Thursday, February 28, 2008

Frederick Wiseman on on DVD. He's never allowed his films released before.
I just found out, but I guess it happened in December
Weekly Report Feb 14-27: 20 Palestinians, including 3 children, were killed by IOF in the Gaza Strip.
The daily presser from EI this morning says the number is 25.

Two paragraphs from two posts: an update of yesterday's post and from the 23rd
-Those who see everything in terms of inflexible rules are also often the most willing to trust themselves as arbiters of those rules, even to the point of having the right to break them in the interest of a higher morality.Chris Bertram defends the NATO attacks as just, and defends Israel's rights, as a state, over those of the stateless.

-I can understand arguments about Cuba, I can’t even comprehend any more the arguments by people who refuse to understand the ad hoc nature of politics and life in the world, who argue against context and for rules over responsibilities as if there were never a tension between them. Without that tension there are no responsibilities at all.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Hamas-linked Palestinian legislator Jamal al-Khudari has been working with colleagues in the Popular Committee Against the Siege to organize various mass nonviolent actions in the Strip. The latest, today, was a human chain along the length of the Strip.

Members of the PCAS had previously expressed the hope that some 40,000 Gazans would take part. In the event, only a reported 5,000 did. The rainy weather did not help.

This action is the latest in a string of intriguing nonviolent mass actions supported by Hamas over the past 15 months...

The latest action turned out to be, from some points of view, a bit of a damp squib. But the Palestinian organizers certainly got some useful information about the kinds of preparations Israel will be making for any future such actions. To put it mildly, the Israeli security bosses were running around crazy with their preparations for the big confrontation that they'd expected today.
more
There can be no serious discussion of the American response to Kosovo without mention of Israel and Palestine. [No serious discussion.]
Hamas and Israelis Trade Attacks, Killing Several
JERUSALEM — In a sudden surge of violence, an Israeli civilian was killed Wednesday in a rocket attack by Hamas militants from Gaza, the first such fatality in nine months, and at least eight Palestinians, militants and civilians, were killed in Israeli airstrikes before and after the rocket attack.
Read that paragraph carefully,
The number at this point is 9, one of whom is Israeli. One of the injured is here. And one of the dead.
Those who see everything in terms of inflexible rules are also often the most willing to trust themselves as arbiters of those rules, even to the point of having the right to break them in the interest of a higher morality.Chris Bertram defends the NATO attacks as just, and defends Israel's rights, as a state, over those of the stateless.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

"Shorter Brad DeLong:
We'd be better off if colonial subjects had put off their nationalist aspirations for a century of so."


I posted that in comments and it was gone within an hour.
Pedants aren't unintelligent, they're just mediocre minds who prefer clarity to subtlety and who proclaim their preference as the one and only moral choice. The sin is pride.

And again: "All I did was point out that you're criticizing the moral logic of nationalism as such. Is that why you removed my comment?"
This time less than half an hour.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I can understand arguments about Cuba, I can’t even comprehend any more the arguments by people who refuse to understand the ad hoc nature of politics and life in the world, who argue against context and for rules over responsibilities as if there were never a tension between them. Without that tension there are no responsibilities at all.
---

The last sentence is the root of the critique of morality as rule following rather than understanding. Most observant people recognize this as where the arts find their purpose, in fictional rule breaking and rearrangement. In religion (foundational fiction) the original order is reinforced, in secular literature often undermined. But anglo-american philosophers deride both the arts and religion by attacking their supposed truth as falsity and ignoring their function. And since art is never "true" it's a double absurdity, a lie that doesn't claim to be anything but a lie: art is irrationalism.
This sort of attempt to "understand" Nietzsche makes as much sense as attempts to "understand" Shakespeare, which is to say slightly more sense than trying to "understand" Homer or the Bible. The discursive mode has its privileges, but philosophy is still a form of literature.
Para morir, tienes que estar vivo.

Friday, February 22, 2008

It is impossible for us to free ourselves entirely from "the tyranny of custom." It's a daily struggle and mostly we fail.

"Philosophy is thinking in slow motion. It breaks down, describes and assesses moves we ordinarily make at great speed..." and names them according to preconceptions.
Literature is thinking in slow motion and description without naming. It's less precise but precision for its own sake is unphilosophical.

"I see philosophy not as of groundwork for science, but as continuous with science."
Formal logic can be thought of as continuous with formal mathematics, since the language of formal logic is enclosed and reflexive. But the relation of language to the world is unstable, and philosophy, unlike formal logic, must concern itself not only with itself but with the world and our relation to it. Mathematics and formal logic are never undermined by history. Their applications inevitably are. Precision is not a trope; "Precisionism" is. The tension between the twin categories those words represent is the proper subject of philosophy the arts and humanities.
---

Russell "Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom." There is no escape from tyranny of custom. We communicate in customs. Our life is our habits.

