Sunday, June 29, 2003

From The Tennessean.
"Federal appellate judge Gilbert S. Merritt of Nashville is in Iraq as one of 13 experts selected by the U.S. Justice Department to help rebuild Iraq's judicial system."

--This is my last story from Baghdad. The so-called Coalition Provisional Authority, or CPA, acting through its head, L. Paul Bremer, issued a ''gag'' order two days ago that says:
''Speaking To The Media. To insure the effective co-ordination of the CPA's message, any plan for a member of the CPA to talk to the media should first be coordinated with the Directorate of Strategic Communication.''
The Directorate of Strategic Communication, according to the order, was a ''recent creation designed with the intention of delivering a coherent strategic information for the CPA.'' The CPA is organized into many separate agencies covering governance, justice, transportation and communication, health, oil, police, culture, finance and several others. All persons working or helping these agencies carry out their tasks are apparently covered by the order prohibiting speaking to the press unless the speech is cleared first by the Directorate of Strategic Communication.
I have been informed that this includes any article I may write, or verbal utterance I may speak, to any members of the press, including my hometown newspaper. In my opinion, this is a clear violation of the First Amendment to our Constitution... --
Three from the Times:
Pure Math, Pure Joy
The Crucial First Clue to 'Henry V'
A Seeker of Music's Poetry in the Mathematical Realm

From the first piece:
-- 'Math is sense,' said Dr. Robert Osserman, a Stanford professor and deputy director of the institute, quoting from the play 'Copenhagen.' 'That's what sense is.' --

Wrong. Math is sense... in Number.

And from the third, a memorial to the musical/mathematical analyst David Lewin:
-- While colleagues were examining ways in which compositions reflect political ideologies, or applying literary theory to music, he championed an abstract idealism that had its origins earlier in the century, in the works of such theorists as Heinrich Schenker.

One of his arguments, in fact, was that music could be more profoundly understood not by seeing it more concretely — not by finding the ways in which it refers to objects and ideas in the world — but by seeing it more abstractly, finding the ways in which it creates internal order and coherence.

... There is an aesthetic behind this analysis, one that is most clearly connected with some modernist compositions — severe and tautly constructed works that, in recent years, have too often been dismissed as arid or academic.--

It is valid, obviously, to study the purely technical aspects of music, as it is valid to study the purely technical and mechanical aspects of any other trade or subject. But it is still an academic study.
Without mathematics the music of J.S. Bach is no longer music. Without the Lutheran Bible, and everything that it came from and encompasses as inspiration, the works are no longer anything but math. If we want to call them works of art, as opposed to essays in scientific analysis, which then is the prime mover, mathematics or the German cultural tradition of which mathematical precision is a part?

And from the third, concerning the ambiguities of Shakespeare's play:
-- There's a very influential essay on the ambiguities of "Henry V" by Norman Rabkin (in "Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning") that's known in the trade as "the rabbit and duck essay." Both Alan Dessen and Mark Wing-Davey referred to it in our conversations. Mr. Rabkin believes that attempts to see Henry as either hero or cynical Machiavellian are all wrong.

Mr. Rabkin believes the play is perhaps the most ambiguous of all Shakespeare's plays, and compares it to "the gestaltist's familiar drawing," which, looked at one way, is a rabbit, but, if one shifts focus, can seem like a duck. "Henry V," Mr. Rabkin argues, is not either/or but both rabbit and duck at the same time. After all, no matter how much intellectual skepticism the play evokes, few can help responding to the emotion of the "band of brothers" speech. In some respects the play is about the duality of human motive — and human response. "Ideally, it should be possible to see Henry as both hero and Machiavel," says Mr. Wing-Davey. "I'm a pacifist, but I don't believe people go to war cynically. I think they try to convince themselves they have right and conscience on their side, even if they use Machiavellian methods." The same could be said of Henry's campaign of love and seduction.
And both rabbit and duck first appear to us in the deceptive thickets of the Salic law speech.--

I'm surprised that such ambiguity would be seen as an issue to resolve - cleanly- though the article makes it seem a point of debate. But since it is in the nature of art, as in law, to be made for interpretation rather than analysis, the ambiguity is the thing I enjoy. I was beginning to think that they understood this more in Tehran than in NY. [I'm being too glib here, but given the points I'm trying to make, and the degree to which they are going right down the drain, I couldn't help but toss it in.]

note: Ludwig Wittgenstein, who was both a creator and the eventual destroyer of analytic philosophy -rendering it useless as anything but an academic occupation- referred to the Rabbit and Duck diagram in his later work.
Russert put up quotes from George Will and someone from the NY Post worrying about the political risks facing Bush over the failure to find WMD's. When hawks start worrying he takes it seriously.
" 'We have accepted a conditional ceasefire for three months,' said Mohammed al-Hindi." The Observer.
The Militants are just that: Militants, not nihilists and not Al Qaeda. Their policy is radical and unforgiving, but smart. Is the ceasefire, as many Israelis say, a hoax? I think more likely Hamas is just upping the ante and calling Sharon's bluff. If he deals and betrays the settlers, which he should do, it will be because he is as practical and calculating as Hamas and Hezbollah. But he faces less internal pressure to settle than they do. Israeli's still don't understand what the occupation means.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

 
The People of This Generation

I saw an ad for this book in The NY Review a couple of weeks ago and told my mother about it, thinking she might be interested. She ordered it and is going to send it to me when she's done. My father is mentioned a few times, but not as many as I'd hoped. My mother isn't mentioned at all. Many people from my childhood are here however: David Gracie, who died about a year ago; Noam Chomsky's brother David and his wife Judy; Tony Avirgan and Martha Honey, whom I remember as a child remembers adults; Spencer Coxe, who for many years before I knew him (when the staff was larger and included my mother) ran the Philadelphia ACLU pretty much alone; and others I played tennis with on the public courts as a teenager. I remember Tony and Martha's wedding at the Chomsky's. I have fond memories of swimming underwater near and around a beautiful blond wading naked in the Chomsky's swimming pool, at one of the Resistance Movement's fundraising picnics that were held at their house. I was about 6 and very interested, though I didn't quite know why. I guess I spent some of my youth in the suburbs after all.
This is ridiculous.

(Damage/Grammar control.)
I followed Larry Solum to Eugene Volokh who is sitting in at Instapuddle. There he takes issue with Maureen Dowd and her anger at Clarence Thomas' self righteous opposition to affirmative action. In a sense I responded to this a few days ago and today Bill Keller makes a similar point.

Volokh: "...if a judge thinks that a policy is unconstitutional, he has an obligation to so vote, whatever his personal history might be. “Gratitude” isn't a proper basis for constitutional decision making."

This is true, but is only relevant in response to someone prone to oversimplification. The point, contra MoDo, is not that Thomas owes his allegiance to one side or another, but that self awareness dictates that he should be willing to admit the irony of his situation. Similarly in Volokh's references to gender discrimination cases in the 70's, the justices' awareness of their own history was precisely the point. Thomas, as Keller says: "would be mortified to have himself held up as evidence in the case for diversity." Would Justice's Brennan and Marshall be similarly mortified to be told that they had enjoyed the benefits of gender bias?

..."Thomas’ critics aren't really faulting him for opposing policies from which he himself benefited. They're really faulting him for opposing policies that they like."
No. The serious ones are criticizing him for the appearance of hypocrisy. The issues are complex and his arguments should reflect it.


I have a proposal: No one doing graduate level work in economics should be allowed a degree without taking a number of advanced courses in literature. This NY Times article on the new study of irrationality in economic decision making is absolutely absurd. That the behavioral psychologists should be referred to as "hardcore empiricists," as so to separate them from "rationalist" economists is something I just can not fathom, though I know the division is taken for granted. One semester of Shakespeare should cure the economists of their silliness.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Jamin B. Raskin of TomPaine.com says Liberals have won the culture war. It may be true, though I suppose the Log Cabin Republicans might disagree, but if so it was utterly predictable. Homosexuality, like race, has never been a force against the market, so it makes sense that it would find a home there sooner or later, and finally above ground. Race will take longer. I've known plenty of homosexuals who are bitterly racist, though they keep it largely hidden. My only quibble with the facts of this case is that I wish that the roles had been reversed, with an older black man and a younger white man. As it stands the element of white paternalism may still be seen to exist. (whether it in fact does or not is irrelevant.)

