Sunday, February 29, 2004

Added 5 or so links to various sub-groups on the linklist.

One positive note about Edward Rothstein and now I'm linking to a writer for the National Review.
I'll link to conservatives before libertarians any day.

It takes a certain kind of conservatism to understand and be interested in culture as such. Liberals, as idealists, tend to value the idea more than the thing, and culture is less about ideas than about those things they inhabit. It's about a love of things themselves not just of their meaning. Of course as far as production is concerned, curiosity needs to outpace fear, so it takes at least a certain awareness of ambiguity to actually do anything worthwhile. Making things is the opposite, after all, of sitting on your ass.

Libertarians extend the logic of liberalism to the valuing of ideas alone, seeing objects as vessels and words and images as illustrations rather than independent manifestations of a complex order. Again the simple simile: communication is like a game of 'telephone.' Moral conservatives and leftists value the game itself as a stabilizing force; whether it is grounded or not, and if so in what, is a different matter. Liberals and to a greater extent libertarians value only the product.
And after all I'm a leftist, a bourgeois leftist to be sure, but not a liberal.
---

Haiti is fucked. In the past we've played a part in this; what part we're playing now
I don't know. link

Saturday, February 28, 2004

New Link.
I'll be adding a couple others soon.
My last post on Mel Gibson until I see the film.
First, I'm a not interested in attacking someone for saying anything in public that others find disturbing. I'd rather have those things out in the open than mumbled under the breath. Also, not all reactionaries are hypocrites and I'm more offended by hypocrisy than faith. The sensitivities it may be necessary to appease in a democracy are not the same as those necessary to art. I'm really not sure, for example, if there's even been a work of art produced in the Catholic world that can be seen as philosophically democratic in nature.

It's undoubtedly a perverse film. A.O. Scott refers to this, without going very far, in his Times review. Mary Gordon in today's paper calls the it "a perversion of the meaning of the event and its context." This is a theological question that doesn't interest me. Edward Rothstein does better in describing Gibson's sensibility as medieval and compares the film unfavorably to the philosophical modernism of the St Matthew Passion.
In such a perverse age, I find it annoying when liberals refuse to take account of the complex forms and meaning of violence. To say that it is destructive of the self, is to deny that many forms of pleasure act in such a way. Orgasm, as Belle will tell you, is a moment -at least- when the world vanishes. But liberalism acts as a critique not only of violence but of ecstasy. I'm not going to defend sado-masochism, since that's the subject here, but neither am I going to ignore it's power. I live in New York. Large cities are interesting places.

Rothstein, as a conservative and a man willing to give pleasure its due, is able to critique Gibson's film not by means of cheap moralism -and at this point in time, is there any other sort?- but on the grounds of formal logic, and of the meaning of that logic. Any political critique, if it is to carry weight, has to be made in such a way.

Friday, February 27, 2004

And how those moments kept me going for weeks afterward, like pearls dotting the cord of our moribund relationship. Belle
My God how the woman can write.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

I'm so fucking lazy. Take it away Kiddo:

Angry Arabs and American Media...
We were all watching Al-Itijah Al-Mu'akis or "The Opposite Direction" on Al-Jazeera. It was pretty good today. We had just cleared the dinner table and were settling down to watch some film when E. turned the channel to Al-Jazeera expecting a news brief. I instantly recognized the man in the lemon yellow shirt with his longish curly hair pulled back in a ponytail- Asa'ad Abu Khalil. I remembered him from an interview he did on Al-Arabiya or Al-Jazeera- I can't remember which- immediately after the war, slamming Radio Sawa. Tonight, "The Opposite Direction" was hosting Asa'ad Abu Khalil, better known as The Angry Arab, and Ibraheim Al-Ariss, a writer for Al-Hayat newspaper which is based in Lebanon but is funded by some rich Saudi.

The subject was American propaganda in Arab media. Asa'ad Abu Khalil was brilliant. He discussed the effects of American propaganda on current Arab media and the way the current American government was pressuring certain Arab publications and networks into a pro-America stance. Unfortunately, his argument was way above Al-Ariss's head. Al-Ariss apparently thinks that pro-American propaganda is nothing less than a front-page headline saying, "WE LOVE AMERICA!!!"

Asa'ad Abu Khalil was discussing the more subtle changes taking place in some newspapers- the change in terminology, the fact that some newspapers have stopped covering the news and taken to translating articles directly from New York Times or some other American news outlet. He almost gave Ibraheim Al-Iriss, a reddish, portly man, an apoplectic fit. Poor Ibraheim fell short of pounding the table with his fists and throwing crumpled papers at Abu Khalil, who kept admirably cool. In other words, Asa'ad Abu Khalil ibarid il gallub.

