Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"When Marilyn Monroe got out of the game, I wrote something like, 'Southern California's special horror notwithstanding, if the world offered nothing, nowhere to support or make bearable whatever her private grief was, then it is that world, and not she, that is at fault.'

"I wrote that in the first few shook-up minutes after hearing the bulletin sandwiched in between Don and Phil Everly and surrounded by all manner of whoops and whistles coming out of an audio signal generator, like you are apt to hear on the provincial radio these days. But I don't think I'd take those words back.

"The world is at fault, not because it is inherently good or bad or anything but what it is, but because it doesn't prepare us in anything but body to get along with.

"Our souls it leaves to whatever obsolescenses, bigotries, theories of education workable and un, parental wisdom or lack of it, happen to get in its more or less Brownian (your phrase) pilgrimage between the cord-cutting ceremony and the time they slide you down the chute into the oven, while the guy on the Wurlitzer plays Aba Daba Honeymoon because you had once told somebody it was the nadir of all American expression; only they didn't know what nadir meant but it must be good because of the vehemence with which you expressed yourself."
happy new year
It's amazing how much the human animal argues on assumption. The only difference between TPM and RedState I think is that people at TPM have actually lived nearby to openly homosexual negroes and have a little more of an understanding of technical logic.
The slow buildup for disgust with Zionism has had everything to do with the incrementalism of change in normative awareness and little with logic.
Equality under law is what it is. But somehow in the context of the mideast we've had decades of liberals attacking is as grossly unfair.
A little imagination doesn't go far at all.

related: an old fav.

"Religion, Self-Regulation, andSelf-Control: Associations, Explanations,
and Implications" [PDF] linked NY Times [warning: John Tierney]

"Loving the Enemy: Militant Visions of the West" [PDF] from Conflicts Forum
This paper makes the argument that militants associated with Al-Qaeda speak from within the world of their enemies and possess no place outside it. Whether these enemies are Western democracies or Muslim liberals, militants derive strength from exploiting their weaknesses and contradictions rather than from some alternative ideology or social order. This accounts for the rapidity of militant mobilization as much as its diversity of recruitment, neither of which depend upon the indoctrination of young Muslims into a wholly foreign movement–however exotic their rhetoric and appearance. This intimacy with the world of their enemies is also what makes many such militants into suicidal individuals rather than the members of a collective movement, since their task is to destroy this world from the inside. The great paradox of violence of the Al-Qaeda variety is that it seeks the fulfilment of its enemies’ ideals rather than proffering any of its own, thus rendering militancy conceptually invisible and immune to attack by the liberal societies whose contradictions it seeks to illustrate.
The point is obvious, though still not discussed much. I wrote this 20 years ago.
In this century we have seen an escalation of attempts to remove ourselves from history, to distance ourselves from our actions and to try to avoid or escape the metaphysically complex world of our ancestors. But history was and will be a history of preference, and preference being a function of metaphysics, not of the world but of our perceptions of it.

Before the mid 19th century societies considered art a manifestation of a culture and not an illustration of it. If we accept this premise and assume that cultures including our own represent themselves through form and method and not through intellectualized processes of criticality and content, we can then try to study how esthetics or method are treated in critically produced environments, environments where ideas, objects and works of art "illustrate' concepts.

Societies, even slave owning societies, do not exist to oppress but by way of oppressing, at the same time existing as cultures that their citizens, as opposed to their victims, enjoy. When critical culture sees society simplistically as a series of absolute forces it recreates those forces (fighting an imaginary fire with fire) in an esthetic of totalization and universalization that becomes a parody of the past, as Fascism in its attack on bourgeois values is bourgeois parody of Monarchism; as the art of the Salon is precursor to the art of the Third Reich and to Stalin's Socialist Realism. All cultural groups exclude others, but by assuming that they exist for that purpose, as Fascism and Communism assumed. or as many on the “critical” [read: academic] left still do the issues are willfully occluded. Our "project" should be to understand this process, and to overcome the irrational fear of otherness, not to desire an absolute, unified, reified innately narcissistic 'one'.
The starting point of the piece was a discussion of why the art made in the horrors of earlier European history could rightly be considered great while the art made in the horrors of German Fascism and Stalinist Communism could rightly be called empty and banal. And relating that to the equally rightly assumed banality of the Parisian Solon of the mid 19th Century.