But there is more to add:
"The 60's saw the last attempt of the bourgeoisie to look outside of itself and at it's role in the world. Now it turns inward to itself and considers it a political act" I wrote that 10 years ago, and it still applies.

There are two overarching and opposed definitions of social order: that of Convention and that of Desire. The communal activities of the working classes, in unions, churches and peasant organizations, in folk traditions defined by regionalism and or provincialism, are all tied together into various forms of social conservatism, predicated on limits to individual freedom, and on pressure to conform. This conservatism may include racism or it may not. It may include anti homosexual bias or not. Regardless, the market opposes indeed subverts all of these activities. Under the market the individual, the desire of the individual, is 'free', and in the context of this decision, it is that freedom that is being proclaimed. [Interestingly, in the Michigan decision the Court went against the individual but in also in favor of the market, a parallel worth considering]. In fact the theology of individualism that the market addresses has found a home in gay culture (and it has done so in ways frankly I despise.) But this has nothing to do with the decision itself, which is right in every way, especially in its isolation of the three most reactionary members of the court. I'm hoping Scalia's dissent itself is a setback for his cause. However, the sooner sexual preference is revealed to be an unpolitical decision, in the sense that politics deals only with questions of just government, the better it is for all of us. It's just not there yet.

And when it finally happened, it was an easy victory. Contrary to "conservative intellectuals" -to use their title of choice- it makes sense that the decision was made in this way, and now, because in fact the majority of the people of the United States, if not the majority of people in every part of it, were ready for it. And this, again, contrary to Nathan Newman's argument is a justification of judicial review.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

From The Guardian:
"America's richest got richer between 1992 and 2000, according to an Internal Revenue Service report released Wednesday.
The adjusted gross income of the country's top 400 taxpayers totaled almost $70 billion in 2000, according to the IRS, for an average of $173.9 million. The richest 400 in 1992 accumulated just under $19 billion, for an average of only $46.8 million. Over the nine-year period, the minimum adjusted gross income to get on the top 400 list more than tripled, from $24.4 million to $86.8 million. In 2000, the 400 paid 22.3 percent of their income to federal income taxes, down from 26.4 percent in 1992. The richest 400 made 1.09 percent of U.S. income in 2000, more than double the percentage in 1992, when they accounted for just 0.52 percent, the IRS said."
And the money came from where exactly?

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

I was listening to NPR this morning and Brian Lehrer (NY) was interviewing a couple of economists about varying inflation rates in different areas of the economy. In education, for example, tuition rates go up, faculty salaries don't. The description of "market forces" was grotesque.
I remember when there was a faculty strike at my father's school, which was famous at the time for an administration to faculty salary ratio that was one of the highest in the nation. The most hard-core of the strikers, to my father's unending amusement, were from the business school.
Again, the problem with economics as a subject, a problem it shares with the hard sciences that it pretends to emulate, is that too often it is transformed into an object; economic knowledge is a sub category of knowledge, not the other way round. An analysis of the nature of greed, even including its benefits, should not become a celebration if for no other reason than that it's so unscientific. To have a truly serious study of economics, you have to come to terms with the uneconomic aspects of the world, otherwise it becomes merely a gambler's philosophy of gambling: entertaining and even useful, but unreliable.

It should be obvious that the same is true for what is happening in Iraq. A technocratic theory of war is not valid as a moral philosophy, but that is what our soldiers have been trained in. Almost every report I read includes some observation about or by a soldier that makes me think he understands nothing about his job except how to do it. This is inexcusable in the representatives of a democracy. We are observing the transformation, or the attempted transformation, of whole sectors of our armed forces into stormtroopers. But outside of some coded language in the press or private conversation, no one talks about it.

If we've denied access to areas after requests by the UN to test for radiation exposure in the population, it should be actionable under international law.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

And again.
A little more on my last post.
If we assume that economic relations are the primary means and end of social activity it makes sense to regulate such activity. And when we regulate the private sphere, when we say that private social organizations must be nondiscriminatory if they have some impact on the public, the effect is to weaken, in the name of economic liberty and forced civility, the ideal of the private sphere itself. What begins with a critique of economic relations as based on the inequality of specific non economically defined subgroups becomes a defense of the economic relations as a determinant of social function.

I'll do this quickly, since what I am going to say is something I've been writing about for 20 years, and I'm not in the mood to go into it much. One of the mistakes in the academic left critique of culture is to confuse the result of an activity with its justification. Southern slave holders did not maintain their economy in order to keep slaves, they maintained a culture and a social order by means of slavery. The rich and powerful do not exist in order to keep the poor at the bottom of the heap, poverty is merely the result. The rich mostly think about money and golf. Men are not sexist because the spend all day finding ways to maintain sexual and political superiority over women, though that is the result of their actions. In all these cases the interest is in social, and in some but not all cases financial, continuity. The reaction as such of the powerful, in the form of conscious attempts to maintain the status quo, comes only as a result of pressure from below.

So what should become the defining logic of that pressure? What form does its argument take? For the victims of a social order, or more specifically the intellectuals who flock to their cause, it's logical to see what they want as what the powerful take for granted; it's logical to see economics as the prime mover. Marx saw that, but saw also that economics per se was the means to an end, even for the powerful. Marx had the advantage of being a 19th century humanist, and he understood that economics and culture were, or had been, two different things, but that capitalism was in the process of making them one and the same. He hoped that in the long run, after a revolutionary transformation, economic considerations would fade in importance. That hasn't happened, and liberals and economic conservatives are continuing the process of consolidation of all social activity under the rule of 'competition' and the public market.

As the market expands and inner life, both private and collective, becomes assimilated to it, regional and folk traditions, from Sam Heldman's fiddle music to the small town provincialism that created and supported it, are being ground to dust. Any attempt to create a justification for existence that is not bound by the market is redefined as mere metaphysical indulgence useful only as entertainment and of no philosophical importance. And those who fight against this reduction of life to mechanical processes as often as not fall into the trap, and end up defending 'spirituality' or some other such absurd or shallow construct as an alternative, as if religion were ever more than a metonym for society itself, for rules of collective activity, of language and community. Gods in fact serve only one purpose, that of rhetorical devices used to hold communities together. To use myths to defend against the logic of the market is to use magic to defend yourself from bullets. The only defense against instrumental reason is the argument for of and about democracy itself. The defense of democracy, as a defense of indecision and therefore of curiosity, is a defense of the ability to choose one's fate. My defense of the rule of law is a defense of process as opposed to outcomes. To say that the market should precede all, as Posner apparently does, is to limit both curiosity and freedom in the name of greed.

My defense of the rule of law as a self sustaining rhetoric, as an epistemology of doubt, has all the hallmarks of those things which the religious defend, without the requirement of metaphysics. It's logical and rational and yet is not, in fact can never be, programmatic. After all, it's a defense of argument not victory. It's simple: any practicing lawyer who enjoys his job will understand its basis. And it's the description of an order built not on greed but on its opposite. If you move the notion of economic freedom from the central position to the periphery, as many societies have found ways to do, it's amazing how easy it is to resolve many of the conflicts that arise. But modern liberalism, no less than modern conservatism, puts economic man at the center of the universe, and yet claims to speak for something else, without explaining what it is. The least I can do is ask once again for someone who believes in this something to tell us what it is.

This post will go the way of all the others, which is fine. They all began with an article on anti-narrative and modernist esthetics. "Modernism Parody and the Denial of Narrative," retitled "Parody and Privacy" and mangled by the editor, was published in ARTS in 1987. A longer piece, "Modern Esthetics and Social Ideology" has never seen the light of day. Be that as it may, I'm not humble. These last few posts on law and ideology, together with a few others I've put up over the past year, notwithstanding grammatical errors and mistakes in terminology, are among the best things that any of you have ever read on the subjects.
"Thomas, the only black member of the court and an opponent of affirmative action, said the school's policy in the law school case violated the Constitution's equal protection clause. He quoted from a speech by Frederick Douglass, the famous abolitionist, to deliver what he called "a message lost on today's majority." In the 1865 speech to a group of abolitionists, Douglass said Americans had always been anxious about what to do with black people. "I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us!" he said. "Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! "If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall!" Douglass said. Thomas wrote that he, like Douglass, believes blacks can achieve in "every avenue of American life without the meddling of university administrators." Justices Pen Widely Varied Mich. Opinions

I went back to Nathan Newman's post on the courts and looked again at the comment above mine. Somebody had asked Nathan, since he's so bothered by judicial review, how he feels about school prayer. Nathan had responded to both of us and I responded to him. Then I added a few words without thinking: "Our system was not designed to take hypocrisy into account; that's probably it's biggest flaw."

