Wednesday, July 30, 2003

A good example of someone who's questioning only goes as far as his assumptions will allow.

Yesterday, Tapped linked to this [Stop the Wedding!
Why Gay Marriage Isn't Radical Enough] referring to the argument as coming from the 'far left.' What does that phrase mean in this context? Anti-bourgeois anarcho-narcissism comes from the right more than anywhere. The theory that one's life can or should be fashioned as a work of art is closer to fascism than to socialism.
Chew on that one for a while.

And I was waiting for someone to make this argument. Marx is rolling over in is grave, laughing. Following the teenager's enthusiasm for simplistic definitions of terrorism (see above), I suppose the point is that the ideas and politics of various peoples and groups are quantifiable. Never mind the question of whether the idea is grotesque, doesn't it make more sense to try to understand why people choose to act in certain ways than it does merely to try to predict when those actions occur? The idea behind this sort of market mechanism may or may not be immoral but as designed it is amoral. Using the logic of the market in the moral chaos of war -in effect using a capitalist definition of war- defends and perpetuates both the mechanization of human interaction and war itself, bacause it is based on the assumption that the war cannot be stopped.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

"Victims of trigger-happy Task Force 20".
Robert Fisk writes about it in the The Independent but they're decided they want to make more money off his war coverage and I haven't signed up. I probably will, but I've already sent two angry letters.

This is amazing: a futures market for war.

------------

The Killing of Children.

The Guardian.
"The numbers are staggering; one in five Palestinian dead is a child. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) says at least 408 Palestinian children have been killed since the beginning of the intifada in September 2000. Nearly half were killed in the Gaza strip, and most of those died in two refugee camps in the south, Khan Yunis and Rafah. The PCHR says they were victims of "indiscriminate shooting, excessive force, a shoot-to-kill policy and the deliberate targeting of children".

And children continue to die, even after the ceasefire declared by Hamas and other groups at the end of June. On Friday, a soldier at a West Bank checkpoint shot dead a four-year-old boy, Ghassan Kabaha, and wounded his two young sisters after "accidentally" letting loose at a car with a burst of machinegun fire from his armoured vehicle. The rate of killing since the beginning of the ceasefire has dropped sharply, but almost every day the army has continued to fire heavy machineguns into Khan Yunis or Rafah. Among the latest victims of apparently indiscriminate shooting were three teenagers and an eight-year-old, Yousef Abu Jaza, hit in the knee when soldiers shot at a group of children playing football in Khan Yunis.

The military says it is difficult to distinguish between youths and men who might be Palestinian fighters, but the statistics show that nearly a quarter of the children killed were under 12. Last year alone, 50 children under the age of eight were shot dead or blown up by the Israeli army in Gaza: eight, one of whom was two months old, were slaughtered when a one-tonne bomb was dropped on a block of flats to kill a lone Hamas leader, Sheikh Salah Mustafa Shehada. But Rahman, Huda and Haneen were not "collateral damage" in the assassination of Hamas "terrorists", or caught in crossfire. There was no combat when they were shot. There was nothing more than a single burst of fire, sometimes a single bullet, from an Israeli soldier's gun.

It was the same when seven-year-old Ali Ghureiz was shot in the head on the street outside his house in Rafah. And when Haneen Abu Sitta, 12, was killed while walking home after school near the fence with a Jewish settlement in southern Gaza. And when Nada Madhi, also 12, was shot in the stomach and died as she leaned out of her bedroom window in Rafah to watch the funeral procession for another child killed earlier. "

Sunday, July 27, 2003

I'm still fixing the post below and I'm not even sure why. Things are moving more quickly and I suppose I could be doing more day to day commentary, but at this point even Tim Russert is asking questions, so there's really no need. Once the truly mediocre begin having doubts, all you can do is cross your fingers and join the marchers in the street.
I'll say this: I don't blame Nader for the last go round, I blame the democrats for rolling over.
But this time it's a little different.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

I wrote the first part drunk, and the second hung over. At least the spelling's been repaired.

And remember, Baker works for Carlyle.
What does it mean to be educated? Does it mean you've become smarter or that you've merely gained a skill? If one can string together large numbers of references and quotations, is that intelligence? Is Posner intelligent or does his programmatic inflexibility imply something else? I've been reading around the blogs for over a year, and I've read and continue to read absolute dreck by people who confuse erudition with intelligence, surrounding their simple and unimaginative thoughts with references in an attempt to give them weight.