"This paper makes the argument that militants associated with Al-Qaeda speak from within the world of their enemies and possess no place outside it."
Thomas Mann made the same complaint about Kafka.
Joshua Landis of Syria Comment has selections from The Best on Gaza..
His link to Nir Rosen is malformed. Rosen's piece is here

And read Badger at Arab Links

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


The notion of rights is a modern invention, and is based on equality of benefits and obligations for all. Rights-based societies are built upon older ethnically based states, but they can no longer refer to ethnicity as the basis of law without sacrificing any claim to modernity: states still structured politically by the logic of ethnicity can not use the logic of rights to justify their existence. No one has the "right" to be a slave-owner. Indian law does not institutionalize the caste system, the caste system exists now only outside of law.
Saudi Arabia does not have the "right" to deny free association of Jews and Muslims on its territory but it does so. For that and many other reasons[!] it can not be said to have "the right" to exist. The question of rights is rendered irrelevant because ignored.

Israel is built on discrimination less severe than Saudi but it is founded on discrimination nonetheless. It is not merely the Jewish Homeland with citizenship for all, it is the Jewish State. There is no equality between its Jewish and Arab citizens. Demography can not be a central concern under the logic of rights, yet it is the major concern of the Israeli state. That concern is responsible for the miserable fact of Gaza and the West Bank. There are plenty of semi-modern states, but Israel both in government and society claims not just our recognition but our sympathy and loyalty. It deserves neither. Within the logic of rights, and under the assumption that separation and equality will never amount to more than separate and unequal, a bi-national state of Israeli Arabs and Jewish Palestinians is not only the one moral option but is at this point the only option left.
Nir Rosen

Monday, December 29, 2008

Tzipi Livni
I've said over and over that Zionists make the arguments of Haider and Le-Pen, but somehow I've always thought the liberals at least didn't mean to. I shared some of their confusion -the cognitive dissonance- about them if not their ideas. But the difference between liberal and conservative Zionists is that the the conservatives want to force the Arabs out, and liberals want to be polite about it: in the end they both want a racially pure state. M.J. Rosenberg, Josh Marshall and Jo-Ann Mort [TPM] not only make racist arguments, they are racist people. They should have more sympathy with those who worry about the "browning" of the US. But maybe they don't because they think of America as their modern home and Israel is their ancestral home. Kind of like the New Yorker who goes home to Georgia for the summer and lives in a white enclave and goes to white country club.
I'm more than a bit ashamed for not seeing the obvious.
Make it idiot-proof: without graphs this time.
When is it permissible to speak for others?
When does the urge to speak for others become self-perpetuating, therefore perpetuating the silence of the others.
When does the unspeaking subject become no more than an object?
What marks the boundary between concern and pity?
Between pity and contempt?
How is it possible to institutionalize concern?
How often do liberals who attempt to institutionalize one, succeed only in institutionalizing the other?
If it is difficult to institutionalize concern it is very easy to institutionalize contempt.
The latter is republican policy.

Questions of Data
Is it possible to be a feminist and a member of Hamas or Hezbollah
A lawyer in Iran? Open Letter to Farah Diba: "Kindly Come and Do Us a Favor, Oh Lady"
Lets complicate matters even more. Are the Taliban even "old fashioned" conservatives?
Are fascists just monarchists in black leather?
This Alien Legacy:
The Origins of "Sodomy" Laws in British Colonialism
This 66-page report describes how laws in over three dozen countries, from India to Uganda and from Nigeria to Papua New Guinea, derive from a single law on homosexual conduct that British colonial rulers imposed on India in 1860. This year, the High Court in Delhi ended hearings in a years-long case seeking to decriminalize homosexual conduct there. A ruling in the landmark case is expected soon.
Self-awareness is not a form of rationalism it is a form of empiricism; concerned not with "ideas" but our perceptions of them and their use.
It is not science. There is no right answer, there are only cases and arguments over cases.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It should be considered a truism concerning anything made by human minds and hands that if a thing is worthy of careful study that study should not be limited to the consideration of efficacy and authorial intention.
A technician is no more necessarily an intellectual than an intellectual is necessarily a technician.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Caroline Kennedy is more qualified than Sarah Palin, but that's not enough.
Q. Do you believe that an undivided Jerusalem must be the national capital of the State of Israel?
A. Yes, Caroline believes that an undivided Jerusalem must be the national capital of the State of Israel.
That was pulled by this afternoon, but was there when As'ad AbuKhalil posted it this morning. I followed it then and read it. Someone got back to the Times, but I doubt it was because Kennedy had a talk with her spokesman. I doubt she even has an opinion.

"Israel is no stranger to self-examination."

A religious Israeli Jew now, apparently, Zionist apostate says the obvious and liberal American Jews listen.
Was it any less obvious last year or the year before? 10 years ago? 40?