(Iraqi phrase alert: ibarid il gallub, translated to 'cools the heart' is basically used to refer to something or someone who eases the mind- and heart- by saying or doing something satisfactory)

I get really tired of the emails deriding Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya for their news coverage, telling me they're too biased towards Arabs, etc. Why is it ok for CNN to be completely biased towards Americans and BBC to be biased towards the British but Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya have to objective and unprejudiced and, preferably, pander to American public opinion? They are Arab news networks- they SHOULD be biased towards Arabs. I agree that there is quite a bit of anti-America propaganda in some Arabic media, but there is an equal, if not more potent, amount of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim propaganda in American media. The annoying thing is that your average Arab knows much more about American culture and history than the average American knows about Arabs and Islam.

I wish everyone could see Al-Hurra- the new 'unbiased' news network started by the Pentagon and currently being broadcast all over the Arab world. It is the visual equivalent of Sawa- the American radio station which was previously the Voice of America. The news and reports are so completely biased, they only lack George Bush and Condi Rice as anchors. We watch the reports and news briefs and snicker? it is far from subtle. Interestingly enough, Asa'ad Abu Khalil said that Sawa and Al-Hurra are banned inside of America due to some sort of law that doesn't allow the broadcast of blatant political propaganda or something to that effect. I'd love to know more about that.

A channel like Al-Hurra may be able to convince Egyptians, for example, that everything is going great inside of Iraq, but how are you supposed to convince Iraqis of that? Just because they broadcast it hourly, it doesn't make it true. I sometimes wonder how Americans would feel if the Saudi government, for example, suddenly decided to start broadcasting an English channel with Islamic propaganda to Americans.

Important note to those of you who are going to email me: The last few days, I have received at least 3 emails saying, "I read your blog and don't agree with what you say but we have a famous saying in America- I don't agree with what you say but I'll die for your right to say it." Just a note- it's not your famous American saying, it is French and it is Voltaire's famous saying:"I do not agree with a word you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it."

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

A brief comment on outsourcing:
A service economy is based on just what the words describe: servitude.
Are we to have an economy in which the working class is defined entirely by it's direct dependence on it's masters?
I know economists are not particularly interested in non economic factors, or I suppose on any sort of meaning that can not be quantified, but most people -even economists- try their best in to resist the quantification of their lives, and the determining factors of social life do not end when we step outside the door.

The social value of my neighborhood for it's inhabitants over the past hundred years was that it gave them a place of their own, a place the masters would not bother to visit, and where they could enjoy their vulgar and uneducated tastes without fear of embarrassment. Those days are gone now of course, and my neighbors are condescended to in their own home. What's the logic of outsourcing if not to continue and extend this process?

Economic logic knows and recognizes only itself. Social logic, on the other hand, knows and recognizes economic, non economic and even anti economic logic.
How can social logic be seen justly to constrain economic logic? Good question. But then you have to begin with a discussion of social logic, and economists, even those with social lives, begin somewhere else. Why? Because even at their most liberal, they start from an assumption that economic relations are the lowest objectively recognizable common denominator of human interaction. By that logic we're the moral equivalent of ants.

My neighbors are not ants, they're peasants.
"There is no salvation for those outside the Church," Gibson replied. "I believe it."
"...Put it this way. My wife is a saint. She's a much better person than I am. Honestly. She's, like, Episcopalian, Church of England. She prays, she believes in God, she knows Jesus, she believes in that stuff. And it's just not fair if she doesn't make it, she's better than I am. But that is a pronouncement from the chair. I go with it.

I laughed when I read that. Balls to the wall, son. Balls to the wall.

Ophelia Benson has a mind of no distinction, and frets over the meaninglessness of life. I don't care. But it saddens me no end that although she can recreate the world, and more, that ability is not enough for Belle. It's not enough for Gibson either, though his martyrdom is metaphorical and hers may well be literal.

The only goal in life is to keep one's mind flexible. Mechanical systems are closed, linguistic systems, except those made by hypocrites, are contradictory and open. I refuse to compare the maker of The Passion of the Christ with the author of Belle de Jour, though my preference should be obvious. But of the three Ophelia Benson is the only one whose ideas and beliefs I find offensive.

Still in a bad mood?
You betcha.

Maybe later: Durer vs Rembrandt at The ADAA art fair last week in NY.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

In a lousy mood, but I have one observation for the day before I give out and hit the sack:
Every half assed J. School dumbfuck who makes his or her living being objective has one or more friends who are gay. These idiots may be useless as analysts of anything, but they have a definition of normalcy that has little in common with that of fundamentalist Christianity. This isn't talked about much, but it's about to become impossible to ignore. The modern press corps is biased; and Bush fucked up.

