Sunday, August 31, 2003

In Besieged Iraq, Reality Pokes Ideology in the Eye.

If I'm in a car with a friend, who over my protests decides to drive the car into a swamp, how is it a contradiction for me to say, once the car is sitting in the mud, that we're sinking?

"A main ideological sticking point for administration planners is how to encourage the participation of foreign nations without ceding too much control."
What is the point, however, of wanting such 'control'? It serves no moral purpose. I'm not an idiot, but I would like to hear at least a response to that question.
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The Thrill of Danger, the Agony of Disaster

Another good argument for the rule of systems as opposed to one of men.
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I've commented on this once or twice, but I think I'm going to have spend some time on it now:
I'm always saddened when I'm made to remember how many people involved in political philosophical and intellectual debates -on or off the web- are not only fans of science fiction, but see its illustrational narrative as a form of literary art. I've shrugged this off in the past, considered it just a lack of cultural sophistication, but I can't do it anymore. Cultural sophistication is a precursor to any serious discussion of politics and I might as well defend it directly rather than keeping the subject, as I have (mostly) just below the surface of my political posts.

The comment about Einstein was based on the fact that in both the scientific and technical community, and in the popular imagination, he is seen as the beginning of a line, as the originator of an idea, of a structure. He is seen as a 'Maker', and as such his figure and those of other scientific heroes stand as signposts of a certain kind of intellectual force. But at the same time, to a historian, Einstein as a figure is the end of a line, the conclusion of a process. He is not a Maker but a Result. Science fiction is an art for those who like makers, and who see themselves as wanting have the same role. But historians and writers of literature look back at the world of things that have been made and try to discover what logic they can. Their attempts at 'making' are tentative at best. In the best art, as in the best philosophy and the best political writing, the strengths are always seen in the authors' powers of observation. Creation as such is always secondary.

No structure that we can create -and control- will ever be able to mirror the complexity of a natural system.

More later. I'm off to the Metropolitan Museum for the day.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

Some sloppy notes

I went back to read the final bit on language etc at Scott Martens' blog and I realize that my comments about museification were not quite justified. Still, he tries to nail too many things down too tightly: he thinks like a designer. But outside of a need for a programmatic response to specific events there are few questions regarding human behavior that can be defined as either/or. Do we make language or does it make us? Is there such a thing as culture or should we refer only to the notion of the 'cultural.' Did Bach make the Baroque, or did the Baroque make Bach? Albert Einstein's very specific intelligence was a product of late 19th century German/Jewish academic and economic culture, much more than it was the 'creator' of that environment's 20th century replacement. Yet it's still popular to associate Einstein with a present of which he was never a part.

Although Martens still is fighting with the details of a liberal program, I appreciate it when he admits to recognizing, "... that there are times and places where a genuinely coercive official languages policy, instead of a merely pragmatic one, is at least reasonable."

Friday, August 29, 2003

I'm still reading various post at 'Pedantry' and having a good time. I don't want to go through the process, at the moment, of linking to the various points of interest, so one comment will fill the role of many.

Reading the posts I get the sense of someone who is trying to construct a logical notion of collectivity without having an innate feeling for it. I want to imagine a Lutheran Minister trying to describe the significance of communal activity in Italy. Here, for example, and I'm breaking my promises already, is the author's commentary on Israel and moral equivalence. I agree in general but the use of the terms collection and collectivity are too abstract. He is too willing to give things names and then to follow the logic that develops from the name he gives. But 'Israel' and 'The Palestinians' are both Collections AND Collectives; and I find myself making similar comments often as I read. I am interested, however, in anyone who is trying to come to terms with an idea of 'collective' intelligence, since I find it more profound than the singular variety. As an anti-libertarian I find Mozart more profound than Ayn Rand, and Mozart was part of a collection and the product of a collective, while Rand in denying collectivity, has been religated, by most fully formed adults, to the role of an historical object. I think it is more fruitful to examine the complexity of these relationships than to attempt to create an algorythm that mimics them, but I'm not tossing insults at the author's attempt.
I can make a point here that applies also to the question of language politics: Languages can only die a natural death. Invasion and conquest are as natural as the search for food, but we are at the point in our history that in the cause of our morality we defend an ethos of artifcial preservation and museification. My civil morality makes me defend this process, but not without regret. The author of "Pedantry" is too willing for my taste, to replace living culture with its simulacrum, but he is trying to come to terms with just what that culture is.
I'm adding him to my link list.
A referral this time from my neighbor, Kerim Friedman:
Ped.ant.ry \'ped-*n-tre-\ "An ostentatious and inappropriate display of learning"
The posts on language rights and public policy begin here.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

From a neighbor
Blair stuck to his guns again today. He speaks like one of the faithful.
I linked to this article on Blair's christianity a few weeks ago.
I'm sitting in an office waiting for someone, so...
more from Volokh, here and here.

Making arguments in favor of originalism is like arguing for strict adherence to Catholic doctrine. It's all Moses and Aaron (Oy!) I still love Scalia's: "The Constitution as I interpret it is dead." Once you admit interpreting 'it' -whatever 'it' is- you've let the cat of indeterminacy out of the bag, and you begin sliding down the slippery slope to anarchy and chaos. Lions and Tigers and Bears Oh my!
You can not have communication without miscommunication, kiddo, so just have faith and shut up, or make arguments and suffer the consequences of risk. But since we're talking about law in a democracy, we have to debate it: by logic alone, you're screwed.

Yes, there are those who argue against the rule of law as such, and yes, they are idiots. But the rest of us have to steer a course between "The Scylla of authoritarianism and the Charybdis of know-nothingism and barbarity." So what else is new?

I can only repeat the line from my last post. Instead of prescribing methodologies, why don't you idiots try studying the history of communication and interpretation. If you had spent some time doing that we'd be over this sort of collegeboy debate by now.

"Given that a democracy is and must be flexible and indeterminate in nature, how flexible, or inflexible, should we be -AS A DEMOCRACY- in a time of crisis?"
That's a question for adults, as democracy is a government of adults. Unfortunately there aren't very many adults around.
I am always amazed by the degree to which specialists -who tend to view the world through the lens of their profession- avoid viewing their profession through an awareness of the world.
For some reason or other I ended up to day at Volokh.com where read this post, discussing a paper on the contradictions of 'Liberal' Zionism.