Strictly speaking, affirmative action is unconstitutional. Strictly speaking, if we had an institutionalized church, religious faith -as opposed to ritual- would be as marginal here as it is in Western Europe. Strictly speaking, girls probably fare better in sexually segregated educational environments, though boys may do less well. Historically black colleges and universities did a pretty good job of educating their students in an atmosphere without racial discrimination, at least when they were on campus, helping to create and maintain over a period of a hundred years an independent black middle class. Affirmative action on the other hand gave us Clarence Thomas, and I'm sure the irony is not lost on him, at least in private.

I don't know what to say to most people. I grew up in a house with 5000 books, though I succeeded in avoiding most of them. I was one of the only white kids in a largely working class black neighborhood. Before 18 I had spent less than 24 hours, in total, in any environment that could be called suburban. Like my friends I lived in fear of white working class thugs. I'm still nervous around cops. The only businessman I met before I was 20 was my father's brother, whom I saw about once every two years. My parent's phone was tapped. My first sexual experimentation in my early teens was with males my age with brown skin. When someone asks me my orientation I say I'm a socialist. If someone asks me my background I say I'm an aristocrat and ask if I can borrow $20.

The tragedy of this country is that is predicated on the lie that we are better creatures than in fact we are. That's the definition of all tragedy but specifically of ours. The comfort of old Europe is it's cynicism and common sense.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

I don't know why I began doing academic drapery studies recently, but as I've said -too often- my main interest is rhetoric, and the process of making them follows a kind of formal conservatism that I appreciate. I think there's something more to them than that, but I'm not sure.
I've realized there is something more: they're really obscene. That explains everything.
Nathan Newman has a post that fits in with the conservative criticism of left/liberal legal thought. Frustrated at the anti-democratic nature of the courts, he argues in effect that there's no difference between 'high' politics and 'low'. I'm not interested in whether for the moment we should focus less attention on the courts -perhaps we should- but if that is the case then we should do so as a matter of strategy not on the principle of distrust for the courts, and that is Nathan's argument. Obviously I don't agree, since I think the game, the continual asking of the question "what is justice?" is the point of the rule of law: concentrate on the means, and let the ends take care of themselves. And if I believe in the game it's because I think that judges are not so vulgarly corrupt as to make it not worthwhile. Jack Balkin defended the formalism of argument in his qualified defense of Posner, and if I disagree, it's because I don't think he meets Balkin's requirements. Here is my earlier post on politics, and here is Jack Balkin responding to Larry Solum's criticism. Balkin's posts on Posner are more recent.

My only real interest is in rhetorical systems. Everything I write ends up returning to this. Without language -mediation- communication is impossible.
The legal process is a rhetorical system predicated on the necessity of mediation. That's why the rules take precedence over the result. In the long run, this theory goes, the results will be more just with the system then without it. Judges are an antidemocratic check on the will of the people. The people through their representatives, including the president and the congress, are a check on the power on the rhetorical/intellectual elite. Change happens slowly and in different ways and different directions. The popular definition of justice is different than the intellectual's definition, but both are fluid. Conservatives don't understand this. The basis of democracy is not liberty itself, which has no one definition, but a debate about the definition of liberty.
William Kunstler refused to say he was a radical. "Radicals don't believe in the legal system. I'm not a radical, I'm a lawyer who defends radicals."
"The system" is a system of debate, predicated not on a given conclusion but on itself. It is stabilized only by it's own continuity.
Scary isn't it?



Saturday, June 21, 2003

I'll say a little more about academic liberalism since I haven't gone off on this in a while.

I've spent most of my economic adult life doing physical labor. The casual contempt of the educated for the uneducated or those assumed to be uneducated in this country is something that I live with. Conservatives consider well off and educated liberals their naive and hypocritical younger siblings, and most of the time they are right in that assessment. I'm sick of seeing people I know and respect being treated like shit by those whose primary education has been in self absorption and self interest, and who if they are liberals can not in their secret awareness of their own shallowness even muster a little noblesse oblige.

I'm not a complete cynic. There are plenty of exceptions. A friend of mine, a Colombian immigrant with a wild globetrotting past, did a small contracting job a few years ago for a critic at the Times, and now drops by for cocktail parties (he's a great conversationalist). But his host is a critic not an academic, and he's certainly not trying to reform anything; they're both aware of the contradictions, and both are mature enough to laugh. And don't think Pablo is there as entertainment, he has a more sophisticated intelligence than many of his host's coworkers.

The problem in all of this isn't high-brow seriousness or low brow vulgarity, it's the pretension of the middle-brow which is intimidated by both; that is both esthetically and intellectually shallow, and deeply insecure. I'm not defending conservatism, especially neo-conservatism: do you think I imagine the celebration of greed is better than the celebration of self pity? And the Times piece today on Adam Bellow is a joke.

I still dream that sophistication can be taught. Absurd isn't it?

Friday, June 20, 2003

From behind a fence one man in his late 20s, with a Pakistani accent, shouted out: "Are you journalists? Can we talk to you?"

White responded: "We're from BBC television, we are from BBC TV." Then immediately US officials tried to order the reporters out.

The detainee said: "We've been waiting to see you."

A melee broke out as the reporters stood by only three metres away. One US officer said: "Either you keep moving or the tour ends." The Guardian
I'm going to live up to my reputation as a hardass and ridicule Whiteness Studies: another example of the middle class making itself the center of its own attention and asking [itself] for sympathy and understanding. Meanwhile, I'm across town digging ditches for a living with a couple of Polacks, three Haitians and a bunch of 16 year old kids from Guatemala.
Life's tough.
CLARK: "There was a concerted effort during the fall of 2001, starting
immediately after 9/11, to pin 9/11 and the terrorism problem on Saddam
Hussein."

RUSSERT: "By who? Who did that?"

CLARK: "Well, it came from the White House, it came from people around the
White House. It came from all over. I got a call on 9/11. I was on CNN,
and I got a call at my home saying, 'You got to say this is connected.
This is state-sponsored terrorism. This has to be connected to Saddam
Hussein.' I said, 'But--I'm willing to say it, but what's your evidence?'
And I never got any evidence."

I just sent a note to Electronic Intifada with a suggestion that they copy Iraq Body Count and put a counter up documenting the deaths on both sides of the conflict. Reading the American press every day you'd think more israelis die than Palestinians.
This weeks numbers on the Palestinian side are here.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

As I said, it's politics.
And as J.Balkin says, Ari's response is bullshit.

---"The more we can consult, the more we can meet, the more we can talk about avoiding a major confrontation, the better off the country and the system will be," Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle said after meeting with Bush at the White House.
But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer called Daschle's request a "novel new approach to how the Constitution guides the appointment process."
"We always welcome thoughts, but certainly no one wants to suggest that the Constitution be altered," Fleischer told reporters.---

More sloppiness in the press (and at The Times.) In the mailbox today: Greg Palast on Cynthia McKinney.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

In answer to my one correspondent on the issue of judges and ideology: My point was not that everything should be fought over tooth and nail, but that since our government is divided up by role and responsibility, using artificial methods to construct mechanisms we consider fair, and since our court procedures are even more rigorously formalized- where else is opposition actually mandated?- it makes no sense at all to argue that in selecting judges everyone involved should be able to just sit together 'informally' and come to a decision. That's the point isn't it? It's not political if it's informal? But if we want to be governed by laws and not men, then nothing in our government should be considered 'informal.' We all have a responsibility to our roles and obligations. The call for informality itself is dubious. It's the equivalent of saying 'trust us.' Why not let the democrats pick the judges then?

I think "Trust but Verify" is a good rule for how to go about selecting judges, that is until trust goes out the window, which it has. But a smooth process is and always has been a matter of political peacemaking. To say that our politicians are incapable of political maturity is not to say that some of their decisions should be informal and unpolitical. Every decision is political. If it serves no one to turn every discussion into a pitched battle, thet's not the fault of the game but of the players.

