Sunday, November 30, 2003

ATRIOS:"Kevin Phillips has an interesting Op-Ed about the upcoming political season. At the end he raises the real possibility that during the RNC convention, NYC will likely effectively be operating under martial law. Sad but true. I don't know what to do about it except to implore the media to put the cameras outside as well as inside.

The RNC has already clearly stated that they've learned much from the way they handled the starry-eyed reporters during the Iraq war, and are planning to "embed" them into the convention as well. To do your jobs you need to look not just where they're pointing you, but where they're trying to point you away from."
"One of Britain's most high-profile charities was ordered to end criticism of military action in Iraq by its powerful US wing to avoid jeopardising financial support from Washington and corporate donors"
The Guardian

Saturday, November 29, 2003

British Performance Poet Rejects OBE:
I woke up on the morning of November 13 wondering how the government could be overthrown and what could replace it, and then I noticed a letter from the prime minister's office. It said: "The prime minister has asked me to inform you, in strict confidence, that he has in mind, on the occasion of the forthcoming list of New Year's honours to submit your name to the Queen with a recommendation that Her Majesty may be graciously pleased to approve that you be appointed an officer of the Order of the British Empire."
By coincidence I found the link while listening to LKJ, Linton Kwesi Johnson; his first album, Dread Beat an' Blood from 1978.

Link from Brian Leiter
A comment (mine) at Crooked Timber, from a post about Critical Theory and bad writing. It was written on the fly so it's rough:

-God save us all from the fans of ‘Theory,’ and its enemies.
What the theory-heads attempt is to reconnect narrative rhetorical style and philosophical jargon; and they fail only because they still want to be philosophers rather than mere historians or writers of prose. But at the same time they try because they know that in the real world the line between logic and bullshit is not a line at all, but a gray area. As I’ve said again, and again -and again- law and the struggle for 'imperfect' justice exist precisely here. Johnny Cochran- of O.J. Simpson fame- is not an analytical philosopher but he plays a part, literally, in the most theatrical sense, of an actor in the philosophically and morally profound structure we call ‘The Legal System.’ The fans of logical analysis, on the other hand, defend a philosophy disconnected from this world -and it is a bloody real world- of experience and ambiguity. The ideal of a man, or woman, alone with his thoughts somehow apart from social structures, implications, and obligations, is a utopian fantasy that Marx among others ridiculed mercilessly, and with good reason. It’s fine for mathematicians I suppose, but the hard sciences are amoral on principle, and peopled most often by those who avoid such issues entirely: scientists are often moral idiots. Philosophy, and philosophers, should never have that luxury.

It may be socially conservative to say so, but the creative capacity of man outside a priori structures is limited. We can not communicate without language. We can not express emotions without referring to symbols and documents of past emotion. And I'm sorry but I’ll be god damned if I’m going to get in an argument with someone who defends his vision of philosophy with references to the ‘DUNE’ trilogy. [which John Holbo does in his original post on his blog] You want to study philosophy? Go to a murder trial and brush up on your Shakespeare. Literary theorists, for all their faults, understand this.

And by the way, Kant is absolutely brilliant on art. It’s a wonder he’s been forgotten by his children. If you want to have a little fun read the section of the Critique of Judgment that deals with esthetics and in doing so substitute the word ‘justice’ every time you read the word ‘beauty’ and law’ every time you read the word ‘art.’
What a fucking brilliant man.- if the pretensions of theory and those of logical analysis aren't symptoms of the same disease.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Interesting juxtaposition.
The BBC:

Mr Dyke, who was given a broadcasting excellence award, said news channels needed to challenge governments.
"News organisations should be in the business of balancing their coverage, not banging the drum for one side or the other," he said.
He said coverage of the war showed the difference between the US and the UK.
He said the need for balance was "something which seemed to get lost in American reporting during the war".
British TV wins at Monday's awards included the best news award for Channel 4's coverage of the fall of Saddam Hussein, and the BBC's comedy The Kumars at Number 42 winning the best popular arts (scripted) award.