---
I can't get this out of my head:
Ophelia Benson in the comments to the same post I linked to earlier.

Yes, it's very disconcerting. At least it disconcerted me, realizing and being forced to admit that moral judgments can't be grounded.

Sophistication is a wonderfully ambiguous word, meaning both, "the quality or character trait resulting from cultivation, experience or disillusionment" and, "falsification by way of sophistry; misleading by means of specious fallacies." I have to assume O. Benson thinks only in terms of the second definition.

Monday, February 23, 2004

A final comment, for the moment, on Belle. She's the only blogger I've read who understands that a word may mean one thing, while the choice to use it means another.

I still don't link to her on the sidebar, because I don't I approve of her decisions, and most of the people who do link to her, either approve or don't care. It's not a question of morals: she hurts herself for a living, and I think she shouldn't. But at her best, the sheer number of emotions, of gradations of emotion and of sense that she can feel, and then describe, and then pull from a reader...
these abilities are things to envy in another human being.

She describes being alive in a way I understand but can't describe. I can't describe the sensations, nor the way she mirrors them in writing, but I feel them, and always have.
---
The fact that I've been using the wrong word only proves the point: her writing doesn't describe so much as evoke. The language produces a response but then seems to fall away leaving only sensation.

A drop of sweat ran down the inside of my thigh, perhaps the only part of me that felt truly warm. When it reached the top of my stocking I felt it soak in, dissipate.

Eroticism is in the details.
It was only a matter of time
...from the winner of the Guardian's Best-Written Web-Site of the Year Award 2003 to Helen Garnons-Williams at Weidenfeld & Nicholson/Orion, in a good deal, in a pre-empt, for manuscript delivery in August 2004, by Patrick Walsh at Conville and Walsh. Italian rights to Rizzoli and Dutch rights to House of Books, both in pre-empts, with a Spanish auction underway.
Christy Fletcher at Fletcher and Parry is selling US rights this week, and there has already been considerable film interest.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Jack Balkin nails it in two posts [beating me by an hour] and in the process explains why both Josh Marshall and Atrios have less to worry about than they think: I'll quote the second (my italics):
"What's important is not how many cities actually go ahead and do this, but the fact that the idea has moved from the positively unthinkable to the positively thinkable. And what is more important is that elected officials and not courts are taking the lead. As I argue in the previous post, that is how constitutional change occurs." Yes.

I'm critical of Balkin on occasion, but his philosophy is the closest to my own of any legal blogger I've read. He's the only one who understands the full importance, the full moral weight of process. Structured argument, as a mediating force, as a buffer, is the only foundation for law in a democracy.


Josh Marshall makes a fool of himself in 9 paragraphs. If he thinks it's too soon he should just say so; everyone understands practical politics, but hemming and hawing just makes people suspicious.
A cold night

"There is a client, I've seen him twice now. Hard face, high cheekbones, water-clear eyes and eyelashes to envy. A cool person, handsome in a harsh way, gentle. Smart. We talk about books, he's an engineer of some sort and hates his job, and we talk about plays and films. I enthuse about Ben Kingsley in this or that role, about Anthony Sher. He half-smiles. No idea why he's single. Perhaps he just vants to be alone?

I walked out of a block of flats toward the river to find a taxi. On the way to the rank I passed the entrance of a tube station, where a legless man was soliciting donations. "Help the disabled, please help the disabled," he chanted.

A drop of sweat ran down the inside of my thigh, perhaps the only part of me that felt truly warm. When it reached the top of my stocking I felt it soak in, dissipate. A moment later, the legless man's voice again. "Help the disabled, please help the disabled." His cadence was flat but sing-songy, in time with the beat of footsteps from people streaming around him. "Help the disabled, please help the disabled."

I stood in queue but there were no taxis for a few minutes. A short, round man with overflowing plastic bags came up to me. "Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord?" he asked. It sounded like reflex, devoid of meaning, as automatic as a 'hello.'

"Afraid not, Jewish," I said. Stock answer. More a cultural than a religious thing for me, but usually sufficient to drive the crazies off.

He nodded in sympathy, his eyes never rising above the level of my shoulder. "The Jews wanted a king, and God gave them a king, but he was manic depressive you see and would go out and hide in bushes screaming at people."

"Not a very effective king, you might say," I said.