The problem with intellectual conservatism is that it tries to construct a logically consistent argument for two, at base, unintellectual and opposed ideas. Torn between freedom and obligation it chooses both, and refuses to come to grips with the conflict, trying to paper it over. Neoconservatism is a philosophical defense of greed, not as inevitable but as healthy and good. And at the same time for political purposes, it is used disingenuously to defend a moral conservatism that the celebration of greed helps to destroy. I have a great deal of respect for the anti intellectual conservatism of traditionalists. But for conservative defenders of capitalism who take themselves seriously as intellectuals I can only shake my head. Greed wins out in the end, but not because it's logical, or moral, or good, but because people desire what they don't have. How to limit their desire? That is a subject for debate. But arguments about whether judges are political or not or whether there is such a thing as 'high' politics, these questions are intellectually absurd.
From Eschaton: Read this article in the Atlantic on the Texas death penalty cases and the memoranda prepared for Bush by Alberto Gonzales. It's disgusting.
The people at the ACS are still posting on ideology and judgeships. All their points are fine, but I'm still a little confused by the ideas of the people at the Federalist Society. I made my comments on the assumption that it is an acknowledged fact that judges 'interpret' laws, and the question is one of the limits of discretion. If no interpretation were necessary we wouldn't need judges at all, just words on paper. I suppose the first response to my comments would be that judges are appointed as neutral arbiters and not as adversaries. But if it were possible to be neutral in such a pure way, we wouldn't need an adversarial system to begin with. There is a difference between an idealist notion of truth and an essentialist idea of language -that is I suppose what the Federalists represent- but for all intents and purposes, is the difference enough to matter? The only thing I can think of is that the latter seems a little nihilist. Rightly or wrongly, as far as they're concerned, the decision has been made. And that means that what passes for truth is the will of the majority, I guess. It's some weird Hobbesian mish-mash. Follow the rule because the rule is order, and without order there is chaos. But the rule is the will of the people, and the people are free to do what they want. On the level of sensibility this is strict, scholastic and very high church, but intellectually what they are defending is anarchy, the opposite of the rule of law. In fact of course their arguments end up defending the powerful, and this, and not their theoretical defense of liberty, is the basis for their schoolboy arrogance. It's the contradiction in capitalist conservatism. Defending a radical ideal, it serves an extant social model that is absolutely reactionary.

I feel sorry for anyone who has to argue with these idiots. This level of anti intellectualism precludes debate. They have too much to defend. It's like arguing evolution with a born again christian who insists he's being rigorously logical. It's either frustrating or just boring.
In fact the same goes for Posner. Economic freedom, or even the illusion of it, does not interest me as a basis for a moral philosophy. I was raised to think of greed as an inappropriate behavior, and I've found no reason to rebel against my training.
From the New Tom Paine Blog: The Asia Times is reporting new US negotiations with the Taliban. The situation is deteriorating fast. More here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

The folks at the ACS blog are in a debate with some opponents from the Federalist Society. Since the person who responded to my last note invited me to comment again in the future, I sent in a paragraph:

"I'm surprised that lawyers, who spend their professional lives as actors in an adversarial system, one in which the integrity of the system takes priority over individual conscience, would try to argue that any system that is defined by argument, could, or should, be defined as unadversarial. Our courts are run as contests with very specific rules. A defense attorney can not turn in his client even if he finds out that he's guilty. If we've decided that a system based on consensus is inappropriate when it comes to law -and I assume the members of the Federalist Society understand why this is so- why are they now arguing for consensus as a means for choosing judges? The court system is based on a notion of imperfect justice. Truth, in any absolute sense, is not part of the process. And if this is so for the decisions that are made inside the courtroom, how can someone argue that somehow the same standard of ambiguity should not apply outside it? Is it the hope of imperfect justice from perfect judges? Forgive me, but the notion of a Platonist legal theory is somewhat oxymoronic, isn't it?"
"Shaking with anger or nerves I couldn't tell you, but speaking clearly and with dignity, she said to Powell: 'I have been there, I have seen the Israelis demolishing houses on people's heads. It is the occupation, sir, the occupation.' Powell's friendly smile turned to a scowl and he shot back 'I'm trying to end all that.' He turned away from the woman and seized my hand in a firm grip, hoping perhaps I would provide some relief. 'Mr Powell,' I said, 'I have just one question...'
I didn't get to ask it though, as I was pulled back by a secret service agent. Powell stood, turned and was quickly ushered from the room."

The NYRB has some good stuff this week. The second part of Clifford Geertz' two part article on post 9-11 guides to political Islam includes his openly contemptuous response to pretty much every idea that either Paul Berman or Daniel Pipes has had recently. Last week he was a little more respecful of Bernard Lewis. But what I want to quote here is from Edward Sheehan's piece "The Map and the Fence", a sad assessment of the situation in the West Bank. I'll quote a bit of it since in a week you'll have to pay to read it on line
"In late April, in the north of the Gaza Strip, near the Mediterranean Sea, I visited the town of Beit Hanoun, which has been devastated by the Israeli army, and the surrounding countryside. Following several suicide bombings and other violent episodes, the army, according to the mayor of Beit Hanoun, destroyed twenty-five water wells and the sewage system, which resulted in drinking water being mixed with raw sewage. Standing near a blasted bridge I could see jagged, broken sewage pipes emptying into a pool of fetid water. 'When we repair the bridges and the pipes,' the mayor said, 'the Israelis bomb them again.'

In the northern Gaza Strip many houses had been destroyed or badly damaged. Paved roads were broken up by Israeli bulldozers; great tracts of farmland—citrus groves, olive trees, greenhouses as well—were uprooted to create no man's lands around the Israeli settlements of Alai Sinai, Nevets Sala, and Nisanit. Wooden watchtowers near the settlements protruded from the barren earth; I saw Israeli soldiers watching us through binoculars from the crests of sandy hills. Among the shanties of tin and plaster in the refugee camp of Jabaliya, I met an elderly gentleman beside the rubble of his house, which had recently been destroyed by an Israeli tank. 'Do you hate the Israelis?' I asked him. 'No,' he answered, 'I hate what they've done.' "
And this, on the building of the 'separation fence':
"Jonathan Cook, an American journalist living in Israel, wrote recently in the International Herald Tribune that 'the security wall will cage in more than two million Palestinians.' Sharon, he writes, admitted in a recent interview with the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth that the wall will be at least 625 miles in length, whereas the green line is only 224 miles. The fence is creating a 'tiny de facto Palestinian state before the road map forces a bigger one on him.' Palestinian research based on land expropriation orders projects a map showing a wall winding its way 'deep into the heart of the Palestinian state, twisting and turning in an elaborate route designed to keep a large number of the settlers on 'Israel's side' of the wall and minimize the amount of territory left to the Palestinians.' After the wall is finished, at a cost of more than $2 billion, the Palestinians, Cook writes, will live behind concrete and electrified fencing, restricted to their main population centers."
Finally, this
"Most Palestinians yearn for peace, quiet, and jobs; they regard the road map as another check that is likely to bounce until they see evidence to the contrary. They have despaired of political solutions in the near term and many look to the next quarter-century when Arabs living between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan will outnumber Jews and they will be able (or so they think) to demand equal rights as citizens of a unitary state including both Israel and Palestine. Yet even many liberal Israelis recoil from such a prospect, and also, like Yossi Sarid of the leftist Meretz party, reject Palestinian insistence on 'the right of return' to Israel of the Palestinian diaspora.

'The right of return question is one on which all Israelis agree,' Sarid told me in Tel Aviv. 'It will never take place, and the Palestinians know this well. It's possible that we could take in a limited number of refugees to reunite them in Israel with their families, but in the tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands. This is the most difficult problem between us and the Palestinians.' Indeed it is a problem that goes to the heart of sustaining the predominantly Jewish character of Israel."
Replace the word 'Jewish' with the word 'German,' and gauge your own response. I'm still waiting for someone to make a real defense of the argument that Zionism is not racism. Every discussion I've had has ended up with my opponent throwing up his arms and declaring: "But they had nowhere else to go!" a sentiment that marks the beginning of an actual discussion. But the next time I end up in a conversation, it's back to square one. What angers me about liberal Zionists is their refusal to face the anti-modern nationalism that is the basis of their chosen ideology. The argument that there is or should be a "Jewish anomaly" after the Holocaust, that there is a moral right for israel to exist out of time, is both bankrupt and absurd. And the settlers' call for "Lebensraum" is merely a logical, if extreme, extension of that idea.

Monday, June 16, 2003

The world is a corrupt place but there are many levels of corruption, I'm on one, and Rand Beers is on another. Beers has served the highest levels of a government that, without wanting to admit it publicly, has commanded an empire for generations, and he wants some part of it, at least, to survive. Our days at the top are numbered. If we are ever going to come in for a soft landing, we'll need a lot more people like him.