In his speech, Mr Dyke quoted research that showed that of 840 commentators aired on US TV, only four were opposed to the war.
"I have to tell you if that was true in Britain the BBC would have failed in its duty," he said.
Bush's ploy will give him a small boost, but democrats should be careful. When dealing with a drunken teenager, whether the president or the American population at large, it's important to behave as an adult. Parents get called hypocrites for a reason, the same reason democrats lose elections: no one wants to sit through lectures on moral seriousness from a millionaire. In a country of easy cynicism and otherwise shallow political belief, the only time people are willing to think carefully is in a crisis. The Democrats can win if they respond carefully and practically.

The Washington Post:
"While the troops cheered the moment, it is too soon to know whether the image of Bush in his Army jacket yesterday will become a symbol of strong leadership or a symbol of unwarranted bravado.
Iraqis may be reassured that the United States will put down the insurgency and restore order in their country. Or they may take the image of Bush landing unannounced at night without lights and not venturing from a heavily fortified military installation as confirmation that the security situation in Iraq is dire indeed.
...In contrast to Bush's carrier landing, which they immediately branded a stunt, Bush's critics yesterday did not begrudge him the trip to Iraq, nor the necessary secrecy, nor even the disinformation the White House used to lead people to believe he would be at home on his ranch in Texas all day. Rather, they said the visit may come to reinforce their view that the administration has led the United States into a lonely occupation of Iraq without an obvious exit strategy."

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

The older I get the more amazed I am at those who think they are or should be considered experts on one subject or another because they're experts at talking. We're a nation of actors out to convince ourselves and everyone else that we're a nation of geniuses and heroes.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

What should I say to this?
I'm not a Zionist. I never was, and never will be; my father's family has more right to land in Poland and Germany than it does in the Middle East. I've heard Israel defended as a socialist state surrounded by dictatorships, but socialism for one group in a multi-ethnic state is not socialism. It's tyranny.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Department of Minor Comment.
I'd love to hear someone try to explain to a Libertarian, a Randian, or even a defender of rational actor theory, that there's a significant difference between the two texts. After all, they 'mean' the same thing, don't they? All other considerations are merely 'aesthetic.'
"Friends, the Republic is in real danger. It is not the UN black helicopters that threaten it, but elements of the United States officer corps. That is, if their thinking is in any way exemplified by Tommy Franks. Franks has speculated that in the wake of a major WMD attack, the US will scrap its constitution and adopt a military government. I can't imagine a more fascist, irresponsible thing for him to say.
"Friends, the Republic is in real danger. It is not the UN black helicopters that threaten it, but elements of the United States officer corps. That is, if their thinking is in any way exemplified by Tommy Franks. Franks has speculated that in the wake of a major WMD attack, the US will scrap its constitution and adopt a military government. I can't imagine a more fascist, irresponsible thing for him to say." Juan Cole.
With thanks to Zizka.
Makes me want to read Coetzee.

I grew up on a diet rich in Weimar culture. As a child I used to listen to Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's Mahagonny and feel as if I were being ripped apart by the contradictions: between morality and decadence. This was a physical sensation, and a pleasureable one. Harold Pinter describes a similar experience, of a sort or esthetic bliss, reading The Jacobeans.
When I spend too much time around philosophers and reformers, I need to remind myself of the world of things.
I'm not a nice man and I'm not in a forgiving mood:

"If everyone were as mature as I, the world would not be in such a sorry state. But since one can not speak out without being touched by the immature and vulgar, I think I'll stay at home."

Politics is theater not philosophy, you idiot.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

I haven't gone back to Steven Jay Gould (Nov 16) yet. I've been too busy for real thought. In the meantime I had hoped to link to this article on Amartya Sen in the new issue, but now I see you have to pay for it. Again, from the Gould article:

Linda is active in the feminist movement;
Linda is a bank teller;
Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

Now it simply must be true that the third statement is least likely, since any conjunction has to be less probable than either of its parts considered separately. Everybody can understand this when the principle is explained explicitly and patiently. But all groups of subjects, sophisticated students who ought to understand logic and probability as well as folks off the street corner, rank the last statement as more probable than the second. (I am particularly fond of this example because I know that the third statement is least probable, yet a little homunculus in my head continues to jump up and down, shouting at me—"but she can't just be a bank teller; read the description.")