"I'm going to freeze standing on the bridge," he said, and gathered his shopping bags, and walked away.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Jean Rouch, documentary filmmaker, born May 31 1917; died February 18 2004.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

I've said this before, but it has a specific resonance today.
In the past, the intellectual elite and the courts were ahead of the people. I think these days at least on issues of basic decency it's not true, and in some cases it's the other way around. Atrios is more right than he knows. The Mayors of San Francisco and Chicago are both Catholic, and neither consider themselves to be out on a limb as far as their constituents, and consciences, are concerned. I was worried that the Massachusetts decision was pushing it beyond where the public wanted to go, but I think I was wrong.
This will be something for historians to discuss, but somewhere between Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and the current political crisis, the dam broke. It's over.

The movie on ABC tonight was centered on a love triangle between a man a woman and a chimpanzee.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Our beloved president is busy shooting himself in every possible bit of his anatomy and I'm busy arguing esthetics with students of analytic philosophy. I'm having fun I guess. But O. Benson did come out and admit, albeit indirectly, to her closeted Platonism. And Platonism is all about Daddy. And George Will is all about Daddy; and David Brooks is all about Daddy; and Donald Rumsfeld thinks he is Daddy; and there ain't no fuckin' Daddy. So I guess I'm doing my bit for the revolution after all.
My last response at B&W. You should read all the comments to see how we've come this far. I fixed one typo. Otherwise as written (in a hurry):

"I just came home and I'm covered in dust.

You're right of course. Baseball is quantifiable to a point. but there are still plenty of arguments. Rule based activities are not grounded in any absolute sense, sports any more than literature, theater, or law.

Off the top of my unwashed head:

If someone creates an enclosed -self referential- system that is complex and formally subtle, that has within it a wide range of categories - gradations of meaning, and of sense- and which exhibits these categories in such a way so as to invite the same sort of mental activity in the 'audience' as in the 'maker'; the system is a work of art. Someone may be called a 'good' conversationalist, or a 'good' dancing partner. Both talking and dancing are formal activities, based on a technical facility; but as social activities both are also based on an ability to involve others, to cater to them without condescending, and engage without flattery.

Art "is that which convinces." It's a kind of complex seduction. The best way to describe the limitations of M.C. Escher is to say that his art dances with itself and allows us to watch. The best criticism of Norman Rockwell is to say that his work is neither 'formally' complex in the modern sense, nor formally complex in terms of distinction of meaning and character. What does Rockwell make out of the aporias of modern American life? How does his work stack up to the complexities- the complexities of meaning (of any sort of meaning) - in Faulkner or John Ford? Not 'What' does it mean? but 'How much' does it mean? How much can a viewer bring to the work without drowning it in the viewer's own response. If Escher's work is dancing with itself, how long until the appreciative viewer is dancing with him/herself in a dream that has little to do with the object/book/film under his/her gaze?

What causes complexity? Is art the creation of individuals? The Bible is not. The Odyssey is not. These stories both became complex through all the hands that touched them over time. With both we are unable to tell the art from the history of its telling. It does not matter how complexity is formed. The point is that on occasion it is focused on a specific point, object or story. But there are within this men and women of 'genius' just as there are people of genius in any other field.

As with justice, which is taught in law schools as 'Imperfect Justice,' all judgment in the arts is 'imperfect' judgment. That does not mean there is no objective ideal of justice, nor any objective ideal of art. What it means is that any given act of judgment may in itself be wrong, but that by our series of approximations we keep these ideals within sight, if not within reach,

At this point I think it's safe to say, however, that Bach is objectively pretty good. If you think the mathematical patterning proves that, then I'll just switch my choice to Titian.

Obviously this I have not tried to ground esthetics in any absolute sense, any more than I've tried to ground law. What I've tried to do is explain how we can ground it to the point of acknowledging mastery, even if at any given point we can not point to one example with absolute certainty.
---
About Pollock. Interesting problem. He was a very intelligent man at a party full of very interesting people,at a very complex time in our history.
Is it a case of "You had to be there"?  Possibly. In 200 years people may read about the times and the party without needing to look at the pictures; in 200 years, but not yet.

Monday, February 16, 2004

I've been rewriting this post, since I've gotten into a bit of an argument.
Ophelia Benson responds.
--------

"When the Bourgeoisie rises, dynamic reason is its description and defense [see China, India, and Iran.] When it declines, brittle reason is its crutch."

I wrote that in the post below. Reading this at DeLong reminded me how true it is. Examine the range of reference in the responses. I probably would not agree with Aparna Jairam on a lot of things, but at least we could talk. And of course River is a programmer.

