Monday, January 28, 2008

To add another comment to the response to Goldberg's silly book and Tony Judt's review of Robert Reich [see below for two posts from the 25th] what's really odd is that technocrats like Reich seem so unaware of the implications of what they're arguing. They move easily from a defense of methodological individualism to an argument for determinism, but of course to them it's only collective determinism that's unscientific (and morally offensive); or maybe it's a new description of collectivism as the predictable actions of monads. Either way it's the experts' job to make predictions and not to judge. And it's the job of the rest of us to be predictable.

The rest of this began as a comment on a post by Daniel Davies on questions of moral responsibility, "agency" and banking: Development and Debt.
Agency is a grey area in absolute terms and less of one in discussing organizations, regulation, and law. But it's even less a grey area when it comes to judging one’s own behavior. Should economic hit men be held responsible for their actions? Would you want your son to become an economic hit man? Two questions, possibly with different answers- but does that second private response have no social/public aspect? As I began saying years ago, DeLong the economic thinker is not DeLong the loving father, a conflict he ignores in posts like this. [DeLong on Judt] Humanist at home, anti-humanist in public life.

If economic science is the study of inevitables, does that mean that no one can choose of his or her own accord to say: "enough!" And what happens if s/he convinces someone else to make that same choice? It's the same question confronting libertarians opposition to unions and national health insurance. Is forcing people to act individually better or worse than forcing them to act collectively, especially if determinism is our model? Maybe it's a matter of sensibility. Maybe America is not Sweden.
The question is how to reintegrate the private and the public sphere without doing an injustice to either or both. That’s the question both Judt and Zizek are asking. Strange bedfellows, but they're not alone. Schmucks like DeLong and believers in technocratic menschlichkeit miss the point.
Journalistic neutrality as objectivity:  Click on the image. Tell me what sort of person could take that photograph?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Two part story [one-two] by Mark Perry in the Asia Times.
"Don't let the quiet fool you," a senior defense official says. "There's still a huge chasm between how the White House views Iraq and how we [in the Pentagon] view Iraq. The White House would like to have you believe the 'surge' has worked, that we somehow defeated the insurgency. That's just ludicrous. There's increasing quiet in Iraq, but that's happened because of our shift in strategy - the 'surge' had nothing to do with it."

In part, the roots of the disagreement between the Pentagon and White House over what is really happening in Iraq is historical. Senior military officers contend that the seeming fall-off in in-country violence not only has nothing to do with the increase in US force levels, but that the dampening of the insurgency that took hold last summer could have and would have taken place much earlier, within months of America's April 2003 occupation of Baghdad.

Moreover, these officers contend, the insurgency might not have put down roots in the country after the fall of Baghdad if it had not been for the White House and State Department - which undermined military efforts to strike deals with a number of Iraq's most disaffected tribal leaders. These officers point out that the first contact between high-level Pentagon officials and the nascent insurgency took place in Amman, Jordan, in August of 2003 - but senior Bush administration officials killed the talks.
Link and commentary by badger.
Perry's story includes no particular motivation for the change to the Awakening strategy. It was merely that the merits of the idea gradually came to be unarguable.