Obviously, my point is that I think we 'match to type' for a reason, and that 'type', or belief, skews statistical analysis.
Imagine a description of Linda that implies, but does not state, that she is Jewish (call it racial profiling.)
Then attach these options:

Linda is an FBI agent;
Linda is a member of the American Nazi Party;
Linda is an FBI agent and a member of the American Nazi Party.

Politics: Today?
I'm disgusted. We'll leave it at that for now. It's a beautiful afternoon,
I'm going outside to play.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Spirited Away...

Before I go [to bed]: Jonathon Delacour on Miyazaki Hayao's wonderful Sen to chihiro no kamikakushi. Read the comments as well.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Mass hysteria, wave after breaking wave
Blueblooded Cantonese upon these shores

Left the gene pool Lux-opaque and smoking
with dimestore mutants. One turned up today.

[update Sept 2006: It's James Merrill. And since I get hits asking for the meaning of "Lux-opaque" Lux is/was a brand of dish-soap.
In case you were wondering, or didn't get the reference, it's Chinese, but I don't know how old. It didn't cost me much and I'm supposed to have an eye; we'll see. In the meantime, as I've been saying a lot recently, get your news here.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Hey Dick! (It's the aftermath, Stupid.)
Steven Jay Gould in The New York Review, from 1988.

- Amos Tversky, who studied "hot hands," has performed a series of elegant psychological experiments with Daniel Kahneman. These long-term studies have provided our finest insight into "natural reasoning" and its curious departure from logical truth. To cite an example, they construct a fictional description of a young woman: "Linda is thirty-one years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations." Subjects are then given a list of hypothetical statements about Linda: they must rank these in order of presumed likelihood, most to least probable. Tversky and Kahneman list eight statements, but five are a blind, and only three make up the true experiment:

Linda is active in the feminist movement;
Linda is a bank teller;
Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

Now it simply must be true that the third statement is least likely, since any conjunction has to be less probable than either of its parts considered separately. Everybody can understand this when the principle is explained explicitly and patiently. But all groups of subjects, sophisticated students who ought to understand logic and probability as well as folks off the street corner, rank the last statement as more probable than the second. (I am particularly fond of this example because I know that the third statement is least probable, yet a little homunculus in my head continues to jump up and down, shouting at me—"but she can't just be a bank teller; read the description.")

Why do we so consistently make this simple logical error? Tversky and Kahneman argue, correctly I think, that our minds are not built (for whatever reason) to work by the rules of probability, though these rules clearly govern our universe. We do something else that usually serves us well, but fails in crucial instances: we "match to type." We abstract what we consider the "essence" of an entity, and then arrange our judgments by their degree of similarity to this assumed type. Since we are given a "type" for Linda that implies feminism, but definitely not a bank job, we rank any statement matching the type as more probable than another that only contains material contrary to the type. This propensity may help us to understand an entire range of human preferences, from Plato's theory of form to modern stereotyping of race or gender.-

More on this later.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Some awful writing in the last post; now fixed (I hope.)
I am relying more and more on Juan Cole, not only because he's a college teacher and fluent in Arabic, but because he gives Iraq and Iraqis the respect they deserve. Even to say he 'gives' respect misses the point. I've spent some free time this week posting comments on this thread on Maxspeak, and I've had it.
I noticed a few weeks ago that some righteous liberal had posted a list of favorite movies from the past few years. Others chimed in with their own lists; I don't even want to say who got involved, it's too embarrassing. The imports were limited to a few films from the past year or two. Nothing from Iran. Nothing from China or Taiwan: No Wong Kar Wei or Hou Hsiao-Hsien. No Claire Denis; no Mike Leigh. I don't think even Almodovar made a list. It's the same disease.
Not that it's been mentioned much recently but here's the graph showing the results for many of those who took the Political Compass test. I'm not listed but I'm in the lower left somewhere. When I took the test I hoped I would end up in the upper left, along with Russell Arben Fox. But there is a difference between approving of something and allowing it to occur. The Anarcho-narcissism of libertarians -left and right- drives me nuts, but I don't think there is much we can do about it without redefining justice in a way I can't accept. I don't think it's practicable, or moral, to proscribe self indulgence. But I do approve of forms of social coercion other than those given the force of law, and that's a different matter entirely.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