Josh Marshall is good at pointing out what's right in front of him, and us, but in trying to come to terms with larger issues, he's always been more thoughtful than he needs to be. This was true on the war, where he tended to defer to Kenneth Pollack's expertise rather than to look clearly himself at the risks involved. He thinks too much. Thoughtfulness and clarity are not contradictory. The combination needs to be learned, but can't be taught.

In a sense Marshall's story of his mother's death and of his visit to the site where it happened, which I commented on a month ago (the story is here), and the tone of Berube's piece about Keller are related. And I don't say this just because Berube has written about his developmentally disabled son. I hated Berube's writing on the war. There was a sense that he was trying to force thoughtfulness and circumspection onto a situation that didn't deserve it. And the same as true as I've said of Marshall's writing. Some people do this merely as a means of demonstrating their control over a situation when in fact they have none. Like the man who stands up during a crisis and says 'Now everybody, calm down!" when everyone is already quiet: a gesture of concern masking a claim to authority. I got that impression from Berube's writing on Iraq and from altogether too many of the academic bloggers I read. With Marshall however I think it's more simple caution, but a caution I don't agree with. Yet in both cases that caution -forced or not on other occasions- is what gives depth to their more personal and apolitical pieces. The false reportorial 'objectivity' they both lean towards, even if they don't subscribe to it, falls away. When both write outside of any pressing need for a political response, with an obligation not so much to be objective as observant, their attempts at objectivity have more force.

Sometimes distance gives clarity, sometimes it describes avoidance. If you go into a situation with a predetermined response you'll have problems- even, or especially, if that predetermined response is not to have one. If you go into that situation with the intention of using it to prove to the world the correctness of your predetermined response, that's something else, and far worse. What we've seen far too much of in this country is the educated adherents to the former logic giving the adherents to the latter the benefit of the doubt.

Friday, July 25, 2003

It takes me three attempts and three days to get more than a few sentences out that scan with some grace.
The Deep End and the Shallow End (cont.)
Education is another country.

It's a chicken and egg scenario. Which came first, the assumption of some people that it was their job to seek to understand and interpret the world, or the assumption of others that perhaps it wasn't theirs. I don't want to examine the innocence and ignorance of Jessica Lynch, as documented by the Iraqi doctors who cared for her, but I understand that it is in inverse proportion to the officiousness and arrogance of those who claim neither for themselves. Is it the anti-intellectualism of the general populace that marks the intellectualism of the few or the other way around?

Michael Berube, whom I've clashed with on politics and the war, has an interesting piece in the Nation this week on a new edition of Helen Keller's autobiography. Unfortunately it's not on the web. The article describes, among other things, the scandal of an early short story she wrote and published at the age of 12, that it was later discovered was plagiarized, but apparently from memory, and without her conscious awareness. Considering the previous assumptions of her incapacity, the result was a doubt that troubled others and haunted Keller herself. She was extremely well read, from The Bible to Homer, Moliere and Goethe. Fluent in Latin, Greek, French and German, she became a graduate of Radcliffe. But she referred to her work as a 'patchwork' and a 'Chinese puzzle' of references, and was afraid that her writing, and in a sense her mind itself, was not her own. Her early education had been made of prodigious acts of memory, so was she more than a language computer? The answer clearly is no, as Berube states, but the questions as to how she became herself are fascinating.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

(Let's try this again)

"The Deep End and the Shallow End"
I began this as an extension of my last post but I'm continuing it here instead. I haven't quite gotten over Nathan Newman's comments to me on the status of judges as an intellectual elite, any more than I can the behavior of that elite itself, judicial or otherwise. Nathan's frustration is justified: the elite now talks only to itself, and in a tone that makes me cringe. In theory I should be able to chat away amicably with any number of the erudite and educated, on the web and off, but I don't. I've spent so many years working the mines, even in my bohemian sort of way, that I can't ignore the condescension I've faced -and that others have faced far longer than I have- from those who assume they are in some way superior. The simplest examples concern obviously society and money: the 12 year old on the corner of 82nd and Madison yelling, "Look at the workers, the dirty, stupid, smelly workers!" But that's just an aside, and an extreme one. What's really annoying is not the contempt of the rich but the condescension of the educated.
The point here is not my anger but something just removed from it. I'm trying to understand and then to explain why I find the constant references to polling so offensive. Newsmen and pundits on both sides, meaning conservative and 'liberal,' point to cheap responses to cheap questions given to people they would never wish to spend time with, and then use those responses to point to the validity, moral or political, of whatever ideas win the race.