Yael Bartana
What amazed me was the lack of any Arabs on screen. Every piece documents and it's a compliment of sorts to say that each manifests the presence in Israeli society of unseen others, but those others remain ghosts. Summer Camp pairs footage from a Zionist propaganda film of the 1930's, Eisensteinian montage of home-building as communal effort, by and for the new Jews of Palestine, with contemporary footage of Israelis rebuilding an Arab home recently bulldozed by the state. The family who owned the home don't appear on screen, but they're thanked in the credits. And what we see in video and color are images of sweating, miserable guilt-ridden Jews of all ages, collectively slaving away in the desert in 2006, opposing images in silvery black and white of happy sweating Zionists 70 years earlier.

Wild Seeds is shot among groups of teenage children in the settlements and it conveys a sense of violence just below the surface of otherwise benign interaction. But again we see only Jews. And unlike most of us the Israelis in Summer Camp have met Israel's ghosts and even shaken hands with them or shared a meal. So maybe the misery and guilt is not theirs but Bartana's. Maybe there are sharper lines we can draw between settlers' children, spoiled teenagers tearing up and down sand dunes in Jeeps and 4x4's, in Kings of the Hill, and Gush Shalom. Bartana doesn't ask the most important questions, but without intending to she makes it clear they need to be asked. Her works in the end are the memoirs of an unhappy narcissist, talking to us about herself. Whether in Israel, or elsewhere (very recently Germany and The Reader) it's hard for an outsider to care, because it's easy for an outsider to see the things the artist misses, and in a way that makes the work not more complex but less.

Friday, December 19, 2008

note taking
Leiter's references are to formal not empirical science. But language is a medium, like paint, or clay, while numbers are seen by most as Platonic: not as representations but as the foundation of the world.

A philosophy that sees the structure of language as replicating the structure of the world renders the sociological study of language production of secondary interest. Leiter's naturalism is the naturalism of Quine, not Santayana. Yet Santayana's terms apply, all too well.

Arguing for a philosophy ‘in tandem with the sciences,’ Leiter nonetheless admits philosophy is not a science, leaving us to assume that the relation of the two must be like the Nietzschean relation of the best of modern men to absent gods: one of sympathetic vibration. His philosophy is based on little more than romantic analogies, of philosophy to science and philosopher to scientist, that foster an insular formalism and champion a model of academic hierarchy as immune to criticism from outside its walls as the 11th century Church. I know of no other self-proclaimed leftist so utterly contemptuous of the philosophical foundations of democracy.

Again: Language does not describe the world; it is a medium through which we describe to one another our perceptions of it. It is a medium. Numbers are not. Naturalized epistemology in language proceeds only by analogy to the "natural epistemology" of number. And analogy is a rhetorical device.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I've been reading through a few things from SSRN and elsewhere: on H.L.A. Hart, the Hart-Dworkin debate, positivism, on and by G. A. Cohen. Most of it is baroque academicism preoccupied with the internal logic of its assumptions: perversity without its acknowledgment. A novel is no good if its not written in a compelling way, while academic philosophy is supposed to be about something strictly other than the language it employs. Unfortunately it often ends up about nothing else, manifesting not the narcissism of the navel-gazer, of someone always looking in the mirror but of someone who refuses to.

From Yale Law Journal: Kenji Yoshino, The City and the Poet.
On a whim, using the search function for the PDF I looked for the words Bible, Torah, Talmud and Midrash. No references. Then more seriously I searched for interpretation. It appears once, in a footnote.
Literature isn't the thing you write, it's the thing you read. "What comes down to us as literary fiction is the art not of naming but of architecture and description. What is written as literary fiction is often little more than mannerism and affect." [see below] Privileging (as jargon would have it) author over readership, individual over community, history and the study of history, brings us to the scholarship of individualism, individual "expression" and creative writing. Historians, like critics and judges, are observers and readers first. The same is true of good writers, but not bad ones.
more later.