A word that disgusts me, mostly because those who make use of it subscribe to a certain form of positivism that chooses analysis and design over history and interpretation: the synchronic, ahistorical and therefore pseudoscientific over the historical, narrative and therefore 'merely subjective'. But of course by referring to the history of ideas as the equivalent of a blind struggle for genetic dominance, the core idea of humanism- our sense of free will- is tossed in the dustbin. How quaint that science and anti-humanist postmodernism fit so well together.
Fucking idiots.
Posted without comment
"And Bremer roars and rages- where are the Puppets? Where are the marionettes?! How dare they miss yet another meeting! But they all have their reasons, Mr.Bremer: Talbani is suffering from indigestion after an ample meal last night; Iyad Allawi is scheduled for a pedicure in Switzerland this afternoon; Al-Hakim is jetting around making covert threats to the Gulf countries, and Chalabi says he's not attending meetings anymore, he's left the country and will be back when it's time for the elections…" Riverbend.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Mario Merz.
I worked with him on an installation for a week or so in 1985. I have some fond memories.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Fun on Saturday morning.
A good piece on the reaction to Dean's comments, in The Times.
Blackman's dilemma: contempt [I had written cynicism] on one side, condescension on the other.
Got me?
Why I have no respect for self serving liberals. From Tapped, Quoting Ken Pollack:

Whether you wanted to go into Iraq or not, whether you thought it was right or not, the simple fact of the matter is, that the entire region, the entire Middle East is now watching to see what unfolds in Iraq.

For the longest time, they basically had two options. They had the autocracy offered by their government and they had the Islamic republics offered by the Islamic fundamentalists. And here comes the United States and says, "We've got another idea. We've got another way of doing things, and that's democratization."

The U.S. is trying to do that now in Iraq. We're doing it with 130,000 troops and 100 billion of our own dollars. The rest of the region is watching to see if it succeeds. And if it succeeds, there is the chance that others will start to accept and start to move in that direction. If it fails, every Arab is going to look at it and say, the Americans tried, they tried with $100 billion, and 130,000 troops, and if it can't work in Iraq, there's no way it can work here.

To which Nick Confessore adds:
This is reality, like it or not. The United States needs to succeed in Iraq, something I think most Democrats actually do understand, conservative piping to the contrary. We can't go home; we have to figure out a way to make this thing work.

The arrogance of well meaning liberals continues to astound me. I don't mean to push the comparison too much, especially since I changed my mind recently -regarding one example- but the condescension towards blacks and arabs is too similar to ignore. The idea of one sovereign nation imposing democracy on another is always rather odd, and combined with the circumstances of our relationship to the Middle East, the haphazard policies and -amazingly- corrupt economics of the occupation are only making things worse.

The hope for democracy in the Middle East has always come from within: from Palestinian reformers, and as anyone who's been following that country for the last decade understands, from Iran. That is now augmented by the comparatively new sense among Arabs that 'Christian' Europe is nonetheless separate and distinct from its American cousin. None of this means that we, in whatever grouping, should not offer help, but the arrogance of the statement quoted so approvingly by Tapped leaves me shaking my head.

And here I get to lump everything together, since again all this turns on one point: the refusal of the self absorbed observer to have any sense of ironic detachment, no sense his own psychology nor that of his charges -is that too loaded a term?- when regarding the schemes of his grand imagining.