A few weeks ago Tapped commented about a piece on objectivity and the press in the Columbia journalism Review. I did a little digging. It's here. When I first read it it struck me as odd, but I didn't go the the article itself. Now I have. Here's most of what Tapped wrote:

"The Columbia Journalism Review's Brent Cunningham has a big cover story in the latest issue. The subject? "Objectivity" and its meaning in journalism. Cunningham provides a useful and fascinating history of objectivity -- the ideology of journalists -- and explores a question that has always fascinated Tapped: whether "objectivity" provides truth. When it came to George W. Bush's tax cuts, for instance, the conventions of objectivity -- quoting both sides' interpretations of what should have been an empirical question -- has allowed the president to get away with misleading the public on an issue of major importance."

What Tapped is describing is not 'objectivity' but 'passivity,' and although the article deals with this issue, I find the confusion itself disturbing. If I were a judge hearing a case, listening to the arguments from a prosecutor and defense attorney, would this definition of objectivity be considered appropriate?
I don't think so.

What is this definition of democracy where we compete in our ignorance?
"I dunno. Wha d'you think?"
"I dunno. Wha d'YOU think?"

Or when we pay lip service to a notion of equality we disparage in private?

more later

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Smart response from Lambert at Eschaton.

And according to Tapped, Newsday has confirmed the outing of Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife as originating with someone in the White House. I can do without the high dudgeon, but I'm still surprised at the stupidity of it. Tapped and Krugman are right, it's Nixon territory. More than the killing of the sons of Saddam Hussein, this is the story of the day.

On thing more before I fall into my deserved and drunken slumber: I cringe every time I read a left/liberal commentator refer ecstatically to polling numbers. We have an uneducated electorate that pays no attention to the larger issues. You don't praise someone for agreeing with you one week when you know he'll change his mind the next. Of course it's good if Bush's numbers fall, I hope they hit zero, but just following the whims of the ignorant is absurd. The people aren't that smart- not as smart as Noam Chomsky wants to think- but they're not that stupid. Polling has become a cynics defense of the status quo. "Well, this is what the people want."

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Kerim Friedman also has a post up on fascism, including a nice paragraph from Umberto Eco. A few months ago I referred to fascism as being defined by the notion of "the pederast from Opus Dei." Since I'm tired I'll just add to that line a little: fascism is the rule of absolutes, with an absolute exemption from that rule given to the ruler himself. Only the ruler is allowed, as God himself is allowed, to contradict himself.
But my interest in the post was in what predates 'mature' fascism, if such a thing can be said to exist; and that is a philosophical position that all relations are relations of power, that 'justice' as a concept is absurd. Fascism is only a logical result of this assumption, one that has been a part of post modern philosophy since it came about. The anti-bourgeois right was both a progenitor of fascism and of postmodernism. From de Sade to Duchamp, from the decadence of haute couture, to Robbe-Grillet and Foucault, the sense of the stultifying banality of bourgeois morality has always been set against the casual and free thinking, amoral(?) grace of the aristocracy. But now after the 'failure' of socialism, such ideas have a new intellectual backing. It is this stupid indulgence that is one of the reasons a mediocre hypocrite and drunk is running the country. I'm not blaming Foucault. I'm not an idiot. He's just a symptom of a sort of general passivism that allows manic activists the opportunity to have their fun. In this world, the man who wants power allows himself the freedom to contradict himself that a respectable bourgeois would not. And even immorality is justified, as moral, since in a Nietzschean sense, arbitrariness is the prerogative of a god.
Think about what I'm saying in the context of this from The Guardian.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Written at noon on sunday.
I'm tired. I'll fix this one later too.
A few notes before I go off to see Max Beckman.
The people from each state elect representatives to two legislative bodies representing geographical areas and population. The people 'elect' through an odd, flawed, system a president. Through various means, through election or patronage at the state level, and joint discussion at the federal, a group of intellectual 'elders,' some not so old, are designated as judges to oversee the laws generated by the legislature and the executive, and to see that they do not go against or contradict the rules and principles put down in a document written and agreed upon by members of the leadership soon after the founding of the country. Never mind the details, it's a simple description.