Quine was a logician, and formal logic is not philosophy. Philosophy concerns our relation to the world. Every action is an action in the world and a discussion of the world that imagines itself not in it (considers itself as other than an action) is predicated on a delusion or a lie.

Formalism in itself is meaningless, its only significance is if it mirrors something in the world. You could argue that mathematics does that in its use, that mathematical calculations mirror the motion of things in the world. But language doesn't mirror the world in any way other than a house mirrors the world. Both are man made, imperfect, things. The singular importance of language originates in its use, but its use is full of ambiguity. The relation of words to referents is fluid. Language does not mirror it mimics and refers to the world, and not very clearly and not very well. The world in language is the world of the social and political not the hard sciences.

"Precision is not a trope; 'Precisionism' is." It's a habit, a custom, as Platonism as it applied to language. I wrote this for a catalogue essay of a friend's work:
"Abstraction has always been anomalous in art, and pure abstraction even more so. It makes sense if you are an idealist to imagine ideal forms, but such philosophies are as rare as the cultures that encourage them. And even pure abstraction only represents purity; we only know the ideal through the illusion of its presence."
The ideal is antithetical to democracy. Textualism and adversarialism define the process of imperfect justice and imperfect government. Rationalism and formal logic can not.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More from the world of the obvious: Modernity and reaction in Turkey. Tell me which is which.
Modernity can't be imposed without a cost. It needs to be learned. Colin McGinn is a fool [link to his new page: old link is dead]

Religion is the foundation of a Burkean moral order, the foundation to a rule under law. To the faithful the primary order is moral order and "science" as such is secondary. Religious fundamentalists are fearful of science because they are fearful of the loss of the logic and justification for their way of life. Technocratic rationalists who criticize fundamentalists for illogic miss the point: fundamentalists use smoke and mirrors to defend not abstraction but autonomy. To them the replacement is not of God by men but of God by men other than themselves: the experts and technocrats who say they know better. Turkey is just one example on a list that includes Russia, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries that skipped the bourgeois revolutions and went directly into full modernity.* But that modernity was an authoritarian modernity, and the secularism was not a secularism of doubt but certainty, a faith not in reason but in the leader's or leadership's ability to reason. And in every case it was corrupt. The rule of law on the other hand is the rule of textual interpretation, originating in religious scholarship and later inevitably but slowly freed from it. This is what is happening in Turkey and Iran. The rule of law is not the rule of reason it protects us from it, because rule of reason will always become the rule of the reasoners and the reasonable. This is not democracy.

Textualism sows discord. But discord bounded within a formal representational system of divided government and courts is what gives democracy its strength. Rationalists oppose textualism to reason and in doing so are contemptuous of democratic forms of government. It's just too sloppy for them.

The literary secularist's response to the technocrat and the philosopher rationalist is simple. Call it the Philip Roth Argument. Confronting the philosopher expert who says he knows what he's doing, give him a copy of Portnoy's Complaint: "What the fuck am I doing?? I don't know what the fuck I'm doing!" Call it the divided government of novelist and critic, as opposed to the unified government of expertise. The political implications are obvious.
And this puts paid McGinn's and others' arguments on consciousness, begat not from reason but assumption.

*The US bears signs of this. The technocratic rationalism that passes for political intellectualism has its match in the anti-intellectualism of the majority, a majority that includes artists and writers who unlike writers in other countries aren't considered and don't consider themselves intellectual. Santayana understood this division. The anglophone internet self-selects for one side of it of course.

Sunday, February 17, 2008






Rodney Graham. (Canadian, born 1949). Rheinmetall/Victoria 8. 2003. Installation: 35mm film (color, silent), Cinemeccanica Victoria 8 film projector, 10:50 min. Loop.


"This film depicts a 1930s German typewriter made by Rheinmetall that Graham found in a junk shop. 'It was just this incredibly beautifully made, solidly designed typewriter. Not one key had ever been pressed on it,' he has said. His filmed homage is projected with a 1961 Victoria 8 projector issued by the Italian company Cinemeccanica, a mechanical wonder that Graham has described as 'very beautiful, kind of overly powerful.' 'It's these two objects confronting one another," the artist has said of the installation. 'Two obsolete technologies facing off.'"