Friday, November 07, 2003

A link from Juan Cole:
Modern Iraq is no postwar Germany
Lawrence Korb Day 3.
At this point I'm more than a little worried that what our Asshole in Chief is planning is a replay of Nixon's "Christmas Bombings." In order to keep the war out of the election he'll up the ante on the Iraqi opposition, declare victory and pull out. It's a recipe for disaster. In the future we'll be able to remind those who defended him of the promises he's made, and of his lies.
I'm reminded again that with all of my arguing against the absurdity of ' logical actor theory,' -see below- all I'm doing is demonstrating my faith in it, in it's Chomskian variety. Why else would I continue to bang my head against the wall if not for my assumption that "if only they knew the facts, they would change their minds." [And of course I hate Chomsky.] Every time I remember this, I laugh. People, especially those with a taste for philosophizing, never learn from their mistakes.

I say now that although I've come to terms with my own mistakes and failures, and with my constant confusion of intellect and desire -and come to terms in the sense of taking pleasure from them- I'm still shocked by those who do not have the same sense of ironic detachment, and shocked in the sense of being disgusted, and furious- at the educated classes most of all. I still know how to hate. I do it well, and too much.
I posted a comment on Max's post about Sharpton and Dean's reference to the Confederate flag. Initially I agreed with Max, but as I wrote just now in a new comment on the same post, I've changed my mind.

"The Democratic response is superficial and cynical. Max is right about that. But I felt odd defending a reference to the confederate flag. Sharpton has as much right to be pissed as I would be if Dean made a passing reference to working class anti semites. And he needs their votes too. I might prefer it if Sharpton's response were more nuanced, but I'm not going to lump him with the white boys, or demand that he be more, how shall I say... Christian about it."

Thursday, November 06, 2003

I'm betting on China.
Interesting news today, at least for me. I never have much money, and what I have a rarely save. I have no debt; I don't even have a credit card; I own nothing. But if I don't have money I have plenty of cultural capital, and to the degree that I've used it, it's what has kept me afloat the past 20 years. Still, at 40, I've begun to worry.

I only have a few thousand dollars at the moment. Sometimes it goes down to a few hundred, but I survive. As of today, however, I have $3000 in a Roth IRA at Wachovia Securities. I won't say what I got. Nothing fancy, but I'm in early. Cultural capital at work.
I have other plans. I am an expert in a field that requires social skills I don't enjoy using; in certain instances my avoidance of them is almost pathological. That needs to change I guess.
We'll see what happens. Thinking practically, I've been poor my entire adult life. And I'm tired.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Posted without comment (the fuckers.)
Baklava Burning
I haven't linked to Max in a while:
"Bush's miserable failure here is magnified here by virtue of the point that it's not that a failure to progress, as defined by liberals. It's a failure of Commerce, what Republicans are supposed to be good at. But there is commerce and there is crony capitalism. We all know how Mr. Bush got rich. It wasn't by finding oil. Clinton was called our first black president. I say George Bush is our first Indonesian president."

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

The last post isn't a defense of emotionalism any more than Mendelsohn's article is. Our actions are colored by emotion, and those people who claim otherwise about themselves, while not always self-deluded are limited in their intellectual understanding of others. Singer, however, seems as confused about his own motivations for writing the book as he is about those of his grandfather. I'm thinking of paying 4 bucks for the web version of the article and putting it on my site.

Finally in reference to the by now absurd post at CT:  Let's remove the name "philosophy" from the subject heading of this discussion and replace it with "self-referential logic". That seems to be the only thing being discussed.  None of the categories discussed represent anything in the world; they refer only to each other. And when someone does make reference to the world,  to the point even of answering the question, he's ignored…
Mathematically, it wouldn't take that long. If you wait till the 4th day, you would get 4 flips giving you a 93.75% chance of getting at least one head. At the 12th day, you would have a 99.997% chance. Each extra day would give you only a very slight increase to your chances. (Waiting till the 13th day would increase your chances by 0.001% to 99.998% ...Then again, at the 13th day, you would have a 1/50,000 chance of losing. If you wanted to get the chances better than 1 in a million, you would have to hold out another week.
And this is because there is no interest shown in this discussion in the world as such, nor in anything concrete.