I'm a snob, I believe in an intellectual aristocracy, but I don't like the idea of philosopher kings. The biggest minds make the biggest mistakes. The Bolsheviks were the most intellectually impressive group in the Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, but they gave themselves credit for too much. Their designs, as all designs must be, were flawed, with tragic results. But no I don't equate Lenin with Stalin.

Nathan Newman says we rely too much on judicial review, but without it, the political landscape today would look much different than it does. Through much of the recent past, the intellectuals, even the compromised intellectuals who make a living in government, led the way. But the pendulum is moving in a different direction. I don't agree with Nathan as a matter of principle, any more than I agree with Alex Cockburn on jury nullification, but I understand their positions and their annoyance at intellectuals who defend their own comforts, while expressing at the very least condescension towards the working population.

I don't romanticize the populations in any of the working class neighborhoods I've lived in, but I respect them. Intellectuals, on the other hand, romanticize themselves. I bitch on occasion about Atrios' lack of cultural sophistication, but next to Alterman's snooty arrogance, the basic decency and unpretentious anger at Eschaton is a breath of fresh air. What's interesting in fact about Eschaton, Buzzflash, MWO, the Daily Howler etc. is that none of them have any intellectual pretensions whatsoever. None make claims to the memory of the old left or the new. In fact, having corresponded with a few of people involved, they seem as a group no less anti-intellectual than the majority of the population, and it's a shame. But still, isn't a simple sense of decency, about economics, race, gender and sexual preference what we want in the population? Considering the pomposity of the 'intellectual' bloggers, from Alterman, to Yglesias, to Calpundit to Kleiman, and even Max Sawicky on occasion (the more I think about his response to the NAACP flap, the more it annoys me) the political 'hacks'- Atrios' phrase- those outside the Beltway at least, give me reasons for optimism the others don't.

Saturday, July 19, 2003

I'll fix it later.
Someone at Eschaton is getting all intellectual about fascism. But 'The Farmer' misses the point. Fascism does not begin- or return- with Bush or right wing republicans, but with a fixation on finding simple solutions to complex problems. In this country, at this time, the right wing is not alone in this. The left barely exists so I'll ignore it; the problem I'm talking about is with the mainstream.
Technocracy is a failure. The people who defend it, who speak as liberals, do so without being able to explain it's purpose: progress? stability? money?
What is the its first principle?
As I mentioned in passing here, the two most important SC decisions, Michigan and Texas, regardless of whether they contradict each other in terms of the the primacy of the individual, have in common the preservation of the market. Check out also -if you want- my comments on Jack Balkin's argument about symmetry, and my problems with Nathan Newman's dislike of judicial review.
All social organization is a game made up of rules, without rules, there is chaos; but there needs to be some flexibility. What those rules are does not matter, but they need to be respected just enough to keep the peace. [Scalia is a monarchist, the only problem is that he lives in a democracy, where the rules are flexible. In a monarchy on the other hand the flexibility is on the part of the king.] Nathan Newman is impatient with the rules. In this he has something in common with republicans, who value victory only. but Balkin, though he defends rules, as economists like Max Sawicky do, does not understand the reasoning behind them. As in his 'defense' of Posner, he defends the idea that if an argument can be made, it should be taken seriously. But idiots make arguments all the time. Balkin's respect for rules is a respect for the system as such. Its moderation, I have to ask, is a defense of what?
That is what Nathan would ask. The answer is: The Market. And again at this point, this is not a defense the inevitability of the market, of the inevitability of greed, but of it's moral value, and there is a difference.

Watch every Hollywood movie, read every pop novel, or self conscious literary 'work of art' listen to any radio station, and you will not hear one defense of the moral value of the market. On the contrary, again and again, you will hear, along with the love songs and the stories about the importance of family: "Greed sucks, but give me the cash." The reason for the popularity of philosophical defenses of religion, or mysticism, or even Balkin's soggy defense of indeterminacy via the I Ching, stripped of any real weight, is the moral failure of the rationalism of the market. But these arguments persist. Liberal technocrats defend the morality of a culture that is producing nothing but screaming predictions of it's own destruction. So what am I to say about the farmer's literary intellectual references on fascism? I'm not a Stalinist or a hypocrite. Greed is with us until we blow ourselves up, but isn't it an intellectual's job to find it -at the very least- distasteful?
Read more on fascism: here and
here