Plato was a prose stylist who wrote dialogues involving a character, an orator and rhetorician named Socrates. And the problem with victim-impact statements is that the opposing parties in a criminal court are not the accused and plaintiff but the accused and the state.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Continuing from here. Matthew Yglesias, presumably without realizing the implications, makes the case against science as moral principle..
Reader A.L. observes to me that Gerecht is completely mangling La Rouchfoucauld’s maxim here. His point was that even though human frailty often leads people into immoral behavior, the fact that people feel compelled to hypocritically condemn sins that they themselves may commit emphasizes the soundness of the underlying moral principle. For example, any normal parent is going to be a human being who sometimes acts in a greedy and selfish manner. But any decent parent is still going to teach his or her children that greed and selfishness are wrong and that those impulses ought to be resisted. This will, yet, make the parents somewhat hypocritical. But that’s the homage vice pays to virtue — the point being that we really should teach people to eschew greed and selfishness.
My comment
That fact that you refer to the above as a truism is interesting, when of course that’s not how economics is taught. In economics realism is reason, and any argument for idealism even as counterbalance is dismissed. Any argument for the existence of divided consciousness is considered a defense of irrationalism.
note taking: my last comment from Rodrik's page
The romantic foibles of comfortable leftists deserve as much mockery as they can draw. But that mockery can turn easily into mockery of the workers themselves. And that, taken to the level of absolute contempt, is embedded in the standard defense of neoliberal economic policy. Go there if you want to witness the celebration of other people's misery. Rodrik knows this (or he should). And if he'd focused on the distinction then there'd be nothing to take offense at; disagreement and offense not being synonyms. As it is his comments are more lazy more symptomatic of intellectual laziness than Klein's.
That's a problem no amount of mathematical calculation can solve.
note taking: removed by Henry Farrell
Great art is not cerebral. “Literary” fiction is fiction that has transcended its genre: Jane Austen began with a genre. What comes down to us as literary fiction is the art not of naming but of architecture and description. What is written as literary fiction is often little more than mannerism and affect. Cerebral and speculative fiction, “philosophical art,” begins from ideas and assumption [and ends as illustration]. By the definitions used by all here the Iliad and the Odyssey would be genre fiction.
More from Rodrik
Self-discovery in practice

It is remarkable to see something in theory work so well in practice. Ricardo Hausmann and I wrote a paper several years ago called "Economic Development as Self-Discovery," where the idea was that entrepreneurship in a developing country consists of discovering the underlying cost structure--what can and cannot be produced profitably. Initial investors in a new line of economic activity face a great amount of uncertainty, since foreign technology always needs some local adaptation. Plus, their cost discovery soon becomes public knowledge--everyone can observe whether their projects are successful or not--so the social value they generate exceeds their private costs. If they succeed, much of the gains are socialized through entry and emulation, whereas if they fail, they bear the full costs.

Some of the what I have been seeing in Ethiopia is a picture perfect illustration of this process at work. Most notable in this respect is the flower industry, which was started by some courageous entrepreneurs who had observed the success of the industry in nearby Kenya and wondered if it could be made to work in Ethiopia as well. Even though much of the technology is standard, local soil conditions make a lot of difference to the economics of growing flowers, and a whole range of other services--from daily cargo flights to high-quality cardboard packaging--has to be in place before the operation can succeed. To its credit, the Ethiopian government understood the need to subsidize these pioneer firms, through cheap land and tax holidays, and the industry took off. Exports have reached $100 million from zero in just a few years. There are now around 90 flower farms in the country, with latecomers the beneficiary of the tinkering that early investors have undertaken.
A defense of economic monoculture.
Robert Feinman
A perfect example of a poor nation getting suckered into providing luxury goods for the wealthy ones.

How is growing flowers (and shipping them by air) helping to solve issues of food shortage, consumption of fossil fuels (transportation, fertilizer and pesticides) and use of scarce tillable land for necessities?

Instead of promoting self sufficiency or regional trade the country gets to become a client state of the west and dependent upon it by supplying a market which it doesn't have any control over. If next year the Europeans decide they don't want flowers anymore then what happens to the local economy?

I see this story, not as a "success", but as yet another example of a new type of economic neo-colonialism.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

From a friend.
For Bibi

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Joshua Landis/Syria Comment.
In the linklist on the right of the page. Just a reminder.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Rules, law, gasoline and the filibuster

Josh Marshall posts a reader's letter in the senate republicans and the Detroit bailout
I think the fact that option (4) doesn't seem to have even been considered is indicative of the abuse of the filibuster in recent years. The filibuster is meant to be a tool to express extreme outrage, not as a device to force the threshold to passing a bill to 60 votes.
At this point, the filibuster rules have lost their relevance and should be abandoned (despite the fact that it will tie Democrat's hands in future Senate sessions when Republicans are in control.
Again: the liberal academic focus on rules and rationalism, but rules don't make a society. cf. Sandy Levinson's fixation on the weaknesses in the the constitution. Society is made of people before it is made of rules. Without trust rules mean nothing.