"I am going to attend the discussion if it happens, even though I suspect it will quickly spin into smug Israel-bashing, but I have a nagging doubt about scholarship of this sort (however analytically sound and brilliantly argued it may be): The Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems to me to have had its genesis (so to speak), and to be running its course without regard for the niceties of any moral theory, liberal or otherwise.
To ask whether Israel's negotiating positions do or do not conform with liberal theory is, I think, rather like asking whether bumblebees ought aerodynamically to be able to fly. It's an interesting thing to think about, but how does the inquiry really matter?"

How charmingly anti-intellectual. If only American Zionists were so honest. But they can't afford to be; and that's because the perception of the intellectual and moral legitimacy of their cause is important to them, as their illusions are important on purely financial terms to the Likud.

Most people have difficulty admitting their mistakes. That's why it is important for others to tell them what they are. Eric Muller attempts to correct the mistakes of others, including those he -smugly- refers to as 'smug'. I'll top him in that regard and just call him an idiot.
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I looked at the 'Writing' link on the blog today and reread two of the pieces. God! it's so embarrassing to see how my rewriting can turn small charming pieces into sloppy overblown trash.
The link is down for now.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Someone should send a copy of this article to Bill Safire and every other American Likudnik, and ask for a response. But then again, Jewish 'liberals' might want to read it as well.

"Seated in her second-floor flat, surrounded by African cloth prints on the walls, classical music CDs and shelves filled with art and Jewish history books, it is not immediately clear what kind of threat Nathan represents. She is slight, still not fully recovered from surgery for a rare eye cancer, and her thin voice is easily drowned out when the muezzin begins the midday call to prayer. Although she refuses to speak Hebrew in Tamra, she still wears a Star of David pendant around her neck.

Paradoxically, her stance has also earned her the enmity of the Israeli peace movement. "The Jewish left is totally in thrall to the idea of two states for two people. What I am doing by showing that Jews and Arabs can live together in peace undermines their argument."

Although there is little in the law to prevent Arabs and Jews from living together, in practice it almost never happens. Israeli Jews are educated to see their Arab neighbours as either primitive or dangerous, says Nathan. Jews and Arabs are forbidden to inter-marry in Israel: the tiny number who do must leave the country and marry abroad, usually in nearby Cyprus. The handful who do live together do so incognito, usually in Tel Aviv or in one of what are misleadingly termed "mixed cities" such as Lod, Acre or Haifa. But in reality these are little more than Jewish cities with poor, separate Arab neighbourhoods.

Israeli Arabs face their own obstacles to joining Jewish communities. Some 93% of land is owned by the state; and those who try to lease it are vetted by committees that weed out undesirables, including Arabs. Against this background, and the eruption of the intifada, Nathan started to question her own Zionism and the direction the Jewish state had taken since its founding. "
In the past few hours alone I've gotten a number of hits off google with questions like this. Word is spreading, and I'm glad to have played a small part. For new visitors the link you want is here. And I'll repeat the quote:

"The three panelists chosen by Rep. Inslee were Ambassador Joseph Wilson, Admiral Bill Center, and Professor Brewster Denny. Read on to find out which one of these distinguished gentlemen said that he wanted to 'see Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs. ' "

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

I was going to post this as a comment on Nathan Newman's site, in response to his criticism of Tapped for their 'almost nativist' arguments on immigration. I understand Nathan's points -we've talked about them in the past- and I think he understands mine, but I still think his reaction is more too much of a reflex. I respect his knee-jerk responses much more than I do Tapped's concerned sincerity however because Nathan's opinions are based on an obvious sense of decency, while Tapped when responding to questions about class often comes off as arrogant and condescending.
With all this in mind:

How many of you have worked along side illegal immigrants on crews with substandard wages and no benefits?
How many of you have ever been physically threatened by union workers?
How many of you have hired illegals to do work for you for cash?

I live the contradictions of this system far more than most of you. You want to know my friends and competition? Here they are:

I can get you a Trinidadian carpenter for $110 a day, and his son, homeboy/gangmember/apprentice for $75. I can get you a Polish contractor who will underbid any competitor who's not either Chinese or a con man. [The Chinese beat out everybody and the quality can be fair] Plasterers: you have a choice, either Jamaican or Irish. Demolition? With a few phone calls I can get you some 16 year old Ecuadorians and a dumpster, or a crew of homeboys with a truck. Don't ask where it goes from there.

Clients don't give a shit about morality, most simply want the work done cheaply, and most want only the image of good workmanship; the odds are it'll are be torn apart in 10 years' time.  On the other hand if you want to go for quality I can get you the finest cabinetmakers in the United States, direct from Paris and trained in the best workshops in the world. Their employer pays them $35 an hour with no benefits but if you're willing to wait six months you can have a beautiful end table, designed, fabricated and finished in the shop for a mere $95,000. I can also get you a painter, a graduate of the best East German trade school and the paper hanger of choice for clients of Sotheby's; you have to be careful whom you use to install those $20,000 antique wallpapers.  More than half the people on this list are illegals.

The politics of educated liberalism is the politics of reassurance, protecting your own interests while wanting not to feel like a total schmuck. If you're a leftist, even the bourgeois variety, you need to make the hard choices. This country feeds off the energy of new arrivals, who trample its exhausted native underclass. But I love these new people, who live a double life of greed and community, a double life Americans of any class seem unable to understand.  Of the immigrants I know who've been both here and Europe, most would live there if they could. They don't love the American dream, but they need American money.  I'm rewriting this on June 17, 2005 but I'll leave the original punch line, just for laughs. After American workers gain the imagination and the pride that immigrant tradesman bring with them, I'll move back to this country; because once they close the borders, I'm leaving.

Monday, August 25, 2003

Noted with interest:
Dean and Clark?
If you want to stay slim, eat less.