Friday, July 18, 2003

On the West Bank and reduced to begging:

"There is a permanent, grave violation of the right to food by the occupying forces. There is a catastrophic humanitarian situation," said Jean Ziegler, UN special expert on the right to food. "
The thing that amazes me about the hardest rap is the sense of tragedy, the awareness of it that goes hand in hand with the braggadocio, and that overwhelms it in the end. At its base it's not 'popular' music, any more than honky tonk, blues, or early country. It's too close to its roots, though hip hop is the biggest influence on popular music world wide for the past 20 years. Every artist who comes up is tested by the street and by the wider market. The secret is to be able to play both sides simultaneously, both underground and mainstream. If you lose the street you lose respect, which is important.
Still, it's sobering when you understand the difference between some kid rhyming and mouthing off about guns and drugs, and someone describing alternately tears falling down his cheeks and touching the muzzle of a glock to the back of a man's head and pulling the trigger. The realism of one reinforces the reality of the other.
I'm not talking about Nas, though he has stories to tell. He doesn't scare me. But there are others who do, or should, even though I can not imagine myself not giving some of them an even ungrudging respect. It's hard to explain. It goes back to my childhood.

"(Everybody) Get Down"
"I want all my niggas to come journey with me
My name is Nas, and the year is 1973
Beginning of me, therefore I could see
Through my belly button window who I am..."
On the fight over the NAACP conference, Nathan Newman has it right.

"When someone gives a job interview, they have the right to expect you to show up. Is it too much to expect one appearance at the NAACP convention after months by candidates visiting the the homes of white Iowa farmers and small town New Hamphire families?
The political blackmail exerted by Iowa and New Hampshire in keeping two highly unrepresentative states at the front of the calendar is far more problematic than the largest black organization in the country demanding the courtesy of a visit."

Blackmail? Damn right, but it shouldn't have been necessary.

There's a debate at the ACS Blog about the Thomas dissent and his quote from Frederick Douglass. The argument against Thomas on this is just silly.
More from TPM.
Quoting today's Nelson Report:
"Tenet's decision shows that the professional intelligence community has been pushed one time too many"

And this is interesting, if depressing. On the lighter side, not that I don't think Eminem is more honest than Bush, I'm surprised to know many parents might agree with their kids.

At the Feast a couple of days ago I picked up a compilation 3 CD set - underground sound- 50 Cent vs Nas. Eminem makes a few appearences backing 50 Cent. Seamus Heaney has acknowledged him, which is nice, but it's too bad it's the white crossover who gets the credit, even if he has street cred.

I carry the cross, if Virgin Mary had an abortion
I'd still be carried in the chariot by stampeding horses
Had to bring it back to New York
I'm happy that the streets is back in New York
For you rappers, I carry the cross

Nas

I have a couple of stories I may put up soon.


Thursday, July 17, 2003

Now Mark Kleiman is saying "It looks Like a Big One." We can only hope.

Read Josh Marshall. It's pretty painful,
but it's beautiful.

I've done a little rewriting, below. Sloppy prose style etc.
Beginning from where I picked it up, Mark Kleiman, who links to David Corn in The Nation:

"Did senior Bush officials blow the cover of a US intelligence officer working covertly in a field of vital importance to national security--and break the law--in order to strike at a Bush administration critic and intimidate others?
It sure looks that way, if conservative journalist Bob Novak can be trusted."

I'm crossing my fingers. Any administration would do the same to anyone who wasn't in their employ. Moral indignation in this case and not others is just nationalism. But if they did it to one of their own, the sheer stupidity of it amazes me.
One of the jobs I'm on these days is for a Wall Street money man, one of the smart cynics who makes money for the rich and takes a cut. He's a major player at one of the largest firms, and apparently he's solid: no Enron's, no bubble stocks, or at least he knew when to get out (cynics don't trust the enthusiasm of others). He's shaking his head at GWB. The next time I see him I'll ask him what the Street is saying. I can't believe people aren't angry and scared, but Bush is still raking in the corporate cash. Maybe he's in the minority, but I think I lot of people are grumbling, in private. Or maybe they're still too greedy, choosing quick cash over future stability.
Is this (also here and here) about God, or Family? According to Scalia, it's about God, or an intellectual's notion of stability from above. But as much or more than that it's about stability produced by the community itself.
There's a great story about a city state in Tuscany during the quatrocento, and the debate among its leaders about what to do with the powerful but untrustworthy Condottiere who's men had just helped to liberate the town. Someone suggested that to be on the safe side (in both places) they should kill him and make him their patron saint.