Related: Dani Rodrik is supposed to be a smart man.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Monday, December 08, 2008

Tiziano Vecellio at the Metropolitan

Venus and the Lute Player c. 1565-70
Venus with an Organist and a Little Dog  c.1550
They're both in the same building, for a little while, but not in the same room. Titian's Lute Player is in the collection and the Organist is on loan from the Prado for Art and Love in Renaissance Italy. I called to see if the curators had thought of putting them together even for a week in public view, knowing that they'd done that for themselves. The last comment drew a laugh and a quick if slightly abashed confirmation of the obvious. I assume a few well-connected scholars and patrons flew into town just for that -it won't happen again in my lifetime- and expressed some gently-worded frustration that the rest of us won't be able to share it. In truth there really is no excuse for not placing the two works together. The show is moving to the Kimball after NY and if there were no thematic relation then given budgetary and time constraints I could see why I'd have no claims beyond simple jealousy of the access of experts. But they're a lovely pair of pairs. And if the Lute Player is all adolescent desire and youthful vanity (his Venus is manipulative and coy) the Organist and his partner are engaged in the erotic and touching conversation of adults.

One could argue that the pairing might have thrown the exhibition off balance, but that could have been resolved by moving them off to the side; they would have been the highlight of the show not its doom.

As it is they're only a two minute walk from one another, until February 16th,

Saturday, December 06, 2008

old and new

-A soldier in an army constituted in defense of a republic is simultaneously a servant of an authoritarian order and a free citizen with all the responsibilities thereof.

- All citizens should be treated equally under law.
In a state where the people are prone to act in a discriminatory way towards a minority population, it's the responsibility of the state to see that that minority population has full access to opportunities enjoyed by the majority.

-Even in a republic in day to day activity, law is law not because it is moral but because it is law. But in a republic every law is the product of public debate, and laws can be repealed. Every law therefore is both absolute and provisional, which is why a judge's defense of his decisions is as important or more so than the decisions themselves. Posner spends more time defending his philosophy than he spends in a court.

- Law is a function of the social. The powerful desire not only power but prestige. To say that the analysis of law, language, and the social, by those who see themselves even correctly as asocial is not without value is damning with faint praise.

-In the sciences the event is subsidiary, as token to its type. To claim that language works in this order is the logic of authoritarianism. Philosophy is labeling by type. Literature is description without naming. A court is a place of the public naming, a place and process used only as a last resort.

-Our justice system is founded on competition between hirelings, not truth-seekers. Lawyers are performers. Philosophers of law need to be theater critics.

-The basis of legal discourse in a democracy is not the laws themselves but the process of their making and unmaking. All laws are provisional: the foundation is argument itself. Laws are knots on a string, way-stations in language and time. Democracy is the culture that acknowledges the transience of individual laws. Democracy is the culture of language in use.

-Science is the study of facts and philosophy the study of values. Conflating the two in favor of facts, values become assumed. Values being assumed, all questions are seen as those of expertise. With expertise as the means, terms of measurement are assumed. [with expertise as the means, expertise becomes the goal.] Curiosity becomes defined by the frame, values defined by the frame moral worth defined by the frame.
Democracy is undermined as a value and then as a goal.

-There is such a thing as monarchist law because monarchist language is based on ritual.
There no such a thing as fascist law because fascist language is based on lies.

-What is the role of an elite in a democracy?

-We are taught as children not to be greedy. Greed is a commonplace. In order to navigate our way in the world we learn to understand not what only we want it to be but what it is. When does our acknowledgment of the facts become passivity and acquiescence? It's a mistake to assume that the wish to be better than we are, even as a wish largely unfulfilled, has had no impact on our behavior or our history.

As'ad AbuKhalil

Friday, December 05, 2008


#123: “whether people have a certain right is surely independent of whether we’re clever enough to know how to enforce it (e.g., the right not to be raped doesn’t wax and wane with our ability to enforce it),”

People will choose abortion whether or not it is illegal. So much so in fact that it is considered part of the argument.
People download music without paying for it. There are arguments that defend downloading as such but those arguments don’t work well. The best defense of downloading is not a defense so much as an acknowledgment of its ubiquity, and then the development of new ways of managing distribution that accommodate that fact.
The question of when to accommodate and when not has less to do with science or objective reason, or "truth" than with the self-definition of a society.
As Ronald Dworkin has pointed out that the vast majority of abortion opponents are not opposed in cases in rape or incest; and since logically there can be no moral distinction between a fetus conceived through consensual or coerced sexual activity, most of those who claim abortion is murder do not mean what they say (it’s a human trait to believe your own rhetoric). Their interest instead is in a government imposition of a code of moral seriousness. Should the state be permitted to impose in this way, in the context of our most intimate decisions?
And of course the US has the highest abortion rate of all economically advanced countries.

“utilitarianism can lead to all kinds of conclusions…”
In which case, it’s not very useful as a philosophy.
What’s the definition of utility? Once you answer that, utilitarianism could I suppose describe the logic of achieving a chosen goal. But then utilitarianism is no more than the philosophy of management.