[I wrote that hours ago and now I've removed at least some of the hyperbole. Beers was never part of the leadership except to serve it. To say otherwise made no sense. Still, nobody should be surprised at what he's revealed since outside observers have been saying the same thing for months. The value of his version is political, and it's worth a lot.]

Sunday, June 15, 2003

"Iraqi mobile labs nothing to do with germ warfare, report finds."
Something's got to give. I feel like a man at a crap game who keeps rolling winners. It's making me nervous.
If nobody in this country cares, at least it will help keep the Europeans independent and on their toes.
If Bush gave a shit about the Iranian people, he would shut up. The reformers in Iran are winning, slowly. Khamenei has already called for the vigilantes to cool it. But everything that Texas Teahead does he does for his own benefit, and he and his pimps are all too stupid to see that in the long run, their arrogance will do more harm than good, not just for the Iranians who mean nothing to them, but for their own plans.

And the more I think of it, the dangerous stupidity of the Idiots at Volokh deserves all the contempt anyone can muster. I've been wondering, since J. Balkin is always so polite, if perhaps my rudeness is inappropriate. Not that it means much, but I suppose it's a matter of principle. Liberals defend liberalism because it seems natural to them to do so. Balkin did not respond as sharply as he could, partly out of courtesy, but I think also because he does not know quite how to describe the ambiguity he is defending. He appreciates it, and knows that it's necessary, but as in his interest in the I Ching, he's afraid to commit to a formalism that seems, as such, absurd. He has no problem stating that Posner makes good arguments for what he nonetheless opposes, but he doesn't explain how important it is to be able to say that. How after all can they be good arguments if he thinks they're wrong? The paradox of communication is that you can't do it without a set of logically consistent but otherwise meaningless rules. Metaphysicians don't mind this at all, but the rest of us are torn between being formalists and slaves to subject matter, which becomes vulgarized as 'content.' Juan Non-Volokh is a vulgarian, and Jack Balkin is too polite to say so, because he does not want to come off as defending a dilettante's definition of justice.

Justice is a matter of life and death. But it's also a matter of seduction and rhetorical skill. Hire two actors to each say the words "I love her." Hire two lawyers to each say: "He's innocent." Pick one of each. But does he love her? Is he innocent? Who knows? How can one take something so seriously, that's so absurd?

I read Talking Points Memo every day, and I often find it as annoying as not. But the best thing I've ever read by Josh Marshall he put up this week, a description of the changes in the southern California landscape over the past 30 years, and the story of his mother's death in a traffic accident in 1981. The link is here. Reading his few paragraphs in the context of this debate should remind people of what they acknowledge every day without thinking, of what Jack Balkin defends in his writing without, I think, defending it with enough force. And that is absurd as it may be, the only reason those of us who have never met Josh Marshall have to care about his loss, in a world where death is both common and inevitable, is that he uses his skills as a trained writer to describe his emotions with subtlety and grace. And if we're moved by this story, what is it that has moved us, the facts or the language that he uses to describe them? I'm neither a vulgarian nor a formalist, so I don't have to answer.

Friday, June 13, 2003

I now have two posts on Posner and Balkin. I wrote a note to J. Balkin that included this sentence:

"I think it's interesting how the debate comes down to an acceptance, or lack thereof, of the moral value of rhetorical skill."

I think that's a nice way to put it.
Prof. Balkin continues his discussion of Richard Posner again in discussion with someone from Volokh. All I can say is that conservatives are unwilling or unable to understand a respect for process "as such." Everything comes down to ends. Balkin quotes Juan 'Non-Volokh':

"My question for Balkin is this: If he wants a "truly Supreme Court," should Bork have been confirmed? If not, why is Posner acceptable? (And if the answer is: Posner's less conservative, then what does that tell us?)"

Balkin responds quite reasonably that it is not simply a matter of ideology but of the ability to present that ideology in a clear and consistent manner and to present it, if indeed there is an 'it' in a manner that a correspondent can engage with and reply to with the same complexity. In a very real sense, the issue is not one of answering a question but framing it, and the goal is not to win the game but to play it well. Bork did not play the game nearly as well as Posner. If you think my use of a sports metaphor cheapens the subject you miss the point. Unless you want to define justice down to the last detail, to replace judgment with a series of commandments, eliminating judges altogether, you need rules for discussion. If you want to play a game of tennis, you follow the rules for tennis. For both it is the rules that allow us to judge at all. The rules are the structure of the game. Bork may just say "I'm right, Damnit!" but that means no more than walking over the baseline to the center of the court, tossing the ball over the net and calling it an ace. Rules are what allow us to judge the players skill. More on Posner:

"He kept on writing book after book, article after article. And what is even more remarkable is that lots of these books are quite good, even though he argues lots of things in them that just drive me up the wall."

Juan Non-Volokh -along with many conservatives- seems not to understand how one meaning can come from both those sentences. I think he would consider it absurd to even try to reconcile such a contradiction. If that is the case, and I think it is, then he should understand that what he is defending is the root structure of fascism, which sees rules as an obstruction and value only in victory. He is not alone in this, and it worries me.
I agree with William Safire, and the many others who've said the same thing, that the case the prosecution is bringing against Martha Stewart (as opposed to the one they haven't) sets a bad precedent. But by that standard, the Bush administration should be in far worse shape than she is.

Jack Balkin is fun to read in complex legal argument, and his response to Orin Kerr at Volokh is unfailingly polite, but no less clear. In the post before it, however, Balkin makes a defense, on the grounds of his intelligence, seriousness and skill, of Richard Posner, and explains why Bush should, but will not, pick him to replace Rehnquist if (when) he retires. From what I've read of Posner, in debates with Ronald Dworkin and small pieces here and there, he is an unimaginative technician, able to gather volumes of information in defense of ideas that are otherwise shallow and simplistic. He knows his way around the law, follows the rules of civil discourse, and shows respect for the fraternity, but should that be enough? Can we not decide to oppose someone on the basis of their principles, even if those principles are sincerely and courteously argued? When has the right wing shown such deference? This is not a discussion of whether he would be better than what Bush is going to try to give us. And here, at least, I am not talking about practicality as politics now requires it, or perhaps has ever required it. In this I agree with Balkin. But that doesn't mean I have to offer the ideas themselves any respect. On the contrary.

There is an old Sufi proverb: "If you want to impress a fool, praise him. If you want to impress a wise man, improve yourself." Curiosity is a means and an end. It is the be-all and the end-all of an imaginative mind. In a democracy, predicated on a multiplicity of ideas and voices, is it appropriate to have a philosophy predicated on only one? Is it not logical, even rational, given that we can not legislate that one voice be allowed to silence another, that we demand our spokesmen and judges have an understanding of the conflicts that are the result of such variety? It is not necessary to argue that aquisitiveness and curiosity are themselves antithetical, but it is wrong and even immoral to allow those who would speak for us to define our freedoms in terms of only one desire, or one form -accepting that greed is such a form- of the curiosity that defines democratic society.

That last paragraph is very dense. I can't judge it I wrote it in a hurry and have to go to work.
If it needs fixing I'll do it later. The bit of Sufi wisdom was in no way meant as a comment on Prof. Balkin. If it was meant for anyone, other than for the foolish and incurious in general, it would be Posner, who I think argues their case.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

The BBC has a piece on the days since Aqaba that lists a partial timeline but as the article I linked to two days ago points out, the Israelis had operations going on during the meeting. Now apparently, "Israeli army radio has been reporting that the forces are now under orders to 'completely wipe out' Hamas." The Warsaw Ghetto taught them nothing.

And yesterday, Bush came under attack in congress for criticising Israel.

I'm in a hurry. I have to go to work, but I have time for a few comments. First, two resources on the Israel and the Palestinians: Aran Trauring's Israel Blog and Electronic Intifada.
I've said this before but I'll keep repating it: The unnerving aspect of the suicide bombings is not the killing of civilians but the breaking of the suicide taboo. I've brought up our destruction of N. Korea, but I've just begun W.G. Sebald's On the Natural History of Destruction, where he reminds us (meaning Americans, Europeans haven't forgotten) of the work of Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris.

More on 'rational' economic practice and catholicism: My devoutly religious (and mildly anti-semitic) landlady has never raised my rent in the 12 years I have lived in her building. At this point I pay a third of market rate. I once offered to pay a little more rent and she declined. The people in my neighborhood were trained by the church to know their place. My landlady thinks, quite literally, that it is not her place to be greedy. She thinks about maximizing profit as much as she thinks about foreign policy.