Perhaps it's up to the next generation, of economies not people, to bring about the humanization of computer technology. If so, I'd wonder if the coexistence in close proximity of high tech and agrarian communities, of conservative and modern, is the reason. The industrial revolution and the bourgeois revolution are repeating themselves, with computers replacing steam engines. And the cultures that invented the steam engine are tired. But of course the followers of a brittle logic- of a logic that does not take into consideration the effects of time- would not understand that thought.

--- And yes I'm aware of immigration. I comment enough on my preference for immigrants over Americans, at least as far as my social life is concerned. But at the same time, to critique capitalism one has to have an appreciation for stability. In the past that appreciation was foreign, as it were, to the left -to the left without power of course- but it has always been where they and grass roots conservatives have had common ground. Permanent revolution is the capitalist ideal. Someone has to defend those who want to live simply and in peace, or at the very least to force those in search of glory -intellectual or financial- to acknowledge not only the presence of the majority but their full moral weight.

One of the things I envy about Catholic as opposed to Protestant societies is the common language that seems to exist across educational, and even to some degree economic lines. There is no commonality between American intellectuals and the rest of this county. Brian Leiter was even proud to say in one post that he did not link to Atrios because Atrios did not have enough of a specialist's knowledge to warrant the attention. This shocked me. As a child I remember seeing Gore Vidal on the Merv Griffen Show, and my favorite writer on politics in this country is still Joan Didion. Someone I met years ago, who was at the time an assistant editor at the N.Y. Review, said with some distaste that Didion and her husband "want to have it both ways."
Well... Of course.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Voting chaos looms for American election. The Independent:

The electronic voting system designed for the forthcoming American election is fundamentally flawed and could undermine the trustworthines of the entire US democratic process, a scientist has told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Paper ballots can be scrutinised to ensure they have not been misread or tampered with but electronic votes recorded only as computer code cannot be checked to see the true intention of the voter, said David Dill, professor of computer science at Stanford University in California.
...
"The system is in crisis. A quarter of the American public are voting on machines where there's very little protection of their votes. I don't think there's any reason to trust these machines," he said.
More reasons to read Juan Cole.

"Speaking of Sistani, I received by email a fascinating account by a participant of a recent joint visit to Sistani of Kurdish and Sunni Arab clan leaders. I was given permission to quote from it by the person who sent it to me, on condition that I guard the confidentiality of the persons involved. I thought that as an educated Sunni Arab impression of Sistani, the account has historical significance."
Impressions of Sistani:

"He had a heavy (and I mean really heavy) Persian accent which he didn't (and couldn't) hide. He used classical Arabic, but the structure of his sentences was not perfect . . .

. . . he went on and on about Sunnis and Shia saying that these were doctrines differing on how to interpret Islam and they were all decent and good-intentioned. They were definitely no reason for bloody strife. He talked about the ancient pillars of the sunni doctrine and praised them all in detail and said how he respected them as men of faith and as scholars. The difference between the Shia and Sunna, he believed, was far less significant than the danger facing the Iraqi nation at present. Well, personally that put him on my right side!"

More here
I'm watching Bremer on ABC. He really is the perfect definition of a nonentity: the naive servant of corruption. I wonder how he plays in the aphasia ward?

Saturday, February 14, 2004

From Juan Cole.

The Americana in Arabic Library Translation Project

"The classics of American thought and literature have been little translated into Arabic. Worse, even when they have been translated, they have appeared in small editions (typically no more than 500 copies printed). Worse still, the distribution system for Arabic books is poor, and there are few public libraries, so that many books that have been published in the past are no longer available to most readers.

I have therefore decided to begin a project to translate important books by great Americans and about America into Arabic, and to subsidize their publication so that they can be bought inexpensively. I hope also to subsidize their distribution. This is a non-profit project, but until it grows large enough to become a proper foundation, it will not be tax-deductible.."

LINK

Thursday, February 12, 2004

What's really shocking is to realize that the parallel with Iraq isn't Vietnam, it's Watergate. It's a private war.
Kant's wild years.
I have to say, I'm a bit relieved.
---
The Bush administration seems to be falling apart.
Im relieved about that too.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Oh Goody, and just in the nick of time. I was about to go to bed.
So tell me, is 'meme' a meme?
If so, it seems not to be a very good one.
And is there a gene for English eccentricity, (and crankiness) or is that a meme too?
And if someone makes a logical argument, and then tries to extend that argument beyond it's limits, continuing to do so even after the effort is shown to be mistaken, is he not acting in service only to his faith?

The article doesn't end as strongly or as cleanly as it could, but still, a good laugh. And proof once again that a deeply intelligent man (or woman) can be also
An Absolute Idiot.