For a couple of years in the 80's I had a subscription to The Journal of Philosophy, and I've kept one issue on or around my desk for 15 years. It includes an article I've never forgotten: Morality and Self Other Asymmetry by Michael Slote, at the time and perhaps still of Trinity College Dublin. Not having read Allan Sokal's piece in Social Text, I can only say I'd be surprised if it were any more worthy of ridicule than this. What Slote attempts, using only the tools of logical analysis, is an explanation of why in common-sense morality it is considered appropriate to offer oneself as a sacrifice in place of another, but not to offer another in sacrifice in place of a third party. Any anthropologist would tell you about the ways in which societies create categories for those 'outiders' who are allowed, or required, to transcend such definitions. The military is the obvious example, since it is divided between the majority and the officers who live apart from them, but command them. This information could be used to reflect back on common sense morality, understood as the moral dynamic among the enlisted, as among the various officers (grouped by rank.) It takes an understanding of psychology to gather why this division is required, though it seems obvious. But Slote, being a philosopher, is unwilling to take account of such a mess. [On another front, the grapevine says Dear Leader is thinking about getting the draft up and running]

I'm done for now. I'm tired. But since I'm back on analytical philosphy, and I seem to be getting a few hits from CT I'll take this from a post on Sept 26:
In The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Simon Blackburn writes this about Donald Davidson: 
"Davidson has also known for rejection of the idea of s conceptual scheme, thought of as something peculiar to one language or one way of looking at the world, arguing that where the possibility of translation stops so does the coherence of the idea that there is something to translate."

So if it is impossible to translate the finer points in Mallarmé, then no finer points exist.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Again, it will be a slow week for writing.
I wrote the comments on Crooked Timber in a hurry. Short overstuffed paragraphs make for pompous diction.
In my third comment- not reposted here- I mentioned Daniel Mendelsohn's review of Pushing Time Away: My Grandfather and the Tragedy of Jewish Vienna by Peter Singer. The article is a logical defense of the relation between emotion and human intelligence, written in response to an author who seems not to understand that such a relationship exists, even as he is describing his family history and himself.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

"If you want proof of the ultimate intentions of conservatives and why filibustering judges is needed, check out the post by Daniel Bernstein defending the pre-New Deal Supreme Court at the The Volokh Conspiracy. Appeals Court nomine Janice Brown has refused to disavow decisions from this period, notably the Lochner decision, which struck down a state overtime law, so Bernstein sets off to defend the court era." .Nathan Newman.
Having fun at Crooked Timber today.
Art is the articulate, even brilliant, glossing over of conflict and contradiction. To take art seriously, as more than a simple diversion, is to choose what is complex, indirect, intelligent and most often logically wrong, over what is simple, direct and quite often technically speaking, right. This is not practical at least in the short term, but in the long term neither is simplicity. ‘Justice’ is not simple, and is defined in our literature as ‘Imperfect’ Justice, imperfect both because of the third party systems of communication we are forced to use -language etc.- and because we have a tendency to replace logic with art for reasons of simple desire. This means: 1- That we may each ‘desire’ an outcome and -2 We can not even agree on the meaning of words. What is the definition of the color ‘red’. “Well… I think it’s more orange actually” These are limitations to our experience which we will not escape. Art reminds us, indeed demonstrates to us, the subtlety of our perceptions, the subtlety of our ability to bend and twist things beyond recognition. It is a dangerous drug to take by choice, especially since we’re born drunk. However, in my leisure hours, when I am not rushing someone to the hospital or at work -on a construction site- I choose to remind myself of the ambiguities we face by going to museums, listening to Mozart and 50 Cent, and attacking conservative arguments on constitutional law. That way I know that when it comes time to make the important decisions, I will have prepared myself to face them, aware of my limitations, as best I can.
Philosophy is ‘an attempt’ to think clearly. Please don’t confuse that with clarity.