Yesterday the Times had a piece on the response to Morgan Freeman's new role as God. It's fluff with some some light drizzlings of thought sprinkled over it. But since similar issues have been brought up concerning christian support of Israel, why not phrase the question the same way: Is this just another example of "Philo-Negritude?"

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

"Israeli helicopter gunships swooped low over Gaza City this morning, firing up to seven rockets at a jeep carrying Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi, the second most senior figure in Hamas.
Mr Rantissi leapt out of the vehicle and survived the attack, suffering wounds to his legs. A female passer-by and a bodyguard were killed, doctors said.
Hours later, Israeli helicopters launched a second attack on suspected militants in Gaza, killing three members of one family and wounding another 32 people. Hospital officials described the one woman and two men who were killed as civilians.
The Israeli army said that it launched the second attack, on Gaza's Jabalya refugee camp, after Palestinian militants fired five rockets into Israel, injuring at least one person in the nearby town of Sderot." The Guardian

How many deaths during and after Aqaba?

"Following the 4 June Aqaba summit between President Bush and Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the US media fell quickly into the pattern of ignoring or severely downplaying Israeli attacks on Palestinians, and playing up Palestinian counterviolence as a threat to a budding 'peace process.'

Yet The Guardian's Conal Urquhart reported that 'As George Bush talked about peace with the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers, Israeli soldiers were raiding the refugee camp of Balata and the city of Nablus for the third day running.' ('Children shot in third day of Israeli army raids', The Guardian, 5 June 2003)

Urquhart described how 'screams echoed around the clinic' in the camp, 'as a woman brought her seven-year-old daughter in for treatment. She had been shot in the abdomen by an Israeli soldier' as the Aqaba summit took place. Later the same day, the report said, a boy was shot in the head with a rubber-coated bullet.

According to the Red Crescent, The Guardian reported, 'some 50 people have been treated for bullet and shrapnel wounds' in two days.

Dr. Samir Abu Zarzur, the head of the casualty department at Rafiah hospital in Nablus, said that his department treated 32 people injured by the Israeli army on Tuesday, the day President Bush was meeting the Palestinians' Mahmoud Abbas and other Arab leaders in Sharm Al-Sheikh and urging them to join a struggle against 'terrorism.'

'Twelve of the injured were children. One eight-year-old was shot in the face with a rubber-coated bullet. A young woman lost her eye and a young man lost a kidney. There are two or three still in a serious condition,' The Guardian quoted Abu Zarzur saying.

In a 7 June press release, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PCRS) reported that on 4 June, the day of the Aqaba summit, 'A PRCS ambulance on its way to rescue injured people in the Balata Camp was stopped by Israeli soldiers. Soldiers attacked the ambulance, hitting one of the EMTs on the face and head.' Under threats of further violence from the soldiers, the ambulance was forced to turn back."
The article is continued here.
I got in a bit of a debate with someone at the American Constitution Society weblog and although my original point was based on a misunderstanding, I made enough of an impression to be invited back. I said that I would stick to asking questions, if perhaps pointed ones. I've just added them to my links, along with Howard Bashman.

I've had people add me their linklist and ask me to reciprocate, Mac Diva most recently, but I generally refuse, for two reasons. First, and regardless of the fact that this blog can not fit either definition, I am interested mostly in policy or scholarly blogs and even then only in those that I visit often- it's convenient and simplifies my travels to have my links on the page itself. I also don't link to right wingers or libertarians. The second reason is that it is easier to express anger at someone's post if I am not in any sort of reciprocal relationship with them; I am not in a popularity contest. Therefore I don't ask the people I link to to return the favor. In the beginning I emailed people to let them know, while saying they should not feel any obligation. I think at this point, I've just been adding people without mention.

For the hell of it, and by way of defending my interests, I'll add some family history. My mother worked at the Philadelphia ACLU through most of the 70's and 80's, and is the author of books and pamphlets on the rights of women, adolescents and, if I'm remembering correctly, prison inmates. My father was on the state board for years. During the Vietnam war my mother ran a well known legal panel on the rights of the enlisted, while my father became famous somewhat as a draft councellor. All of this and neither of them were in fact lawyers. Constitutional law is just something of a family hobby. Besides, my interest is not so much in law but argument. My biggest mistake continues to be trying to explain to economists[!] the morally problematic -but not illogical or mistaken- nature of modern economic theory.
But Max still links to me so I can't be that rude all the time.
According to NPR, the popular logic within Israeli defense circles is that their situation is similar to that of the Angolan government's a few years ago. Arafat is akin to Savimbi, and accordingly if he is eliminated the rebellion will fall apart. The Israelis believe their own lies.
It's a vindication of Freudianism, at the very least.
Naomi Klein on Bremer in Baghdad:
"Is he working only to get rid of Baath Party members, or is he also working to shrink the public sector as a whole so that hospitals, schools and even the army are primed for privatization by US firms? Just as reconstruction is the guise for privatization, de-Baathification looks a lot like disguised downsizing."
There has been enough mention of this problem recently, not that it's having much of an effect:
Nuclear nightmare in Iraq .

Mark Kleiman has a post a response to what he calls Niall Ferguson's "very curious essay" in The Times on the decline of the Protestant ethic in Europe.
The post contains this sentence:
"By ordinary economic logic, the richer we get the more we ought to be willing, at the margin, to trade off material goods for the leisure in which to enjoy them."
By such logic wealth and power should be self limiting. When has this ever been the case? Greed is self perpetuating. Luxury induces a laziness of method, which is what we have now. You can't keep an empire afloat by cutting corners, as we will be learning soon enough, but that is not what Kleiman is referring to I think.

[Actually I'll amend that: greed is self limiting only after you've admitted to yourself that you're not willing to work hard enough to keep it up. It's self limiting only after you've admitted defeat. But we have an economy fueled by immigration -by new "converts" to the cause- and that changes things.]

There's an old line about the Quakers in Philadelphia, where I grew up: "The Quakers came here to do good, and ended up doing well."
There is a contradiction between the protestant work ethic and protestant accumulation, but it's not logical, it's moral. They taught us about accumulation and secularization, and the role each played in early American history, in junior high. Wealthy men began to have their plain coats lined in silk etc. It's an old story. But it didn't make them less greedy, quite the opposite.

I've believed for years that the best religion on the planet is probably a lapsed Catholicism from a temperate climate, where the community is held together by a set of beliefs that suffuses daily life without being taken very seriously. When I was in Spain a few years ago I made what I thought was a vulgar comment, meant as a joke but, I thought, risky, that the secret of the country was that everybody was Catholic and nobody believed in God. My host almost yelled as he laughed at me: "That's IT!"

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Throughout most of history it has been an assumption that the struggle to obtain wealth was not something one talked about in public. It was important, obviously but not on it's own. The most important thing was to be able to justify wealth and power in terms of something else. I am great because I have built this, or funded that, or brought stability and peace to such and such an area of land. "I made my first billion in sewage," didn't cut it in polite society, even if everyone else knew the truth. Those days are gone. And we now have people who philosophize about money as if it were enlightenment itself.

The second link is to an article accompanied by a photograph of an elderly economist shaking hands with the King of Sweden. In the print edition this article is preceded by a full page image of the recumbent head of a beautiful but anxious woman, whose lower lip is pinched gently between her thumb and index finger, and whose eyes document the mixture of desire and trepidation in advance of the assault to which she has willingly agreed, in return for the gift of some jewelry.

Decadence and barbarism don't offend me half as much as the defense offered for them by academics and intellectuals. After all, I wish I had given her those presents, and so do most of my friends- of both sexes.
Now I hear Powell saying that the US well 'help' the Palestinian Authority deal with 'terrorists.' Brilliant PR for the homefront but political suicide for Abbas.

Read Leah at Atrios' house on privatization in Iraq.
g
Blair has the worry that the smoking gun may not be the one he wants: "The intelligence services were so concerned about demands made by Downing Street for evidence to use against Iraq that extensive files have been built up detailing communications with Mr Blair's staff."
Jack Balkin links to a quasi satirical post about Leo Strauss and the joys of scholastic analysis, then adds this:

"By the way, am I the only one to have noticed the similarities between Leo Strauss and Jacques Derrida? Both believe in the importance of close readings of classic philosophical texts, both find hidden meanings in these texts which become available only after careful study by the cognoscenti, and both are interested in how surface or ordinary readings of a text are undermined and even reversed by these close readings. (And both have a problematic relationship to the Enlightenment, and a particular love for the classics.) The most important difference (or differance) might be their views about the relationship between the text and the author's intentions. Strauss seems more detemined to suggest that he is revealing what an author truly meant, while Derrida is more interested in showing how an author's text gets the better of the author. (But I am sure that, in time, we could deconstruct even this distinction, or, in the alternative, show how it conceals a deeper truth.)"