Goodnight.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

TEST ONE

Apropos some time spent recently at Crooked Timber.

Some people can only imagine one kind of machine. Most machines follow unified logical structures so it only makes sense to many that we do as well. To say otherwise would seem to them to necessitate a metaphysical cause or reality. Rational Actor theory and the theory of intelligent systems all begin here I suppose, though I never really understood this until recently. No wonder so many thinkers have such a hard time with the idea of consciousness. Perhaps because I grew up with in an environment suffused with contradictions - I'd say I've lived a truly dialectical reality- I've never had a problem with ambiguity. I base my entire life upon it, though some would think otherwise.

I'll return again to the strange popularity of speculative fiction among some of those who would otherwise claim to be intellectually sophisticated. Speculative fiction, the narrative art of concepts, is crap; is in fact the opposite of an art of consciousness, of the complexity of lived experience. The best art is not cerebral. This is taken for granted by most readers of literature, and by most critics, but of course not all of either. Still it is the general assumption. Why? The answer is the first clue to understanding the absurdity of imagining systems theory as a guide to an understanding of conscious intelligence, and the stupidity of the whole AI business.

When I hear or read arguments for AI or intelligent systems I feel ill; my body rebels against such thoughts, and I get angry. Any attempt to build a structure that does not contain and support it's opposite fills me with rage. How's that for an odd sentence? But it's true. To me that dream is the worst of modernism, of Fordism, of capitalism and of Stalinism. It's everything Adorno described with bitterness as instrumental reason. And worst of all it's predicated on a misunderstanding of the nature of the machines that we are. For we are after allmachines. I make no room for the spirit realm, unless you want to call spirits machines we can't see. But for most philosophers of machinery, of the body, of numbers and of language, our mechanical reality must be defined by a system, a single logic or series of related logics. I rebel against this on pure instinct: Homer vs H.G. Wells? Jules Verne? William Gibson!? For Me that's like picking some sectarian leftist from the middle of the last century over Marx. Any argument that there now exists, or should exist, a new kind of art is as full of shit as an argument for a new kind of economy. Again this is all Freshman Comp. stuff.

But here we get back to my old theme. And this time I'll try to describe it in a way a systems theorist can understand.


Think of the above as an image of consciousness. The figure on the left, standing for rational awareness and observation, is Noam Chomsky. On the right, standing for conditioned response in all animal behavior, is B.F. Skinner.
Two different systems of analysis, two different forms of software: two separate and opposed programs existing simultaneously inside the same machine.

Separate and Opposed.

We experience conditioned response. I don't think anyone of any intellectual seriousness doubts this. We are capable of rational action, at least sometimes. I take this for granted as well, and I'm in no mood to argue with idiots.
These two come into conflict. I've written enough on this, recently in some anger.
I'm not going to repeat the rest here. Consciousness is not a system. It is the result of a conflict between systems. It is the state of being of a confused machine. Like great art, like all languages and cultures, it is not either this or that. Systems designers in the last century, using the ideas of their grandfather's generation, of those who understood their own -human- complexity, tried to design unified systems to describe the world, to define it morally and politically. They failed. The thought that people are still playing these games, are still theorizing absolutely everything so simplistically and in terms of such cold mechanization, disgusts me.
---


You really get the sense that Bush is toast. If there is another terrorist attack, there's no question that he'll share the blame. Under different circumstances I'd think a lot of people might disagree, but now I'm not so sure.
It's not a question I ever want to know the answer to.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

From Juan Cole: The ACLU fact sheet on the Patriot Act
Edwards is young. Kerry needs a smooth talker and a southerner, and Edwards has no need to be in a hurry. Kerry/Edwards gives both men what they want: a future.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Rough draft. I'll fix it later when I'm sober.
Last night's post originally included some glib commentary asking why more classicists and philosophers haven't been flocking to Iran. I've been asking this myself for months but a bit on NPR a couple of days ago came close to making the same point. The report dealt with the scholastic debates on justice and Sharia that are ongoing in the country. The example used in this case was one of filial piety. Does a father have the right to kill a son whom he thinks has committed a serious crime? What should be the role of the state? Is the state the father to the man; and if so, therefore also to the son?

One of the problems with almsost all modern theory, and the theory of liberalism in particular, is that it refuses to distinguish various forms of violence. Barbarism rules not by injustice, but by harsh justice.
Monarchy is not fascism. History is full of barbarians for whom we still have great respect, and it is not just that history loves a winner. Catholic Spain brought forth both great crimes and great art. So has the United States. The Soviet Union produced both violence and beauty, at the beginning. Fascist Germany produced only violence.