--"If food is moderately palatable, people tend to consume what is put in front of them, and generally consume more when offered more food," said Paul Rozin, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. "Much discussion of the obesity epidemic in the US has focused on personal willpower, but our study shows that the environment also plays an important role, and that people may be satisfied even if served less than they would normally eat."--

This ties in neatly with my comments on economics and normative behavior. Exchange a given assumption of gluttony for one of greed, then compare mainstream economists with the researchers who:

"... have offered a confusing range of speculation over the years. There might be something specially healthy about goose fat, one group argued. Alcohol, olive oil and salad were all important in a heart-smart diet, said another. Red wine itself might explain the difference, said a third."

Economists are like people who spend their time creating new diets, trying to find ways to explain things using the only language they know. Using more or less fat is a function of food, or food studies(!), as such; eating less, is a function of social behavior. The differences between the European and American economies are societal, not merely economic. Extra-economic factors had everything to do with the post war boom in Germany and the success of the planned economy in Japan, and extra-economic factors have everything to do with their decline. But again, those studies will have to be done by anthropolgists helped by number crunchers, not the other way around.

It has also been argued that being actively engaged with nuances of taste also teaches people to eat less: the better the food the less you eat of it. But this also doubles as an argument for uneconomic behavior. How about an economic theory begins with the teaching of culinary esthetics and the principle of a three hour lunch?
I'm sitting at a job site waiting for a delivery of sheetrock and metal stud. Not much else to do today, but I have the run of the place.

Jack Balkin: "I think there is some irony in the ACLU trying to keep John Ashcroft from speaking."
After reading his post, I think I agree.
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Nathan Newman uses this graph from the EPI in his first post on the minimum wage. The discussion continued here as I mentioned below, and now here. I added my usual comment, and got the usual non-response.

Nathan, in response to a simplistic argument about how wages are determined, says this: "If wages were set by "the marginal product" of that labor, you would see the same prices globally for the same work. You don't. What sets wages is the alternative to that work-- starvation, rural sharecropping, prostitution, or McDonalds burger-flipping. And the degree of welfare and other social transfers unquestionably changes the calculus of what jobs people will accept. How much it changes it is an open question, but to argue it has no effect ignores a range of economic theory." This comes closest to a discussion of the sort of question I ask economists and which they never answer. In regards to the graph above: What are the reasons for the decline of the value of the minimum wage? To what degree is it the result of "market forces" as such as opposed to a changing sense of the social -rather than purely economic- value of certain kinds of work? If mainstream economics describes an attempt to steer a form of "natural" growth, like that of plant or a vine, what is not natural about the increase in income disparity? If economic forces are treated as natural why not other social forces as well? What is not "natural" about the lack of political education in the populace? What is not "natural" about racism? Even liberal economists speak with these sort of naturalist assumptions, and for some very good reasons. We all understand at this point that simply ordering people how to behave doesn't work, but that does not mean that economic activity is somehow different from all other behavior. Economists and their fans remind me of sportswriters who see everything through the lens of their appreciation for one game. But basketball is related to soccer and through that to hockey and so on to all team sports and from there down the line to ritualized competition and ritualized warfare. Economic activity, as social activity, is governed by many different kinds of force and pressure. I have to cut this short since my delivery has arrived. In my dream world economics would be treated as a subcategory not of mathematics and logical analysis but of behavioral anthropology.

(any grammar repair on the above will have to wait)


Sunday, August 24, 2003

Nathan Newman, and others, on the minimum wage vs the EITC.
Politics and the stock exchange have many things in common, but one thing most of all: the understanding that romanticism is dangerous to oneself and others. My mother said Kucinich lacks gravitas, and she wasn't being glib. It needs to be understood how political leaders are not the producers but the product of change.
It's official - Saddam was not an imminent threat .

"There is an unfortunate tendency among some commentators to seek to narrow the issue to a blame game between the BBC and 10 Downing Street. This has led to comment to the effect that Dr Kelly was the unfortunate victim of a battle between two mighty institutions, accompanied by a campaign of vilification against Andrew Gilligan and the Today programme. It is important to remain constantly aware of the vested interests at play: the Murdoch empire and other rightwing media operations would like to weaken and break the BBC so that British broadcasting might be reduced to the sort of commercially dominated, biased news reporting that controls the US airwaves. It is extremely unfortunate that a Labour government has been willing to drive forward this campaign against the BBC. --

The inquiry has already established beyond doubt that, despite government briefing that Dr Kelly was a medium-level official of little significance, he was in fact one of the world's leading experts on WMD in Iraq. It is also clear that Dr Kelly chose to brief three BBC journalists - and presumably others - to the effect that the 45-minute warning of the possible use of WMD was an exaggeration. He said to the Newsnight reporter Susan Watts, as well as to Gilligan that Campbell and the Downing Street press operation were responsible for exerting pressure to hype up the danger. The inquiry is exploring the reality of that claim. But it is already clear that Dr Kelly made it, to Gilligan and Watts.

The BBC would have been grossly irresponsible if it had failed to bring such a report - from such an eminent source - to public attention. It is a delicious irony that Alastair Campbell castigates the BBC for relying on one very eminent source for this report ... and yet the 45-minute claim itself came from only one source."

And this from The Sunday Herald: Campbell did redraft Iraq dossier.
A note on Eric Hobsbawm.
People who imagine themselves as adventurous often feel frustrated around those whom they perceive as being static or unimaginative. The rise of liberalism is seen by many as the rise of freedom for the curious, and libertarianism is the most extreme version of this romance. Among the only groups who have seen it as their goal to defend the 'less imaginative,' to defend the people who want nothing more than to be left alone to their small lives, and who made this defense without defending reaction - among the only ones who have promoted the active involvement of such people themselves in their defense- have been those associated with some aspect or another of communism.

It takes a certain kind of intellect to defend the notion that the world is not the playground of intellectuals. My impatience with the hypocrisies of liberalism stems from the sense liberals seem to have that what's good for them is good for the country; but this, as my old neighbors in Brooklyn will tell you, is simply not the case. I have as much contempt for the hierarchy that once existed in the communist party as I do for the hierarchy that still exists in the far older conspiracy that is the catholic church. But I have the same respect for the minor, the unobservant, or the casually faithful in both parties.
And of the rest, my kinsmen, I prefer the company of honest machiavels to earnest liars.
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I was on the phone to my mother yesterday, and we got into a discussion of Move On and Dean. She's sent money to both, but felt a little awkward about the latter. She'd heard Kucinich and was not impressed. If anything she's more to the left than he is, but she found him shrill, and I agreed. I said it was interesting that for all the DLC attacks on Dean as to far to the left, he's never denied his conservatism. It's a strange and pathetic disconnect.
I still haven't seen anything about this in The Paper of Record but it made the front page of Newsday:

"City officials and residents of lower Manhattan Saturday called for a congressional investigation into the White House's role in the Environmental Protection Agency's alleged air quality cover-up after Sept. 11, and demanded a proper cleanup of the area.

