libertarianism and conservative economic theory, that argues in a way similar to Antonin Scalia, that without strict order there is only chaos. Referring to an article in Slate, comparing CNN and Al Jazeera, and arguing for an "adversary system," Mark Kleiman comments: "[the] proposal makes sense only from the sort of postmodern perspective that denies the difference between truth and falsehood, leaving nothing but opinion behind."
First of all I'm not sure why 'having an Arab bias' should be a problem, let alone 'a clear sympathy for the Palestinians.' After all, I have a 'clear sympathy' for the Palestinians, as do millions of others.

More importantly, objectivity should not - can not - be a policy any more than justice can, or should, be. Objectivity is an illusion. Truth, however, is not. Like justice, truth is a GOAL. When we defend both we defend a process, not an isolated, and perhaps erroneous result. To have justice as a policy is to define it in ways that can not be done without eventually doing it harm. [Scalia, for example, does just that.] In times of crisis - a court being a place that is only used during a crisis- neither Kleiman nor I would want a lawyer who declares himself neutral, any more then we would want someone to legislate what is or is not true.

If one does not want to use the adversarial system of justice as an example, we can use the gentler [or at least less overt] dialectics of historical argument. Has there ever been a history written without bias? Would we want to read one? While every author will hope to reveal some aspect of truth, has an historian ever claimed, without winking, to have achieved more than limited, and even temporary, success? There will never be a 'final' record of the Civil War, or a final bigraphy of Lincoln. Has the study of history therefore come to ruin?

We live our lives based on assumptions. Every novel ever written concerns their failure to accommodate the unexpected and unwished for. Objectivism, Libertarianism and Logical positivism all operate under the laziest, most wishful, and in some cases most cynical assumptions -the American Enterprise Institute's definition of life-as-greed being the most dangerous these days- concerning our behavior, and have been proven wrong logically and morally again and again.

As I've said recently (3/25), public intellectual debate in this country is thin, as in academia it is obtuse. We try to resolve issues that are irresolvable, to scientifically 'fix' errors by some rhetorical slight of hand, to create logical theorems that plug-and-play into our chosen ideologies, as if somehow by understanding the problem we have somehow changed our behavior. My god, it is beyond me how so many people can understand so little about themselves.

In this post Kleiman links to 'Jane Galt' and Arthur Silber. Silber discusses the 'confirmation bias' mentioned earlier. He has discovered the obvious. If he'd read Jane Austen instead of Ayn Rand he'd have learned this years ago.

Friday, April 04, 2003
"White powder is explosives, not chemical."
My last question still applies
Given that Saddam is threatening a martyrdom operation and specifically not a chemical attack isn't it possible the reason soldiers' bodies were discovered with gas masks is that they were assuming that WE might use such weapons? Wouldn't it make sense for commanders to tell their soldiers to die fighting because they would die either way?
We used weapons of mass destruction last time around. The incendiary bomb used on the highway of death is designated as a WMD.
We're all waiting to find out what that 'white powder is.

"Congress waded into a feud between the Defense Department and the State Department on Thursday with a strong vote of confidence for Secretary of State Colin Powell.
A war spending bill that is headed for enactment next week contains unusually blunt language that gives Powell, and explicitly not Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, control over $2.5 billion to be spent on postwar reconstruction in Iraq. "
"Unconventional warfare"
"US forces use schools for cover"
"Water for sale"


Thursday, April 03, 2003

"Kerry would not back down." Finally.

" 'I don't need any lessons in patriotism or in caring for America,' Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, told Democrats at a meet the candidates dinner in Atlanta. 'We're fighting for the rights of Americans. ... I speak out for America, not for politics.'

Also appearing at the Atlanta dinner was Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor who has been among the most outspoken anti-war candidates. He praised Kerry's service to his country.

Hastert, Frist and DeLay did not serve in the military."

(I'm very busy, so I'm keeping my editorializing to a minimum)

"The US-led force received a boost yesterday when the leading Shia Muslim cleric in Iraq called on Iraqis not to resist the Americans and British." Link.
This is good to hear, and the US response has apparently been respectful. But it won't mean that much if this is what comes next.

The invasion will be over soon, and the next phase will begin. So far Bush has blown every opportunity he's had to have the world on his side. He will have another chance soon. I'm crossing my fingers and hoping that he and his handlers have grown up- just a little- over the past months, but I doubt it.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

These days it would be 'radical' for someone to propose a high end income tax of 70% even though we used to have one at that rate, so the arguments about who or what should be called 'liberal' are absurd. I'm not a radical I am a left socialist, which means I'm as likely to argue for revolution, whatever that god damn word means, as a European cabdriver. If any position far outside the mainstream is radical, regardless of what that mainstream represents, then the definition of a liberal is someone who does not want to cause to trouble, ever. That's all I can think.
Masses of people from every corner of the globe are furious about what our government has done but there are people in this country, who say they are against this war, who need to waste their time differentiating themselves from anyone else who lives here who might be angry, not worried but actually angry, about what has occurred.

This country is a joke: a rich, spoiled, joke.