Arguing with Dennett, should science trump community? If we take Galileo as a witness the answer would be yes. But it's not that simple. It's not a question of whether science is preferable to religion (I have no patience with such arguments either way) but whether the rule of science is preferable to the rule of law; and the rule of science is the rule of scientists, wheras the rule of law is the rule of structured debate.
Do you follow me here? I'm repeating myself, but I don't know anyone else who's saying it at all.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

The Guardian: "It could be worse than Watergate."
But it is worse than Watergate, just as Vietnam was.
Vietnam was not simple enough to fit the popular definition of scandal. Iraq might be.

Something's going to give. Too many people are shaking their heads in disbelief.

Monday, July 14, 2003

"The Fish Rots From the Head?" Sloppy rewrite:
What I wrote in this post earlier was either too simple or too glib, but how else is there to say it? Bush has the army he deserves. As he represents the sophistication of his electorate, his army represents that of its leadership.

What shocks me more and more as I watch the transformation of my neighborhood, is the fact that the spoiled children of middle class now model their behavior on the frustration and anger of the poor. It's silly, but it disgusts me doubly since they have no idea how much how much the poor hate them.

We are a nation of adolescents but I have sympathy with some. That was one point of the post now removed. But at the same time, when does one say 'enough!'? When NYU students walk blithely through the Barrio as if it were their own urban country club, mouthing rap lyrics to themselves, assuming their right to their innocence, what should be my response?
Conservatives are right to decry the immaturity of at least their youthful critics. But all that they offer as an alternative is a moral defense of greed, and in that protection for their fratboy alcoholic. Any accusation of liberal hypocrisy is unanswerable in substance: I would agree with a conservative who would call our culture a culture of narcissism (and I know the reference.) But what can they offer but their own hypocrisy?
It's a politics of decadence all around. And it's defined by the continuous cutting of intellectual corners on all sides. Thinking only of ends, means are ignored. And this is the flaw in our Iraq policy, the flaw in our economic policy, the flaw in the radical right, and in our spoiled left liberals. We have no left wing, otherwise it would affect them as well.
Enough. I've got to go back to work.
Computer tomorrow maybe. Today I'm in a computer store on my lunch break

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

My computer is dying. I seem to have lost all my mail folders. A virus?
I may be down for a while, or posting from the mac store.
s.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Time is Life.
From a letter to The Times:
--In "Modern German Duty: The Obligation to Play" (Letter From Europe, July 2), you write that "for many Europeans, leisure time is not just a break from work; it is the goal of it." To Americans, that attitude is an endless source of disapproving amazement. I remember an American boss who used to repeat that "time is money." I retorted once that "time is life," but he didn't understand, although he was a very bright guy. Apparently, he would rather make money than live.--
I can't even bring myself to laugh at this: at the stupidity of the American boss or that of the reporter who wrote the story.
From a note, with some additions, in reference to Jack Balkin's post on the Supreme Court and majoritarianism (see below)

"I don't know if it was you or someone else who commented on Matthew Yglesias' argument against an intellectually brilliant judiciary, but I would say it's not a problem. Politics does not produce one, it produces a judiciary that follows, - should follow, by fair politics- a popular definition of intellectual seriousness, which not an intellectual's definition. Still, the courts act as an insulator.
There are various levels of political-intellectual aristocracy. Politicians are on one, Judges on another, scholars on another. Many Catholic intellectuals think the future of the church is with Hans Kung. He'll never be Pope. Lincoln was not a great emancipator, but a great politician. Balkin thinks Posner is a good conservative choice for the court but knows he won't be offered the job. Who would ever offer it to Ronald Dworkin?

My theory of rhetoric and politics would state that once it is possible for a good mind to defend articulately and with some grace an idea that was once only the purview of the great, that idea's time has come. Of course the brilliant are impatient, but the great make great mistakes, so I prefer the rule of law both to the rule of philosophers and to that the people alone.
Some fixes in yesterday's posts. Today sucked, I spent all day putting down cement board for a tile floor.
I'm sick of this shit. No money, no respect, no future.