It is important to understand the 'why' of this distinction. Strauss is interested in training the select few to enable them to make decisions others refuse to, in effect, to play the role of gods among men. Derrida assumes this to be the height of arrogance. Men are not gods, nor should they pretend to be, hence his interest in 'the other' as an equal. How easy is it in an atmosphere of wealth and privilege for presumption to trump curiosity? How easy is it in an atmosphere of scholastic erudition to for skillful rhetoric to be confused with intelligence?

Baby, it's so easy... so easy.

This marks, by the way, the difference between the conservatism of the ruled, which begins and ends in humility, and the conservatism of the rulers, which begins and most often ends in arrogance. This is tragic, but in no way, IN NO WAY, does it excuse the condescenscion of the 'wise men' who would speak for us, or that of the young charges who worship at their feet.

Remember, I've been a prole for 20 years now, and I've earned my bitterness.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

Tom Merrick sends this:
The Greatest Generation.
More proof that this administration is preoccupied with the idea of victory and not victory itself. War as conceptual art.
An interesting piece in The Times on Hamas breaking off negotiations with Abbas. I was not aware that the statement he read at Aqaba was drafted by the US. That should never have been allowed. It was stupid. Would Gerry Adams read a statement drafted by Whitehall?
...if The British were still importing Presbyterians to Belfast by the truckload?

Two interesting points:

"Some of Mr. Abbas's allies were urging him to soften his condemnation of all Palestinian violence and restate his commitment to a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem. Mr. Abbas renounced violence "against the Israelis wherever they may be," but Palestinians overwhelmingly regard violence against Israeli soldiers and settlers as legitimate resistance to occupation."

"The Hamas men all criticized a statement by Mr. Abbas that "we do not ignore the suffering of the Jews throughout history."
Mr. Abu Shanab said that, while Jews had suffered in the Holocaust, Israelis were responsible for their own suffering because they displaced Palestinians, beginning with the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. "They caused all of this trouble," he said. "Why didn't he talk about the suffering of his people?"

and one quibble:
"Mr. Abbas wants to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with its capital in Jerusalem, while Hamas wants to put an end to Israel."

If Hamas thought it could ever destroy Israel they wouldn't be negotiating to begin with. And even if it is only a ploy, the trick would still be to pull the rug out from them by gradually weakening their position in the Palestinian community. But US policy seems to be to increase the popularity of extremist groups across the board. I wonder if this is Karl Rove's idea?
Overheard at the donut shop this morning: "If you don't own your building you're screwed." Those words were spoken by a woman a little beyond middle age who has spent her entire life in my neighborhood, and who no doubt votes white and republican. And the people she is complaining about by and large are [would claim to be] indifferent to race, gender, and sexual orientation, and vote democratic.
Liberals are the velvet glove on the iron fist of unfettered capitalism. They reap the benefits of what rich republicans sow, while still maintaining in their own eyes what a cynic would refer to as deniability. Poor republicans are the dupes who respond to those they see performing the acts of destruction.

I've been wondering if the apparent lies and distortions committed by the president's men might be in some sense actionable. Here's John Dean on the subject of Impeachment.

Friday, June 06, 2003

I posted a correction to yesterday's post about the Americans in Oxford. My apologies to Josh Chafetz of Oxblog.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

From my childhood.
Lou Reed.

STREET HASSLE

A) Waltzing Matilda

Waltzing Matilda whipped out her wallet
Sexy boys smiled in dismay
She took out four twenties, cause she liked round figures
Everybody's queen for a day
Oh, babe, I'm on fire and, you know that I admire your body
Why don't we slip away - hey
Although I'm sure you're certain, it's a rarity me flirtin'
She la la la this way - hey
Oh sha la la la la - sha la la la - hey
Baby, come on, let's slip away
Luscious and gorgeous, oh what humping muscle
Call out the National Guard
She creamed in her jeans as he picked up her knees
From off of the Formica topped bar
And cascading slowly, he lifted her wholly and boldly
Out of this world
And despite people's derision proved to be more than diversion
Sha la la la la later on and then sha la la la la la
He entered her slowly and showed her where he was coming from
And then sha la la la la he made love to her gently
It was like she'd never ever come
And then sha la la la la when the sun rose and he made to leave
You know sha la la la la, sha la la la la
Neither one regretted a thing

B) Street Hassle

Hey, that cunt's not breathing
I think she had too much of something or other
Hey, man, you know what I mean
I don't mean to scare you
But you're the one who came here
And you're the one who's gotta take her when you leave
I'm not being smart or trying to be pulling my part
And I'm not gonna wear my heart on my sleeve
But you know people get emotional
And sometimes they just don't act rational
They think they're just on TV - sha la la la, man
Why don't you just slip her away
You know. I'm glad that we met man
It was really nice talking
And I really wish there was a little more time to speak
But you know it could be a hassle
Trying to explain myself to a police officer
About how it was that your old lady got herself stiffed
And it's not like we could help
But there's nothing no one could do
And if there was, man, you know I would have been the first
Only, someone turns that blue
Well, it's a universal truth
And you just know: That bitch will never fuck again
By the way, that's really some bad shit
That you came to our place with
But you ought be more careful round the little girls
It's either the best or it's the worst
Since I don't have to choose, I guess I won't
And I know, This is no way to treat a guest
But why don't you grab your old lady by the feet
And just lay her out in the darkest street
And by morning, she's just another hit and run
You know, some people got no choice
And they can never even find a voice
To talk with that they can even call their own
So the first thing that they see
That allows them the right to be
Why, they follow it
You know, it's called bad luck

Believe me, that's just a lie
That's what she tells her friends
There's a real song, the real song
She won't even admit it to herself
Narrow heart, the song let's the people know
It's a painful song
It'll only say the truth
It lasts for sad songs
Twenty for wish
Wish it won't make it so a pretty kiss and a pretty face
Can't have it's way
There're tramps like us who were born to pay

C) Slipaway

Love has gone away
And there's no one here now
And there's nothing left to way
But, oh, how I miss him, baby
Oh, baby, come on and slip away
Come on, baby, why don't you slip away

Love has gone away
Took the rings of my fingers
And there's nothing left to say
But, oh how, oh how I need you, baby
Come on, baby, I need you baby
Oh, please don't slip away
I need your loving so bad, baby, please don't slip away
I began to write an annoyed response to the this article about the kids at he Oxford Democracy Forum, but I got sidetracked after reading a post at the related Oxblog mentioning the dispute about just what Wolfowitz said in Singapore. The Guardian quote appears to have been taken ot context.
From ABC:
"The country is teetering on the edge of economic collapse," Wolfowitz said. "That I believe is a major point of leverage." "The primary difference between North Korea and Iraq is that we had virtually no economic options in Iraq because the country floats on a sea of oil."
Also of Interest Josh Marshall on the Pentagon transcript of the Wolfowitz Vanity Fair Interview, which seems to have been cleaned up for publication.

There is a difference between invading a country in order to control its one important resource, and invading that country because there is no other way to force it to do what you want, since that one resource generates so much cash. It's an important distinction, logically, but not necessarily, politically.

I'm not in the mood to take on the Americans in Oxford right now. I have to go to work. The one comment I'll make is that the Germans and the British should be careful in their comments about Americans. Much as I am embarrassed by the behavior of Americans in Europe, and I think I would be as well be the 'scholars' (their term) at Oxblog, the behavior of Brits and Germans in Spain is just as bad, if not worse. A german tourist can best be described as a person who will take your photograph even after you've told him not to, frowned at him, yelled at him, and waved him away. After snapping the picture he will look at you quizzically as if you are an odd species of bird, and leave.
To be a visitor in a foreign country is to be a guest in someone else's home. It's supposed to be tiring; that's the difference between being a traveler and a tourist. But also I think that there is a certain deference to community that Catholicism teaches and Protestantism lacks. Americans don't understand that deference, nor do Germans and Brits.
I'm sorry about Oxblog. The fact is that for the powerful -those not in need of it- nationalism and enlightenment are simply opposed. Given the luxury of freedom, one is either curious, or one is not.