The prevailing Iraqi view of this is quite different. American strategy starting in 2003 was to use Shiite groups to harass the remnants of the Baath regime and their sympathizers (aka the Iraqi national resistance, but which was and is in fact much broader than that), and anyone shooting at US troops was either in that class or AlQaeda. Hence the logic of the "no deals" prohibition. Then at some time in 2005 or 2006, partly in the face of growing disaffection on the part of the Saudis and others, and partly from concern about Maliki's ties to Tehran, there had to be a tilt to the Sunnis, hence the decision to enlist Sunni groups, in order to, among other things, act as a counterweight to the sectarian Shiite power. In other words, so far this has been a two-act occupation, first helping Shiites harass Sunnis, then in a second stage helping Sunnis deter Shiites. There are many provisos and nuances, but essentially this is the Iraqi story: This was from the beginning a sectarian strategy, with a shift sometime in 2005 or -06 from anti-Sunni/pro-Shiite to anti-Shiite/pro-Sunni, in terms of the overall weight of American military influence. The weight of the American alliances shifted, but this had nothing to do with "learning about Iraq", and everything to do with keeping the divide-and-conquer ball rolling.
Electronic Intifada's Ali Abunimah on the US presidential candidates
Helena Cobban again
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John Holbo is an idiot. Nothing new there.
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If we replace "fascism" with "authoritarianism" would that shut people up? Or is American academia so divided that there's no one left but Europhile esthetes and people who have no idea that Europeans have actually written books about their own recent past, and indeed are still debating political philosophy? It's the dilettante bourgeois-anti-bourgeois vs. technocratic, liberal boosterism; and no one reads any of the same books unless they were published before 1900. Niewert's review is as bizarro as anything by Goldberg.
Goldberg is an idiot. But the underlying sentiments are not new and are not made only by the right. The dismissal of Goldberg is not a discussion of the issues (issues which Goldberg doesn't even understand) it's defensive hackery.
This is just odd.
Tony Judt: Anti-Communist
But if I am right and our present circumstances will not endure indefinitely, we might do well to take a second glance at the way our twentieth-century predecessors responded to the political challenges of economic uncertainty. We may discover, as they did, that the universal provision of social services and some restriction upon inequalities of income and wealth are important economic variables in themselves, furnishing the necessary public cohesion and political confidence for a sustained prosperity—and that only the state has the resources and the authority to provide those services and enforce those restrictions in our collective name.
Funny. Everyone's trying to find a way to bring an idea of the collective back into polite conversation. But the state is only a byproduct of community: of the networks of reciprocal obligation which then authorize it to act. Contra neoliberalism market exchange is not the model for social exchange; it's not the model for community but an aspect of it. Ask DeLong if he wants any of his children working for an honest arms merchant. Ask him what it means if he says "no" not as a lawgiver but as a person. How does one communicate and extend that logic not through law but through social exchange, conversation and argument?
In his version of our present dilemmas no one is to blame. "As citizens, we may feel that inequality on this scale cannot possibly be good for a democracy.... But the super-rich are not at fault."

...Like its nineteenth-century predecessors, this story combines a claim about improvement ("growth is good") with an assumption about inevitability: globalization—or, for Robert Reich, "supercapitalism"—is a natural process, not a product of arbitrary human decisions.
If supercapitalism is natural, then so is the opposition.

A Brief History of Neoliberalism: Thanks to my old roommate for the pointer.
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Here's DeLong with his usual snide commentary and a link to the letters section of the NYRB.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Don't read Crooked Timber read Helena Cobban.
You'll learn more.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Brian Tamanaha and Josh Marshall

What's the relation of this
When you think about it, the situation we have created is bizarre: law students attend law school to become lawyers (paying tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege); however, as the Report indicates, many law professors do not see it as their job to train lawyers—they are, rather, legal scholars; meanwhile, many judges dismiss the vast bulk of legal scholarship as useless for their purposes; and tons of articles are being published every year, 43% of which are not cited at all and almost eighty percent of which are cited fewer than 10 times. One final tidbit: it is an insult within legal academia to be branded as a school that “teaches for the bar”—notwithstanding that the daunting threshold hurdle every law student faces coming out of law school is to pass the damn bar exam.
to this
But I've always thought (and this is what I meant when I said that this is something that I've thought a lot about since well before I started TPM) that there's something a little 'eat your spinich-ish' about folks who cry out, in the thick of a campaign, how everyone's focusing on the 'horserace' rather than 'the issues'. I associate it a lot with the work of Thomas Patterson, a fellow up at the Shorenstein Center at the Kennedy School and others of a similar bent. And in that vein of thinking there's an always implicit and often explicit belief that investment and interest in politics itself is somehow discreditable or that there was a pristine before-the-flood time in our history where politics was a matter of disinterested mandarins dishing out and serving up issues to an attentive citizenry -- much as lawyers do to juries. But I don't think that's true.
"Much as lawyers do to juries." Does Marshall still believe this? If so he's more caught up in academic rationalism/rationalization than he thinks. He is, of course. The rationalism of American intellectual liberals is rooted in academia. Call it American academic exceptionalism.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Self-serving, short-sighted, dangerous, and stupid
The five commanders argue that the west's values and way of life are under threat, but the west is struggling to summon the will to defend them.
The west does not have a history of defending the expression of what it considers western values when those expressions are made by people who live beyond its borders. Some would say that the west has defended authoritarianism on the perimeter only to defend democracy at home, but those arguments refer only to the post-war era and the record itself shows otherwise.