Sunday, July 06, 2003

From the beginning of Daniel Mendelsohn's NY Times review of The Book Against God:

"Art and criticism, after all, seem to spring from wholly different impulses: one is emotional, libidinous, aesthetic; the other intellectual, detached, coolly evaluative."

This is a bit too simple, and too romantic, especially since as I've been arguing recently, an interest in art is not necessarily any more romantic than an interest in law.

An artist can be as detached and evaluative in his approach as a critic. The difference is that a critic evaluates the world in terms of meaning and an artist does so in terms of sensibility. The weakness is that art is most often intellectually vague and conflicted. The advantage is that good works of art- as opposed to good artists- are never hypocritical, and that is because rather than ordering meaning an artist is ordering objects surfaces and tones, doing so according to a formal but private logic.

When you order surfaces- even when you dress in the morning- you order meaning by default. Yet by concentrating on craft or process instead of purpose or implication, a sort of a formal or 'accidental' honesty occurs. And this, even resulting in contradiction or bad taste, is a strength. But it becomes the job of a critic to point out the meanings behind the work, even those the artist did not intend, and to do so without doing injustice to the object of his criticism, since whatever ideas the critic recognizes in the work might not have been conceived of without it. Art is more a lens than an eye. But without the lens the eye sees nothing. Mendelsohn has performed the job of a critic. James Wood's art has outflanked his ideas, and Mendelsohn has just pointed that fact out to him, and us.

Ideally you would call this process one of 'progressive awareness,' and it is a good description -as example- of the symbiotic relationship between art and the rest of intellectual culture. But the notion of such a relationship is foreign to American political ideals. Progressivism sees the sloppiness as antiscientific, and conservatism sees it as lazy and self absorbed.
If we had a political culture our president would be in immanent danger of impeachment. But we don't and so his handlers are merely beginning to feel nervous.
I admit I'm torn. I want to feel sympathy for the American people but I can't quite pull it off. I was raised to be aware of the outside world and to think I had obligations beyond those to myself or to my friends and family. Americans as a whole seem to begin with their allegiances limited to a few square miles, and as they climb the economic ladder, though geographic distances increase, the number of people in their group gets smaller and smaller, until finally they're alone.

Brad DeLong put up The Declaration of Independence on the 4th, and I read it for the first time in years. You really become aware in the writing of a tension between claims for individual liberty and claims for the freedom of one community from the restrictions placed upon it by another. The conflict runs through the language like a stripe.
"...let Facts be submitted to a candid World." What a wonderful line.

Jack Balkin on The Supreme Court as a Majoritarian Institution.
Also Mark Kleiman on Plato's Euthyphro. As a result of this discussion I picked up my pocket Plato and read through the dialogue.

I have to admit I have a hard time reading it straight. In the Jowett translation Socrates sounds like a character out of Oscar Wilde: another aristocratic homosexual having sport with the simplicity of the the masses (and later paying the price.) But Socrates' arrogance and condescension- or that of his author- is more than a little cruel. And Kleiman seems to want there to be a specific point of resolution where there is none. I find it frustrating when people want their problems solved by books. Plato constructed a dialogue between a pedant and a trickster and the acolytes of the trickster, beginning at his death, made him a pedant as well.
Soc. (Jowett): "And is, then, all which is just pious? or, is that which is pious all just, but that which is just only in part and not all pious?"

Did we not owe the King of England hotsiotes (piety)? But were our actions not just? Socrates hints that Euthyphro has a way out -Is it not possible that his prosecution of his father is just but not pious?- but Euthyphro doesn't take it. And I think Kleiman, like Euthyphro, is too much in want of an answer.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

New land grab:
--The first phase of the road map requires Israel to stop confiscating Palestinian property and to freeze all settlement activity. It also obliges Israel to stop demolishing Palestinian homes - but yesterday an Israeli official accompanied by soldiers was touring Beit Eksa and Beit Souriq, marking out the confiscated land and handing out demolition orders.
The soldiers arrived on Monday without warning. Although a seizure order was made, it was only displayed in the headquarters of the civil administration, and the residents of Beit Eksa and Beit Souriq say they knew nothing about it.
"They didn't tell us anything," said Fateh Hababa, a teacher and member of Beit Eksa's village council. "Some people went to speak to them. They told us we could pick our olives but we cannot plough our land or repair the terracing because it's not ours any more.--
The Guardian

-- At first glance they appear to be the archetypal Band Of Brothers of Hollywood myth, brave and honest men united in common purpose.
But a closer look at these American GIs, sweltering in the heat of an unwelcoming Iraq, reveals the glazed eyes and limp expressions of those who have witnessed a war they do not understand and have begun to resent. By their own admission these American soldiers have killed civilians without hesitation, shot wounded fighters and left others to die in agony.