Friday the 6th: I got an email from Josh Chafetz of Oxblog and The Oxford Democracy Forum telling me that he has nothing to do with Americans for Informed Democracy, the subject of the Times article I linked to here. In my sloppiness, and that's what it was, I confused the moderates with the conservatives (my apologies to the conservatives.)
It's amazing how much humiliation people will put up with in order to remain in the public and historical eye. "Billory" have a political marriage. Who knows who, or what, either of them have slept with over the years? White House gossip in the first administration said that her lovers were female. I don't really care. I do care that she was on the board of Wall Mart and defended her corporate law career by saying that it was and is the only game in town. I care that her poIitics are neoliberal and shallow. I look at her hairstyle changes and the publicity operations, of which the book is the latest example, and I shrug.
What bothers me is that we are about to hear about the martyrdom of this woman from people who should know better.
I've told this story once before: I watched the 92 elections in a garage in Brooklyn with about 30 other people, one of whom was Pierrre Trudeau. A few years before he had hit on the girl who had invited him, who was by then an ex-girlfriend of mine, a tall blond but abrasive Anglo Quebecer. I guess he found something charming about her because after she put him in his place, "Trudeau, you're...old!" he stayed in touch. She always denied sleeping with him and I believe her. If you knew Louise, so would you. But she liked him.
When I met him he looked like an old man. He was tired. He had been a rogue and a playboy. He was probably still a manipulative, self centered son of a bitch. He was definately still a high powered corporate lawyer and was still chasing tail, or trying to, at 65. But he was a socialist. He looked genuinely sad when I asked him what he thought of Clinton. He called him a Republican. I said I couldn't do anything but agree.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Meanwhile on The Frontier
From the link below:
"Accordingly, Americans care more about personal freedom than government assurances of social justice. Fully 58% of Americans say it is more important to have the freedom to pursue personal goals without government interference, while just 34% say it is more important for government to guarantee that no one is in need. In most other nations, majorities embrace the opposite view. And while most Americans support a social safety net, they are less strongly committed than other peoples to their government taking care of citizens who cannot take care of themselves."

This is a problem for the Democrats that has nothing to do with simple politics. Only time can change these opinions, and continual documentation and publication of the hypocrisies of government funding and subsidies (in New York State for example.) People in the US take pleasure in the illusion of their own independence. On religion and sexuality we're equally backwards (or almost.) Brazil, as usual, seems like party central. I'll link to the report again.

I'm going to be a real asshole about this -either that or just another run of the mill internationalist- but I'm sick of pundits, liberal pundits obviously, saying 'we' in reference to the US. I don't have much to say about the Pew poll, for example, except as a matter of politics. The Constitution is a brilliant piece of work, but still, I just live here. To think otherwise becomes a form of moral relativism I can't refer to without either irony or anger. I'm not merely being catty. This isn't a football game.
4pm: I said I wasn't much interested in the Pew study but I should be paying more attention, nonetheless. I just picked this up from Eric Alterman: 47% of Israelis think we favor Israel too much. That's useful.
This from one of the academic bloggers from the list in the article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, referring to a post on another academic blog.

"Pseudonymous political scientist, John Lemon has an account of an interesting thought experiment that he uses to disconcert his students. He asks how many in the class support progressive redistribution. About half of the students stand up; he then tells them that he’s talking about redistribution of grades rather than money, and wants to know whether they’d like him to “tax” the grades of the A students so as to bump up the marks of students below the median. Unsurprisingly, nearly all of the students sit down. It’s a discomfiting little thought experiment for people like me who support progressive taxation, but allot grades according to a rather different concept of fairness."

This is that sort of logical comparison of types that I find mind boggling, and it seems to have taken over academia both left and right: the logical analysis of surfaces, predicated on common assumptions and therefore 'requiring' no empirical data. This is 'discomfiting'? It's adolescent!

I've give two responses, one moral, one from casual observation.

1- A defense of the logic of "the survival of the fittest" is the same as a defense of greed, and greed, to the educated man, or woman, is incurious and boring. (That's sort of my moral/snobbish argument, but it works.)
2- Of all the children of real wealth I've known- and I've known plenty- only one has had the same fire under his ass as the father or grandfather who made the first million. Most of them, if they had had to start on their own, wouldn't have made it through to junior college to a low ranking white collar job. A few are intelligent and curious, but if you're talking unfettered social Darwinism, they'd be toast.

Both these responses are obvious and cheap, but certainly no cheaper than the 'thought experiment' they respond to. The redistribution of wealth is not the same thing as redistribution of grades, just as knowledge, however much of it you can obtain, is not the same as action, or or how you use it. I made my comments about the neocons before, but there's no difference between this shit and the tenured 'radicals' that idiots like John Lemon bitch about. It's one version of self indulgent bourgeois mediocrity attacking another. It's all symptomatic of a disease endemic to decadent democracy. To be popular you need to oversimplify, and the real goal is popularity, rather than curiosity or knowledge.
I was listening to NPR this morning and heard a commentator, an Arabic professor [of what?] at Sarah Lawrence, express opinions that I did not expect to hear on a mainstream news show. Mahmoud Abbas, he said, was not trusted by many Palestinians, and would have to deal with Hamas, by including them in any negotiations. This is obvious in itself, but it was clear that the speaker understood Hamas and Hezbollah to be fully functioning political organizations, with clear goals and policies, and that they were hard line but smart. And whatever the Times may say today Abbas will not risk civil war, which Sharon and Bush may offer him (in an attempt to use him as a puppet.)
Wolfowitz does it again.
"Let's look at it simply. The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil."

Jack Balkin comments on the postwar treatment of Bush and Blair by the press and opposition in their respective countries: "...I would suggest that the major reason why Blair is in more hot water right now for deceiving the public about why Britain went to war is that the democratic process is simply working better in Britain right now than it is in the United States."

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

I'll ignore Michael Powell and say I noticed in the Times that a friend of mine is in a museum show in Frankfurt. I should post something more on Noritoshi, who's done some odd and sexy pieces, and some quite sad as well, but for now this will do. It's pretty funny.

I've said it before, but as far as culture is concerned the most important difference between Europe and the US is that while Americans see middle class life as a stopping off point on the road to greater wealth, giving their lives and their environment short shrift, Europeans represent an 'actually existing' bourgeois. European adults have no desire or need to replace the present with a fantasy. They're complacent, but curious. That's changing of course with the 'New' Europe: never underestimate the destructive power of adolescent desire.

Jack Balkin pointed to an article on academic blogging, so I spent some time cruising around the younger generation of the bunch. I managed to offend quite a few people in a short period of time, posting comments on various sites. I listened in to the conversation of a couple of Rhodes Scholars. I'm still surprised to realize how often, for Americans, education does nothing more than encourage arrogance and lessen curiosity. And it's gotten worse.
I paused for a moment this morning when I read Krugman describe Bush's tax cuts as "elitist." I don't think the name will stick, though it should, but it's a nice try. Greed and snobbery go hand in glove, but liberals are so superior by nature that it seems off for them to criticise others with such a brittle term. It shows the contradictions of liberalism that "class warfare," is seen as too strong, though Krugman, to his credit, uses it more than most. Still, he's trying to mix it up a little, and I could not help noticing the disconnect..

Monday, June 02, 2003

A friend sends me this piece on the debate within the arab intelligencia, from Al-Ahram in Cairo.
Colin Powell: "I'm not reading this. This is bullshit."

Sunday, June 01, 2003

I added this to my post on neocon rationalism below. I'm not sure how 'on' it is, but until I make up my mind, I like it: "There is something wrong with a country when its intellectual population is unwilling or unable to accept that ambiguity is central to any valid understanding of experience, and when that country's artists and writers end up so anti-intellectual almost in response. What is American culture these days but empiricism run amok?"
"Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one"
And, by the way, Sharon seems to be going after his Nobel Prize. We'll see. If the settlers assassinate him their position will be destroyed; the Israelis will get their martyr and the Palestinians will get their bantustan.
The Bushes tour Auschwitz "At one point Mr. Bush turned to Ms. Swiebocka and asked, "Do people challenge the accuracy of what you present?" Mr. Fleischer, who was accompanying the president a few paces behind, said he could not hear the answer."
Atrios says he "doesn't want to make too much of this" but -not that it matters much- he's wrong.