Words like "outrage" and "disgrace" pierced the air like the toxic chemicals they were meant to describe, as Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan), Councilman David Yasskey (D-Brooklyn) and others gathered to discuss an EPA report, issued late Friday, that contained the allegations.

The report, published by the agency's Inspector General, concludes the White House influenced the EPA to downplay concerns about air contaminants in the days immediately following the World Trade Center disaster."

Friday, August 22, 2003

I wasn't going to get involved in this but having just visited OxBlog again, I can't resist: anyone who makes the teenager sound like a genius deserves something from me in return.
I'll have a little fun here.

"Several critics have since seized on this as evidence that I'm actually accusing the BBC of not being biased the right way, rather than of being biased period. But, as Bill pointed out in his response to Kevin, the BBC doesn't seem to have any problem writing things like:

'Seventy-year-old Park Jong-lin did not fight to repel communism like the others.
In fact, he did the opposite - he served in the North Korean army fighting against the imperialist American aggressors and their South Korean accomplices.'

If the use of supposedly neutral language ran both ways, my critics would have a better point."

And in fact the site where Josh Chafetz found this even mentions that the BBC later added scare quotes (no doubt for the American audience unaccustomed to irony.) You have to hand it to the British. They know their own language so well the use it in ways we foreigners can not understand.

And then:
"Moreover, "occupation" is no more neutral than "liberation" -- it has a clear negative connotation (and, indeed, denotation -- one of the definitions in the American Heritage Dictionary is 'Invasion, conquest, and control of a nation or territory by foreign armed forces.')"

But that's what we've done... right? And the 'occupation' of Japan and Germany were, like, bad?

Then there's David Adesnik's shout out to Michael Ledeen. Oy!.

But thanks for coming around Dave: the UN bombing was not an act of desperation, but may have been the result of overconfidence. I understand the similarity. Do you understand the difference?
When I'm travelling I hide from such people.

If I'm a bit sloppy forgive me. I'm a little drunk (again).
A new Iraqi blog: Baghdad Burning
And a link courtesy of Body and Soul.

From: Pacific Views

"The three panelists chosen by Rep. Inslee were Ambassador Joseph Wilson, Admiral Bill Center, and Professor Brewster Denny. Read on to find out which one of these distinguished gentlemen said that he wanted to 'see Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs. ' "

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Timeline from The Guardian:

June

27 Israel and Palestinians agree disengagement deal in Gaza

29 Israeli troops begin Gaza pullback. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Arafat's Fatah faction, including al-Aqsa Martyrs, declare truce

July

2 Israel withdraws from Bethlehem. US announces $30m (£18.8m) aid for West Bank and Gaza

3 Israeli troops shoot dead a militant and block traffic on Gaza's main road, angering Palestinians

5 The Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, meets the Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin for the first time

6 Israeli cabinet decides to release several hundred Palestinian prisoners

9 US approves giving $20m in aid directly to the Palestinian Authority in a move aimed at strengthening Abbas

20 Abbas meets Ariel Sharon

25 Abbas meets George Bush in Washington for the first time

27 Israel agrees to free 210 militants

28 Israeli troops fire teargas and rubber bullets to break up protests against the construction of a huge separation/security barrier in the West Bank

29 Sharon meets Bush in Washington

31 Israel announces plans for 22 new homes at a settlement in Gaza, in defiance of the US

August

2 Al-Aqsa Martyrs threaten to resume attacks after Yasser Arafat has 20 of them detained in Ramallah. Lebanon car bomb kills a Hizbullah member, Ali Hussein Saleh; Hizbullah accuses Israel of involvement

5 Abbas calls off meeting with Sharon, accusing him of dragging his feet

6 Israel releases 336 Palestinian prisoners as a gesture

8 Two Hamas militants and an Israeli soldier killed in Israeli raid on West Bank refugee camp. Two more Palestinians die later in protests

12 Two suicide bombers strike in Israel; one other person killed in each attack

14 Israeli troops kill Mohammed Seder, head of Islamic Jihad's armed wing in Hebron

17 Israelis and Palestinians fail to agree terms for the handover of four West Bank cities to Palestinian security control

19 Suicide bomber on a Jerusalem bus kills at least 20

21 Israel kills Ismail Abu Shanab of Hamas; Islamic Jihad official declares ceasefire over

Who was Ismail Abu Shanab?

Nathan Newman on Dean and Labor. And while you're there, keep reading down the page.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Atrios once again links to Blitzer which is always fun, but this time I think he misses the point. As I said in his comments section, democracy can not supply the answers to technical questions. Why do I care what Americans think about the effect on Al Qaeda of our invasion of Iraq, unless I know they are well educated on the subject, and I know they are not. Skewing the results of a Wolf Blitzer 'poll' doesn't matter much either: it's as useless celebrating the the knowledge of the few as it is celebrating the ignorance of the many.

"As an aeronautical engineer I would like to say that this plane as you've designed it will not fly."
"Opinions are like assholes: everybody has one."

Of course I voted, and I laughed while I did it, but laughter obscures the point, which is a need for education. Atrios does a better job at that than I do, so my criticism is minor, but it's still worth making.
One of the problems in discussing religion with the faithful is that they declare their faith rather than describing how it functions. In a society where religious structure is part and parcel of everyday life the distinction is unnecessary: in such a place one does not choose a religion any more than one chooses one's language or grandparents. Only in such a context, in its use, is religious thought capable of being profound. My apologies to Amy Sullivan but to be an 'intellectual' as I take the term, is to argue for the goal of a critical interrogation of EVERY assumption. Such a course is limited by the fact that we make assumptions every day from both desire and necessity, out of both our flaws and the need to communicate. Every language is a set of assumptions, the set I am using now is called 'English.'