What they told me, in a series of extraordinary interviews, will make uncomfortable reading for US and British politicians and senior military staff desperate to prevent the liberation of Iraq turning into a quagmire of Vietnam proportions, where the behaviour of troops feeds the hatred of an occupied people.

Sergeant First Class John Meadows revealed the mindset that has led to hundreds of innocent Iraqi civilians being killed alongside fighters deliberately dressed in civilian clothes. "You can't distinguish between who's trying to kill you and who's not," he said. "Like, the only way to get through s*** like that was to concentrate on getting through it by killing as many people as you can, people you know are trying to kill you. Killing them first and getting home."--
Bob Graham in The Evening Standard
The Times has a piece on the Oxford professor who rejected an application from an Israeli student. Here's a passage from professor Andrew Wilkie's response to the application of Amit Duvshani:

"I have a huge problem with the way that the Israelis take the moral high ground from their appalling treatment in the Holocaust and then inflict gross human rights abuses on the Palestinians because they (the Palestinians) wish to live in their own country. I am sure that you are perfectly nice at a personal level, but no way would I take on somebody who had served in the Israeli Army. As you may be aware, I am not the only U.K. scientist with these views, but I'm sure you will find another suitable lab if you look around."

The professor has now apologized and offered to review the application. The Times quotes Mr. Duvshani:

"I really don't know if someone with such racist views can change..."

The kid does not know the difference between racism and political principle, precisely because he's been trained to claim the false 'High Ground' that's part and parcel of an Israeli education.
What an asshole.

"In a telephone interview from his home in Tel Aviv, Mr. Duvshani, 26, said he had sent applications to scientists in Germany, Sweden and Great Britain. Aside from Dr. Wilkie, one Swedish scientist expressed interest. The others did not respond."

Prof. Wilkie's civility did him in.

"People rarely get pleasure from the discovery of an idea per se. What they feel in the moment of discovery (recognition) is a sudden sense of belonging, or even enfranchisement. Discovery can not be separated from the sensation of discovery. Modernism argues for a transparency of discovery that is not possible. [scientism]"

I wrote those words 16 years ago on the title page of a book. I opened that book today for no particular reason, and the timing was perfect. I won't go into it much; some notes will do. I'm tired and drunk (and back at work.)
I listened to NPR this morning while I was demolishing a kitchen. Listened to an interview of a lawyer/blogger. Sounded like an enthusiastic kid. It was somewhat embarrassing. Then I realized it was Eugene Volokh.

The history of Modernism not as an ideology but as a cultural moment, is the history of attempts to humanize an inhuman situation. From Picasso to Warhol the assumption was that 'modernity' as such was tragic, a system out of control. Indeed all humanist endeavor in the past century has been predicated in one way or another on the need to preserve something that is being destroyed or taken away from us, even as we are the ones who destroy it. From James Joyce to 'The Matrix' it's either loss or the fear of loss that is documented again and again. And that is what the quote above refers to. But against that awareness is what I refer to as the ever optimistic esthetic of 'Neat', not as in tidy but 'cool.' And that is precisely the thing that the above paragraph argues against (by denying its existence.) 'Neat!' is an expression of excitement not at profundity but newness: the inventiveness of preadolescent enthusiasm. And this enthusiasm knows nothing of preservation or of loss. It knows only itself.
I heard this in Eugene Volokh's voice.

Volokh, before the invasion of Iraq, wrote a piece of 'speculative' fiction concerning the costs of our possible inaction, and had it published in National Review Online. As fiction it was uninteresting and as prediction it was wrong. It was enthusiastic and inventive, and ridiculously shallow.

I should go into his comments on the Nike case because they were interesting at various levels, but I'm fading fast.
Simply: A defense of freedom of speech is not a defense of assholes and con men, it is a defense of the notion that silencing them could lead to the silencing of others with something valuable to say. Humanism judges assholes themselves harshly. There is a heavy burden of responsibility, that Volokh, in his immaturity does not understand.
I know it's sloppy, but it's still on target. And I'm gone.