Democracy is expanding but those who fight for it are not often happy with the west -they have no reason to be- and China is as much a danger to itself as to any other country -we all breathe the same air. But Chinese expansionism is economic and not military and our famous western values would proclaim that there's a difference between the two.
I worry about Pakistan and Russia for very specific reasons, but the generals are vague. I'm sure they believe every word they say as I'm sure they did 30 years ago, but that wasn't enough then either.
Rationalism is formal logic overlaying sensibility; sensibilities -Modalities- are foundational to human action. Soldiers in some countries have been trained to defend defend democracy but military rationalism is anti-democratic. Never trust a soldier to defend democracy out of anything more than a sense of duty to his government.
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From Michael Froomkin:
"The United States of America spends 56% of total government military spending on Planet Earth."
Gaza Crisis: Where Is The 'West'?
The Israeli paper Haaretz recently noted that 810 Palestinians were killed by the IDF in Gaza in the two years 2006 and 2007, with some 360 of those judged by Haaretz to have been civilians. Meanwhile, in the seven years since 2001 twelve people in Israel have been killed by military actions launched from Gaza.
Ali Abunimah
Almost ignored are the comments of John Dugard, UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories, who countered that the "killing of some 40 Palestinians in Gaza in the past week, the targeting of a government office near a wedding party venue with what must have been foreseen loss of life and injury to many civilians, and the closure of all crossings into Gaza raise very serious questions about Israel's respect for international law." He condemned Israel for violating "the strict prohibition on collective punishment contained in the Fourth Geneva Convention."
No light, no heat, no bread: stark reality for the powerless in Gaza. Besieged civilians pay the price for Israel's hardline response to rocket attacks.
Badger: on Bush, Iraq and Gaza.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I finally watched this yesterday


"It's not easy, and I couldn't do it if I didn't passionately believe it was the right thing to do. You know... I have so many opportunities from this country. I just don't want to see us fall backwards. You know, this is very personal for me. It's not just political it's not just public. I see what's happening, and we have to reverse it. And some people think elections are a game, they think it's like who's up or who's down. It's about our country. It's about our kids' futures, and it's really about all of us together. You know, some of us put ourselves out there and do this against some pretty difficult odds, and we do it, each one of us because we care about our country but some of us are right and some of us are wrong, some of us are ready and some of us are not, some of us know what we will do on day one and some of us haven't thought that through enough.
Dowd: Can Hillary Cry Her Way Back to the White House?

Atrios responding to Dowd: "Because only boys are allowed to cry. Or something. These people are all broken. Complete monsters."

Gitlin: Hillary Teared--and Edwards Blinked

Pollitt: Hillary Shows Feeling, is Slammed

Listen to Clinton's words, and ask yourself what exactly she's crying over. The response has been based on the assumption that Clinton was describing and reacting to the pressure of campaigning itself, but that's not it.
"You know... I have so many opportunities from this country. I just don't want to see us fall backwards."
She's crying because she's scared of what will happen to the country if she doesn't win. Dowd hints at this and no one else even comes close, but it's front and center: "It's not easy" trying to save us from ourselves. The performance and response have been equally embarrassing to watch. Does Clinton even know what she's doing? Does Katha Pollitt?

Leiter
Hillary Clinton suffers from being a Clinton, as well as having one of the most unappealing public personae of a national politician in recent memory. Dick Cheney is creepier and scarier, to be sure, but "fake" is the only word that captures the impression Ms. Clinton makes every time she opens her mouth.
Interesting that Leiter of all people should be so observant. He has an instinctive understanding of psychology, reading performance for subtext, but he's unwilling to read that back into his larger intellectual interests, or his understanding of his own behavior.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Monday, January 14, 2008

"In order to preserve what of [the political writings of Norman Mailer] will endure, it is essential that we..."