By putting some subjects off limits by design, religion -in the context of modernity- sacrifices it's right to be called an intellectual pursuit. Not to worry, faith will never go away: Modernists tended to take for granted that they had no assumptions, and as postmodernists argue that probably made things worse.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

A good day for me as far as the blog is concerned is when I have 15 visitors and a couple of them spend at least 15 minutes on the site, meaning they've read the blog and not a post. According to the not very reliable Sitemeter, today was a good day.

According to Google.de the phrase "Intellectual Bloodsport" brings me in at #19, two behind a review in The Weekly Standard(!?) of a philosophical memoir by Colin McGinn. From what I've read of McGinn I think he labors under at least one major misunderstanding, and I have some sympathy with the reviewer even though he is laboring under a few of his own.
Anyway, as any repeat reader here knows, in my opinion two lawyers in a courtroom are engaging in as much mental warfare as two academic philosophers, with the additional considerations that the stakes are higher and that the system is imperfect. I hesitate to say that it is 'corrupt' though by its nature the system allows a level of corruption. How can it not without becoming both a machine and a moral failure? Anthropologists would refer to this sort of design as a 'dynamic structure,' one that maintains integrity under stress, not be sheer force but flexibility, which as it happens both analytic philosophy and religious ideology disdain.

"The specific problem that engenders in McGinn a sense of the limitations of philosophy is consciousness. Having spent a good deal of time scrutinizing various philosophical accounts of consciousness, McGinn is impressed with Thomas Nagel's famous argument, in his book "The View from Nowhere," against the reduction of consciousness to brain states. Nagel probes the question "what is it like to be a bat?" and argues that, although we can analyze the nature and functioning of the bat brain, we cannot know what it is like to have the conscious experience that bats have.
Now--and this is a nicely observed philosophical point--if we can know (by careful medical and scientific investigation) how a bat's brain functions, and yet at the same time not know what that bat's conscious experience is like, then the brain and consciousness cannot be identical."

Bullshit... It only means we cannot replicate the complexity of experience, which includes things -emotions, fears, desires, not to mention the complexity of sense perception itself(!)- that can not be easily quantified.
As I've said before, we can not predict the result of a combination shot on a pool table beyond the 4th or fifth impact, the process becomes too complex.
At what point exactly does an Eight Ball take on metaphysical properties?

Pardon me, I'm a bit drunk. It's been a good day,
for a few reasons.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Rather than simply getting pissed at the Washington Post for its nasty and stupid editorial on the European response to the heat wave, somebody should find out the percentage of the European population with home air conditioning. Since Paris still has plenty of cold water flats, I assume the number of those who have plug-in boxes in their windows is much lower than in the US.
Progressive Gold
A letter from Senegal:
"As you probably know, this week George Bush is visiting Africa. Starting with Senegal, he arrived this morning at 7.20 PM and left at 1.30 PM. Let me share with you what we have been through since last week: More than 1,500 persons have been arrested and put in jail between Thursday and Monday. Hopefully they will be released now that the Big Man is gone; The US Army's planes flying day and night over Dakar; The noise they make is so loud that one hardly sleeps at night; About 700 security people from the US for Bush's security in Senegal, with their dogs, and their cars. Senegalese security forces were not allowed to come near the US president; All trees in places where Bush will pass have been cut. Some of them have been there for more than 100 years; All roads going down town (were hospitals, businesses, schools are located) were closed from Monday night to Tuesday at 3 PM. This means that we could not go to our offices or schools. Sick people were also obliged to stay at home; National exams for high schools that started on Monday are postponed until Wednesday...

Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, and before them, Nelson Mandela, the Pope, and many other distinguished guests or ordinary tourists visited [Ile de Gorée] without bothering the islanders. But for "security reasons" this time, the local population was chased out of their houses from 5 to 12 AM. They were forced by American security to leave their houses and leave everything open, including their wardrobes, to be searched by special dogs brought from the US. The ferry that links the island to Dakar was stopped and offices and businesses closed for the day."
--The missile that Mr Lakhani is alleged to have tried to smuggle into the US could easily bring down a jet airliner. However, Mr Raman said that the weapon was not difficult to obtain over the internet.--
"Carry on..."

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Steven Hatfill is not someone I much care for, whether he has anything to do with the anthrax scare or not; his connections to Rhodesia and apartheid era South Africa pretty much relegate him to the status of Asshole. Still, did Buzzflash post this because they expect me to approve?

Connect
the dots.
One of the things that impressed Peter Stothard, in his "30 Days: A Month at the Heart of Blair's War," [and I don't link to Amazon] was the steadfastness with which Blair stuck to his script.

Religion is best used as a skeleton upon which to build a system of rhetoric. For the peasantry, it's a collection of stories used to give simple answers to basic questions, as distinct from those questions of daily life that remain complex. The Bible is Shakespeare to intellectuals, Jacqueline Susanne to the peasantry, and chains and manacles to ideologues and hypocrites (the difference depending on who is supposed to wear them.) These days, however, any intellectual worth his weight in salt is jealous of the depth and breadth of those cultures associated with the collective origins of what we value. Our definition of re-naissance is the moment of birth, not maturity. When the pull of the collective is gone, culture is void.

A few days ago NPR covered a Howard Dean fan club meeting in New York. The reporter interviewed a young college educated Manhattanite in attendance who was overflowing with praise for her hero. "He's just what I've been waiting for" she gushed.
Everyone wants someone else to do his thinking for him. Whether that someone is God, George Bush, Howard Dean or Arnold Shwarzenegger, it makes no difference. For the peasantry, their god kept them honest; drought and floods always kept them aware of the limits of their understanding. If they had no interest in foreign policy, it was because they had no time for it. If we are all peasants now, it has nothing to do with such necessity.
At the end of this post on Blair's troubles, Lambert comments: "I wonder what it's like to live in a country with a free press?"
I'm sorry L. but you miss the point. We have both a free press and a lazy one. But that's a long story.

Courtesy of the 'most recently published' list on Blogger tonight, Afghan Voice, and The Bloggin Muslimz.

Friday, August 15, 2003

I was going to post the link, but Lambert at Eschaton beat me to it.