The struggle happening now in Iran is not between good and evil, or even between the honest and the corrupt, but between two definitions of just order. There is corruption, but is there more in Tehran than in Washington?

Another point. This is not like the ramblings of the Lubovitcher Menachem Schneerson or the leader of some other minor religious cult. Nor is it akin the politics of the 21st century Catholic church, which is mostly followed for entertainment purposes at this point. [In this Mel Gibson probably would agree. He takes his religion very seriously. He's a smart man and a decent filmaker. Anti Semitic and reactionary or not, he may have made a very good movie. I'm very curious to see if he has]

What is important to understand, in Iran and Iraq, is that this is not a debate among intellectuals, but among families. That's the point that Samira Makmalbaf makes in The Apple, and that the authors of the letter to Sistani make. That's the point Riverbend makes every time she writes anything and pushes the post and publish button.

More later.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Link from Josh Marshall:
Sistani survives assassination attempt.

More on Sistani's importance to the region from Juan Cole.

Ali Nourizadeh of the Saudi newspaper ash-Sharq al-Awsat reports today that more than 400 Iranian writers and cultural figures, along with some members of parliament, have penned a letter to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Najaf, requesting that he express his opinion on the "massacre of democracy and the transformation of parliamentary elections into a mere stage play."

They wrote, "We have followed with appreciation your courageous positions in calling for the holding of free, fair, and direct elections in Iraq, where the population did not have, until the fall of the Baath regime, the right to own a shortwave radio. That is, holding free elections that can escape foreign influence is a difficult matter if not an impossible one. Nevertheless, your excellency is insisting that the first and last word in the matter of choosing rulers and representatives belongs to the Iraqi people. How wonderful it would be if your excellency would express your opinion regarding the farce that some in your native land of Iran are attempting to impose on its people, who are wide awake, under the rubric of "elections." Najaf has always been a support for freedom lovers in Iran, for in the Constitutional Revolution [of 1905-1911], your righteous predecessors such as Mirza Na'ini, Akhund Khurasani, and Allamah Mazandarani, supported the devotees of liberty in Iran. Without their famous fatwa, the people would not have been able to bring down the tyrant Muhammad Ali Shah."

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Powell goes off the Res.
"But, by May 1973, his commanding officers in Texas noticed that they could not write his annual performance evaluation for the simple reason that Bush wasn't there. "Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of this report"--May 1, 1972, to April 30, 1973--his evaluation reads. This was a serious charge: Delinquent guardsmen could be inducted into the Army ..."

Now, over the course of the day I've gotten a number of letters from current and former members of the Guard in various states who've told me that this was the standard policy. One tells me that he himself processed one deliquent guardsman on to active duty and on to Vietnam.
Now, these are just e-mails over the transom. In themselves, they don't settle the issue. But clearly many guys who were lucky enough to get a slot in the Guard, but screwed up once they were there, found themselves shipped off to Vietnam...


"A lot of those guys must be out there..." Josh Marshall

I keep seeing references to Janet Jackson's 'boob.' I hear that word once every two years, why use it now? Is 'breast' too polite and 'tit' too vulgar? Nipple is too sexy. On a similar note try this. Ask your friends, male and female, for a common street term for the male member. Make a list and separate out 'cock' and organize the list by sexual preference. I think you'll find that those who chose that word are more likely than not to have had one in their mouth at one time or another. 'Dick' for example, will have a much smaller correlation.
First draft. I was going to post this as a comment at Crooked Timber but I'm just putting it here. It's too rambling at this point.

The tension between individual and state/community/collective etc. is a given. To use individualism as a methodology is as absurd as it is to use an ideal of collectivity. Does culture make the girl or is it the other way round? Who came first, Homer or the Greeks, Shakespeare or the Elizabethan age? Putting it that way makes it seem that I've chosen sides, which I suppose I have, but only to a point: to the point that is of finding libertarianism grotesque.

The issue is not whether we are or should be individualist or collectivist, but how society should respond to the tension that exists between two forms of desire. To argue from one side or another is an academic exercise, and such exercises are beside the point - assuming that is that 'the point' is wisdom.
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I read arguments on legal interpretation that argue how things 'should be' that take no account of the structure of the debate itself. I've said this before, to no response: What does it mean for a 'strict constructionist' to get into an argument about the Constitution? In understanding the history of constitutional change, what matters more, the opinions being debated, or the fact that two people are having an argument?
Think for a minute.
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I find it absurd the degree to which intellectuals- or is it intellectual web-enthusiasts?- are unwilling to take account of history or evidence. Economists are the obvious exception, but their use of both is predicated on assumptions which seem beyond question only to them. Economics uses mathematics while being based on something else. And what that is is not talked about much- by economists.