But they aren't quite confronting one another because one of them isn't even there except as an image, and it's only there as an image because the other is producing it. The one is only and quite literally the projection, the dream companion, of the other. And about a minute into the film, it begins to snow.
It's lovely.
Ned Block replied, and I guess the answer is "no." The closest thing is this paper and a few others by a jackass.
Relief or despair? Shock or awe? Or boredom.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The last in a long exchange with a well known American left-liberal journalist.
"I get attacked from the right for being an anti Semite who has dared written about the neoconservatives."

That's the American right, there's no such thing as "the" right. Right and left are relative terms no more or less than "radical" changes in hemlines. Bill Clinton was to the right of Brian Mulroney.
"I have been quite respectful in engaging on this after you accused me of being a bad human being." [I didn't. I said "You're a Jew before you're a human being"] Who killed more innocents, Mughnieh or the Israeli military? Who killed more children in the past 10 years. In the last 30? Simple questions, just run the numbers.
You're not a "bad" human being, but you want to think of yourself as a "good" human being, and you're not.

I don't have a dog in this fight. I don't have a dog in this or any other fight. For better or worse I'm beginning to accept that my sense of morality is mostly intellectual and that not really caring is what it takes to think clearly.
People who defend their foggy thought as clarity bother me, but maybe it's just my sense of esthetics that's offended.

I was in Vegas two weeks ago. Spending time around the losers and the lower middle class brought me almost to the point of despair. One night among the rich the beautiful and the high-rollers was calming. No joke. I was comfortable and relaxed. These people didn't see themselves as victims of the machine, they were the machine. I didn't approve, but I understood. I was bothered by my happiness but I was happy nontheless.
Maybe I'm not a good human being.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

You have to hand it to Andrew, he Toms from the heart.
I just caught this: Bob Herbert: 1/26
This week, while making the remarkable accusation that the Obama camp was responsible for raising the race issue, Mr. Clinton mentioned Andrew Young as someone who would bear that out. It was an extremely unfortunate reference.

Here’s what Mr. Young, who is black and a former ambassador to the United Nations, had to say last month in an interview posted online: “Bill is every bit as black as Barack. He’s probably gone with more black women than Barack.”
As people have been pointing out, Hillary Clinton is campaigning as a woman and Obama is campaigning as a person, playing to a new post-racial politics (while having the advantage of being a man.) At the same time the older black leadership supporting Clinton is matching her feminism by playing to the racial politics they're familiar with in defense of her husband, while he in turn is playing to white fears. Amazing. And as to the "black on black" aspect, the white press, even the "reality based" communitariat stays silent out of deference.

Saturday, February 09, 2008


The front page of the paper had a photo with text reading: "Meet the man who brought down the entire Gambino family"
Then in large type: "JOEY THE RAT."

The next time someone complains about "stop snitchin'" t-shirts remind them that John Gotti was a local hero in his neighborhood and that the NY Post had a drawing of his son on the front page, with whiskers and a snout, when "Jr" was talking to the feds.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Suharto
The military and intelligence attachés in the US and British embassies were sending helpful death lists to the Indonesian high command when Suharto struck. In the midst of the mass executions, the British ambassador, Sir Andrew Gilchrist, sent a chilling telegram to London, saying: “I have never concealed from you my belief that a little shooting in Indonesia would be an essential preliminary to effective change.”

Time magazine described the horrors Gilchrist so calmly endorsed: “The killings have been on such a scale the disposal of corpses has created a serious sanitation problem in east Java and northern Sumatra, where the humid air bears the reek of decaying flesh. Travellers from those areas tell of small rivers and streams that have been literally clogged with bodies.” At least 500,000 Indonesians died violently in the months following the takeover, but studies suggest the figure might have been between a million and two million.

A decade later, again with a green light from Washington, London and Canberra, as many as 230,000 more people, or a third of the civilian population of East Timor, died when Suharto invaded the former Portuguese colony. Australia monitored busy Indonesian military radio traffic in the build-up, but said nothing. As Suharto’s marines and paratroopers conquered the territory, a satisfied CIA internal communiqué stated: “Without continued heavy US logistical, military support the Indonesians might not have been able to pull it off.”

The man who has just died in Jakarta is one of the greatest mass murderers of the 20th century, but he was never indicted by the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague. Throughout, Suharto received all the weaponry his brutal military wanted. Britain sold him Scorpion armoured vehicles and Spartan troop carriers after a “thorough assessment” that they would not be used for “internal repression”, according to the then Defence Secretary, Michael Heseltine. Curious, then, how they turned up on the streets to hold back angry crowds demanding change.
Link from Angry Arab/As'ad AbuKhalil
"Ideas are not a replacement for experience."
It came up in another context, but there's an obvious connection to the last post.

VooDoo Lounge, Las Vegas, 4 AM