If it weren't for an underlying sense of fear and for the economic cost -I'm thinking in terms of goods lost to heat more than lost opportunities for 'wealth creation'- I'd call the blackout a success. I walked from 22nd Street on the west side and over the Williamsburg Bridge at sunset. In Brooklyn as we got off the bridge the Hasidim were handing out plastic cups of water, but by the time I realized what the young girl had shoved in front of me -we both moved to quickly- I was past. I turned around to see the man I was walking with take the cup and thank her. If I hadn't looked I wouldn't have known what happened.
Everybody was in the street. The only people who missed out were the those trying to get somewhere. I ended up in a bar drinking tequila by candlelight and flirting with a tall Polish bartender with a sexy gap toothed grin. It was the perfect snow day, and all the snow vanished before it turned to slush. Things might have changed if it had lasted for a second night.

-I walked over the bridge with Gareth James of the the Whitney ISP and we agreed that 5 minutes of darkness once a year would be a more appropriate and more powerful commemoration of September 11th than the Nuremberg inspired twin towers of light: an acknowledgment of weakness rather than a celebration of false strength. And as all the news photographs show, the city in darkness was beautiful.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Begin here and work your way down. Read especially, "Racism and Liberals." I don't have to agree with Nathan all the time to appreciate it when when he gets suspicious, especially when liberals are so glib about writing it off.
Some clarification on my last post, spcifically on Mark Riley's discussion of homosexuality. What I wrote wasn't very clear and didn't give him nearly enough credit.
goodnight

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Other than for the limited purposes of exposing Republican hypocrisy, Democrats should leave Schwarzenegger's skirt chasing, if that's all it is, out of the debate. And he has other problems:

"Every day seems to throw up a new twist in the race. Schwarzenegger received the presidential blessing at the weekend, but other fellow Republicans have since attacked him and criticized his lack of experience. It has also emerged that he supported Proposition 187, the 1994 measure that disqualified undocumented immigrants from access to public services. This is an inflammatory issue for many Latinos since the measure was aimed at them, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out, especially as Davis's deputy, Cruz Bustamante, is currently second in the polls and could pip Arnie at the post to become the first Latino governor for decades." The Guardian.
He's also been an inconsistent voter.

Thanks to someone on the job, I've become hooked on NY's West Indian radio station, WLIB, specifically the morning political talk show, "Politics Live."
If you're not in New York, you can catch it on the web. A lot of the talk is obviously local, but goes into national and international news as well, and not only the cricket (or table tennis) scores in Jamaica or Trinidad. Politics also goes in and out during the day. One of the music DJ's made some smart, funny, and sad comments about Arnold Shwarzenegger and the political culture of the US. He began by saying how much respect he had for the US and for all that it allowed people to do who had come here with so little, but from there he went on for 3 or 4 minutes talking about the implications of the situation in California. He knew his audience and he knew that they were paying attention. And afterwards he went back to playing music. It was all smartly done.

Most of the political talk is obviously on Mark Riley's 'Politics Live.' Riley has some of the same guests you'd expect to hear on a Pacifica station, but WLIB it not WBAI. To begin with it has a large and socially conservative, and often christian, audience. It's a small station serving an ethnic community -which is similar but not identical to a political community- so it has to serve everyone. That's its strength. I heard Riley involved in a long discussion with a woman who was angry about the decision in the Episcopal Church regarding Gene Robinson. She was preaching at him and he was responding politely but a little incredulously to her efforts. Using her own conservative logic Riley asked her if there was a difference between homosexuality and adultery. "Yes!" she said. Riley implied that adultery was an ongoing problem in the West Indian community, but one that people tended to consider private. What was the difference? Riley wasn't disrespectful, and he did not push her, but he made his opinions and his logic clear, if not to her than other members of his audience. I'm sure he's well ahead of the majority of them on gay rights, but that fact made his skill even more more evident. He doesn't equate homosexuality with adultery, and made the point that if not for the circumstances, Robinson's divorce should be considered more problematic than his sexual orientation. Riley then went on to describe the anxieties and doubts facing closeted homosexuals in such a way that even the decision to divorce became reasonable and moral. He used his opponent's logic against itself and against her without alienating his audience or insulting anyone. It was extremely smart, and that's why they listen. For all those left and right who get in arguments about judges and popular will, it's important to consider that systems of debate are only as flexible or inflexible as the minds of those who use them.

And of course on LIB I get to listen to Sparrow.

Monday, August 11, 2003

I deleted the whole post rather than keep fucking with it, so I'll try again.
Iran and China are not creatures out of some cold war nightmare. They are both countries run by governments in crisis with populations in crisis, but with those populations actively engaged in the struggles both of and against the state. I can disagree with the policies of the governments or peoples of both, even angrily so without treating them with disrespect.

Sunday:
In The Times Magazine today there were two pieces on players in the market: one on the dangerous idiot behind The Club for Growth, and the other an interview with Bill Gross, who runs the world's largest bond fund. I liked the way Gross came off, as I like the man I got drunk with last week, and who manages about 500 million. I have about as much respect for either of them as I can for those who enjoy power. But their seriousness is a far cry from the self serving simplicity that lies behind everything about this administration. Everything about Bush and Co. exemplifies the sort of decadent laziness that this country more and more is becoming known for. But there is no simple left/right division: green haired Naderites are about as absurd as Rush Limbaugh's dittoheads. Thomas Friedman's condescension's to the Arab Middle East is similar in many ways to Eric Alterman's towards the musicians he smirkingly idolizes. Alterman's unreflective "orientalist'' appreciation of popular culture makes me cringe. Both represent the arrogant purblind sense of superiority of the snobbishly educated American towards any who are not his own.
------
Yes, you need to have a love hate relationship to your subject if you want to produce anything of lasting worth. And yes, the need for 'patriotism' in the press, including or especially the left wing press, seems to make that rare, outside of the writing of regional figures. Molly Ivins relationship to Texas is a good example of what it would be nice to see a lot more of. And still you get this idiotic notion that objectivity means giving as much credence to obvious bullshit as to reason. ["The Culture of Argument" etc.]