I've been involved in this lunacy from the beginning. You can click the first link and follow it back or just click here to read the original post. Cornell professor of philosophy Benjamin Hellie. The 'we' refers to he and his wife:


We're sick and tired of the following argument:
You wouldn't accept George Will's having argued that p as justification for accepting p; and your grounds for not doing so would be that Will is a right-winger. Since left-wing political writers and right-wing political writers are symmetrical, it follows that so-and-so's having argued that p does not (by itself) justify acceptance of p because so-and-so is a left-winger.

But left- and right-wing sources are not symmetrical. The goal of the right wing is to perpetuate and worsen a system in which a small number of people control obscene quantities of wealth and power at the expense of the vast majority, whereas the goal of the left wing is to distribute wealth and power more broadly. For short, the goal of the right wing is perpetuating and increasing injustice, whereas the goal of the left wing is increasing justice.



I don't know where to begin with this simple minded stupidity. And he's surprised he got howls of anger? There are a few post on Brian Leiter's site by now and I made my best point in a comments section which he has since taken down. In the earlier post you'll find me under my own name and a few others. I guess I thought I was having fun, but by the end I was just getting desperate. In a note to Leiter, after he removed the comments to the most recent post I wrote this [adapted here]:

"His logic is not wrong, just irrelevant. I don't see how logic can explain the xenophobic insecurity of Likudniks, or of Serbs. One of the idiots who responded, in his third or forth comment and under duress, stated finally that leftists just want power for themselves, and that he was not going to allow it. Logic does not explain fear...
I've witnessed similar events [arguments] in the past... a debate between a puritan and couple of drunks.
Most people are neither."

I am not going to argue evolution with a creationist. I'm just not. And that's precisely what Hellie is doing. He's a logician who wants to be politically engaged, only insofar as it does not conflict with his chosen profession. He seems pathologically averse to the use of evidence, even when there is so much to back up his case. He keeps all referents at arms length, as if aware that the trenches are dirty. I find his refusal to come to terms with reality as damning to his claim to intellectuality as it is to his politics. His argument is in its way as absurd as that of Antonin- "The Constitution as I interpret it is dead" Scalia.

At this point I have to admit, you can plug in any of my older arguments about communication and language. None of this is new, but Hellie's moralizing condescension drives me up the wall. And remember I am not saying that he's right, but ignores the fact that that everyone else is stupid, what I'm really saying is that he's just as fucking stupid as everyone else. And arrogance makes it worse.
On my good days I'm a humanist and a skeptic. I'm stupid, but I try.

On another note, my spell check flagged Antonin as antiunion.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Continuing my thoughts from the last post:
The Independent
Josh Marshall on Perle.

Bush and co. should understand that their attacks on the intelligence community might backfire. Even if Bush gets his wish and the decisions of White House policymakers are placed beyond the purview of any investigation, there are still plenty of people with stories to tell. How many enemies can Bush afford to make? It's clear that Rove only thinks short term, but how short term?

Sunday, February 01, 2004

I was looking for comments on the BBC page about the aftermath of the Hutton Report, today's news, etc. [one link here] and stumbled on this unrelated item:

"Forty-eight on Saturday, he divides his time between one house in California and another in Florida, having made a small fortune from property speculation."
The Guardian/Observer
"Blair comes under pressure as Americans admit it was widely known that Saddam had no chemical arsenal.
Senior American officials concluded at the beginning of last May that there were no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, The Observer has learnt.
...
According to the time-line provided by the US sources, it would mean that Number 10 would have been aware of the US doubts that weapons would be found before the outbreak of the feud between Number 10 and Andrew Gilligan, and before the exposure of Dr David Kelly as Gilligan's source for his claims that the September dossier had been 'sexed up' to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.
It would suggest too that some officials who defended the 24 September dossier in evidence before the Hutton inquiry did so in the knowledge that the pre-war intelligence was probably wrong. Indeed, comments from a senior Washington official first casting serious doubt on the existence of WMD were put to Downing Street by The Observer - and rejected - as early as 3 May."

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Josh Marshall on the White House call for an "independent" investigation, and Hoagland's bullshit.
"And this all throws me, because Hoagland spent the last two years telling me that the president and his top aides had to bully the Agency and the rest of the career types in the Intelligence Community and the national security establishment into getting religion on the Iraq threat.
And now I hear it's just the opposite?"



It's Sunday, go read Belle.