Idiots.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Badger
The US forces invited families back to Arab Jabour only four weeks ago.
On Thursday 40 "targets"--described by the miitary as "reported AlQaeda safe-havens"--were hit by a total of 40,000 pounds of bombs dropped on Arab Jabour in a 10-minute raid by the American Air Force assisted by another brigade, the second, of the same third American infantry division that had invited families back into the area only three weeks ago. The military had no information on how many people it killed.
What reinforces passivity more, an increased understanding of the world or our response to that understanding? Is the purpose of science to reinforce the lowest common denominators of our behavior? At what level does the scientific viewpoint itself as defined by contemporary culture have that effect? Dawkins, Dennett, Belle de Jour and Quentin Tarantino again; DeLong, Economic "science;" memes and the language of fait accompli; democracy as banality, Foucault and power; history, memory and nostalgia.
Over the last few years, in the course of many parent conferences and elementary-school curriculum nights, I’ve become familiar with the concept of the “just-right book.” This, my children’s teachers patiently explain, is a book that is perfectly suited to a child’s reading ability: neither too easy, in which case he or she will grow bored, nor too difficult, which risks frustration and confusion.
I defer to the pedagogical expertise of the professionals, but something in me nonetheless rebels against the idea that the books children choose should always be safely within their developmental comfort zone.

ABSTRACT—Does moral behavior draw on a belief in free will? Two experiments examined whether inducing participants to believe that human behavior is predetermined would encourage cheating. In Experiment 1, participants read either text that encouraged a belief in determinism (i.e., that portrayed behavior as the consequence of environmental and genetic factors) or neutral text. Exposure to the deterministic message increased cheating on a task in which participants could passively allow a flawed computer program to reveal answers to mathematical problems that they had been instructed to solve themselves. Moreover, increased cheating behavior was mediated by decreased belief in free will. In Experiment 2, participants who read deterministic statements cheated by overpaying themselves for performance on a cognitive task; participants who read statements endorsing free will did not. These findings suggest that the debate over free will has societal, as well as scientific and theoretical, implications.
I think logically that there's a good chance free will as such is an illusion, but I'm against any doctrine based on passivity. It's a contradiction I can live with.
Passivity in the face of "reason" is as dangerous as passivity in the face of determinism as such. Telos, thesis without antithesis, is problematic. An entire society unified around one goal and one purpose is at least banal and probably dangerous. What that goal is doesn't matter. The whole structure of the experiment described above annoys me. The underlying structure is voyeuristic and passive: talking about people rather than to them (since self-reporting is unreliable) simply reinforces moral passivity, like the news cameraman who videos a violent act rather than intervening.
This ties into the sort of discussions they're having at The Immanent Frame. It's appropriate I guess, since philosophers are basically priests anyway, but they miss the point. As I've said before, faith and secularism have the same origin in storytelling, and if philosophers are priests, actors are atheists. Absolute truths don't matter, only temporal ones and structure. Priests, more specifically theologians, and the philosophers who replace them all take themselves too seriously and miss the point.
Personal History, Captured in Plastic

Thursday, January 10, 2008

From a letter to Ned Block
Is there anyone arguing that consciousness is defined not by reason or emotion but "indecision"?
Computers aren't indecisive. It seems to me that one can defend physicalism by treating the mind as hardware with two conflicting Operating Systems: observation and computation and conditioned response. Both are mechanical processes but each come to different conclusions. Consciousness is the perhaps epiphenomenal but necessary illusion of unity and stability in an animal/sensorial system in a constant state of crisis. Any life form capable of being caught between conditioned response and "rational" or calculated action is conscious. Neither amoebae nor computers are conscious.
Read the last few from Badger

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Old roommate defends Critchley's honor [see below, late Nov. early Dec.]
I met Zizek at a millionaire's dinner party but it's not as if I haven't done the same with D. It's almost worth the flight to London just to blackmail them into having a sitdown. The arguments- as manifest in print- are all bullshit anyway.
The differences of opinion are real enough, but brass tacks are few and far between.
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update: just sent off a note to Slavoj the Bear suggesting the above. See what happens.
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and again: From David's letter
[Critchley's] book does not simply propound a Levinasian ethics, understood as an infinite responsibility to the other, but is itself an attempt to practise one. Zizek appears to object to this project on principle.
Cultural acts, directed from within culture, engaging their embeddedness, address the other by definition. "Craft" is always addressed from and to the community. Speech as craft engages both reception and the gap between speaker/author/maker and receiver. Can the vanguard as vanguard ever engage the other? Has it ever engaged craft as communication? If it breaks the the bonds of language how can it reach back to the community it left behind? When has a vanguard ever made a new community? The best it's been able to do is teach by failure.
All political thinkers should read Eisenstein.

The last 20 years of my thinking ended up in that paragraph.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Calling Istanbul...
Come in... Istanbul
Can you hear me?