By and large American journalists don't understand writing or argument, or the relationship of an author to his/her work. Even at their best, they're illustrators. One gets the impression from the British press that they know at least what art is even if the aren't making it themselves. There is the sense reading most of the Americans that they exist only in the passive voice: things are done to them, to us; we are affected by things and actions of the powerful, or the powerful are affected by our actions. In some vague sort of way, things seems to 'happen.' Reading the newspaper is like having a conversation at a cocktail party with a person whom you realize suddenly isn't even there, not in the sense of Jane Austen not being in the room with you, but in the sense of somehow not existing. Nonetheless a dull querulous voice is mumbling at you.
I am not much interested in the writing on most blogs, but for reasons opposite those for my dislike of journalism. If the object of the blog itself is not to document the diarist's indulgence ("I took a nice shit today.") and the author is not trying to sound like a 'real' journalist, s/he still ends up producing something too close to the narcissist's diary. Eric Alterman's 'casual' Altercation may be more self referential than his writing in The Nation but it's no more self aware.
Americans, and I suppose I am referring to educated Americans, tend either to look 'outward,' ignoring the interior -their own presence as subject-, or 'inward,' ignoring whatever lies outside their imagination. Others become involved in a medium itself, whatever one interests them, to the exclusion both of psychology and of outward awareness and responsibility. Good writing, and good thought, concerns all three: style, substance, and the object that substance, as an idea, approximates. Even the most interesting American reporters seem not to understand this. The most vulgar British hacks on the other hand, know what they've sunk to because they know where they've sunk FROM. British cynicism is made impressive by its passion. Our cynics are passive.
More than ever the best writing on America is being done by foreigners.
----

My other point was simple. Hapsburg Spain was not Hitler's Germany, though South America under the monarchy may have felt the same to the native population. Extreme barbarism coexisted with great culture. Fascism, for reasons I go into on occasion does not produce culture as much as destroy it, and the extreme partisans of the Bush agenda, judged clearly and without bias, have a tend towards destruction. China and Iran, and Islam in general, are going through what amounts to both destructive and creative 'Bourgeois' revolutions. The leaders in those countries are smarter and more interesting than our own. Fears about a great division, east and west etc. are absurd. The one issue that matters, and the one that conservatives on all sides are ignoring is the impact of the new and massive industrialization that is happening in China and elsewhere on the environment of our planet. That is the most serious question of the next 100 years. For our country itself the problem is that soon the way things are going our ONLY leadership will be in weaponry and kitsch. In the best scenario, politically and culturally, we're fading into the pack. The danger is in the strength of the reactionary forces that are trying now, pathetically and self destructively, to make sure that doesn't happen.
----
Mark Kleiman is still following the Joseph Wilson story which -almost- nobody else seems to be, and he makes one of the few references I've seen to the CBS story about the document mandating secrecy in the handling of accusations of abuse that held as official policy in the Catholic Church until 2001. Between those two he wastes time talking about himself talking about the California recall. He's right about one thing: Bustamante comes off as a bit dim.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

I don't know if it's an apology or merely an observation but I live in NY City, I'm non union -for better and worse- and I work with illegals. As I've said before, going back to the experiences in my childhood, I have a hard time with the white working class. They carry most of the weight in this country, but I'm from a city with a non-white population of over 50%.
These are all conflicts I live with.
-I've removed the offending pargraph. If I don't have the patience to be clear, I should stop writing.-

Why Won't Progressives Give Credit to Unions?.

Friday, August 08, 2003

"They [the Pentagon officials] were talking to him [Ghorbanifar] about stuff which they weren't officially authorized to do," said a senior administration official. "It was only accidentally that certain parts of our government learned about it."
Newsday

We're on a platform being pushed across a stage.

"Look at my feet! I haven't moved a muscle"
"I know."

The rest of the world is in the audience- those who can afford the seats (it's not the commies it's the fucking bourgeoisie)- they're shaking their heads in amazement.
"We believe the use of air power in such a war would be swifter and more devastating than it was in Iraq," the article said. "We judge that the U.S. and South Korea could defeat North Korea decisively in 30 to 60 days with such a strategy."The Globe and Mail.

They don't give a damn about civilians. They don't give a damn about anything but their own plans. And they say they are speaking for US and acting on OUR behalf. This is not the time for equivocation. These people have no respect the opinions of others, no respect for those who suffer the consequences of their decisions, and not respect for logic itself. Bush's cronies are greedy, hot-headed and stupid. And-just barely at this point - they run the world. This isn't acrimony we're facing it's criminality. Any serious conservative should be terrified of what is happening. Only a culture of endless and circular debate could produce an argument that says this administration deserves any sort of respect other than that you give madmen with guns. My god, Kim Jong Il is weak, arrogant and utterly predictable. Shouldn't we have the advantage? Who the fuck are these idiots?

Thursday, August 07, 2003

I've been busy and in no mood to post.
Josh Marshall wasted too much time on this when he could have been writing things like this, or this.

"...the TPM audience leans Democratic --- though probably not as much as most people think."
I never thought that for a minute.

Bali bomber to face firing squad.
On the TV I saw a number of white Australians give their approval of the sentence. I know somebody who went to that club once. He watched the doorman turn away the non-white locals.

I got drunk with a Wall Street macher yesterday. There were four people at the table and the two of us got into a shouting match about North Korea. He may have been right, or maybe I was just thinking longer term: he was thinking about making money. Bush scares the shit out of him, but he's even more scared of the North. He's following China and he doesn't want Kim Jong Il to fuck it up. I said I was more worried about Bush. Interesting discussion about the future of the oil business.

Remember, Arnold is an old friend and supporter of Kurt Waldheim.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

From The Guardian: "US military casualties from the occupation of Iraq have been more than twice the number most Americans have been led to believe because of an extraordinarily high number of accidents, suicides and other non-combat deaths in the ranks that have gone largely unreported in the media...
The other unreported cost of the war for the US is the number of American wounded, 827 since Operation Iraqi Freedom began.
Unofficial figures are in the thousands. About half have been injured since the president's triumphant appearance on board the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln at the beginning of May. Many of the wounded have lost limbs."
What Wall Street's boosters/salesmen can do for corporations, they can also do for countries. And another reason to love the web: Gossip from The Telegraph.
Continuing from my last post. An Interesting response from a letter writer to the Times.

--Re "That Old-Time Religion: New Jersey Priest's Use of Latin in Mass Sparks Protest" (news article, July 28):
As I read about the group of parishioners who phoned the news media and then picketed against a traditionalist Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. John A. Perricone, I thought of the many conservative Catholics, inclined toward obedience, who have silently endured pop-psychologizing, "Kumbaya"-singing clergymen.
More than 35 years of revolution within the church have brought us scandals, doctrinal chaos and empty seminaries. I wish we had a thousand more Father Perricones.
CHRISTOPHER HENZEL--

I don't really care about doctrinal chaos because I have no interest in doctrine, and obedience as such is not a virture but a vice. On the other hand the problem with "Kumbaya singing clergymen" I understand, but that is not so much a problem of the faithful populace as for the elite which serves them (or which they serve.) Again it goes back to the notion of a 'lack of depth' in technocratic liberalism. Personally, I have no doubt that Father Perricone is both a hypocrite and a believer in his own hypocrisy, which in some cases is just fine. As many people admit, it's the ritual act itself that gives weight and purpose, not whatever meaning it's supposed to have. The condescending little smirk on Father Perricone's face betrays his knowledge of this and his pleasure in that little secret. But these days his arrogance is inappropriate. It is the conservative church that has to anwer for this not benign if banal liberalism.
The lack of an intellectual and philosophical rootedness in liberalism is an issue that has never been resolved except in the lives of those who have done so for themselves. A successful 'Modernity' depends on a sense of responsibility that most people are incapable of; it takes too much time and effort. The majority are unwilling to replace a sort of socially coercive obligation with one that is the result of their choosing. [Noam Chomsky, thinking otherwise, has his head up his ass] But at the same time, jobs that once had some sort of emotional fullfillment are having it stripped away from them -try taking pride in being a carpenter these days- and more and more the newer skills are based on nothing more than the ability to pull a good con. How do you get stability from that?

The lack of stability is not a result of creeping athiesm and it is not an excuse to return to the lies of the past; the lies people worship have changed. But with the exception of people like Mel Gibson and his father, they never took them very seriously to begin with. This is not a people's crisis it's a crisis for their leaders, like Father Perricone, and for intellectuals like Chomsky. With a little money and the possibility a some self respect, none of this would matter at all to the rest of the people. It's the adventures of our elites that get us into trouble.
The older I get, the more I think I'm with the peasants.
In reference to the intellectual 'elite' and those who imagine they belong to it, read this from The Times on July 28th, and look at the photograph of Father John A. Perricone. Imagine John Malkovich doing a Kevin Spacey imitation.
When I comment on the "arrogant superiority of household servants towards the rabble" (see my last post), creepy little faggots like this are what I have in mind.
The issue of Gay marriage is a good example of the way in which courts respond to but do not simply reflect popular opinion. I don't think we should 'leave' issues to the courts any more than we should 'leave' them to the people or their representatives. The debate will be going on for a while, and if it ends up in the court system so be it. Conservative appointees may set things back temporarily, but in the not-very long run the conservatives will lose. Civil unions, or the right to hold on to property- an apartment for example- if one partner passes away, are a different matter. But as in the death penalty, the opinion of a certain percentage of the elite, myself included, that it is immoral should not be enough to change the law. That's why I was interested in the article in the Times Magazine a few weeks ago about the number of juries who vote against the death penalty. And that's why I'm fascinated by the differences between the 'popular' liberal/leftism of Atrios et al. as opposed to the more 'intellectual' left, and why I'm more optimistic about the latter. The avant garde, philosophical, legal or otherwise, is less important than it used to be and all in all it's a good thing especially since a good portion of the avant garde is headed backwards.

It's only been mentioned in passing but in the murder trial in Puerto Rico that ended last week in acquittal, Ashcroft claimed federal jurisdiction in part through the the regulation of interstate commerce. Apparently the kidnapped shopkeeper was unable to take deliveries!
"The only writer born here I can think of who extends this sort of inquisitiveness to politics is Joan Didion."
Of course, Norman Mailer dropped by recently.

Friday, August 01, 2003

The Deep End etc.
The problem is that the sense of individuality that dominates our economic and cultural life puts those who see themselves as intellectuals at a remove from the rest of their community that is not good for either. Libertarianism is simply the most extreme example of this. But this country is not known for it's intellectuals, except for those it imports, while its most important products, cultural and economic, have come from other parts of the community. We gave the world both Hollywood and Jazz, and Europeans understood them before we did. Our intellectuals are always playing catch-up. That is as it should be, but they should not have to be taught respect. Hollywood may have been a dream of consumerist utopia, but that doesn't mean it wasn't profound entertainment. And Ellington and others may have elevated popular music, but while they did so they brought a new life to the moribund classical tradition, saving Rachmaninoff from kitsch, adding structure to what had become cheap sentiment.

Any society will have an intellectual elite, and this was my complaint with Nathan Newman (see below). But that elite can not afford to take itself for granted. As I've said before, the genius of society is not in it's individuals but in it's systems. The English language is more complex than any novel. And what writer does not wish s/he could compete with the authors of The Odyssey, which, after all, Homer did not write but polish.

Of course many conservatives make a similar criticism of the 'shallowness' of liberalism, and in a sense I agree. But their moralism expresses the arrogant superiority of household servants towards the rabble, with their servitude being to a conflation of knowledge (as defined by dogma) and the rich. [This explains why so many neocons are gay. More than one friend has complained to me about how few real tops there are in New York. "Faggots are all bottoms." ] The opposite of this is found in Chomsky, who argues with a similar simplicity that everybody not only wants to be free, but wants and is capable of committing themselves to the responsibilities of freedom.

What I like about political writing in the mainstream British press, though it shares something with all good writing political or not, is an awareness within all but the most absurd arguments of both the stupidity of our tribe and of its ability to produce brilliance in out of the way places and at unexpected times. The mixture of ironic detachment and curiosity that results from this sort of assumption would be considered almost unpatriotic here: one may be a cynic or an idealist but ambiguity is a still a sign of moral weakness. The only writer born here I can think of who extends this sort of inquisitiveness to politics is Joan Didion.