Saturday, January 31, 2009

Playing around with an abandoned pair of panties.

I recognized the face immediately, but it took a few minutes before I could come up with the name.

Anne of Cleves

Le Samourai

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Reworking the last post:
Panofsky should be required reading for anyone in the social sciences, but I haven't met one academic in 20 years whom I could trust to understand the basic premises of humanism as described in those paragraphs. The vast majority of people take such questions for granted, without articulating them. We know this because they spend so much time and money watching and listening to others who do so: in music, movies and words (fiction). But many who spend their lives in the academy think they're irrelevant to higher learning, an indulgence, or at worst an invitation to unreason.

Economics as a humanist endeavor is the study of the weakness and frailty of the human imagination. As a "science" it becomes a celebration of the human capacity for reason: the reason of the observer. But reason trumps observation. Read economics as synecdoche for the social sciences. You can't will away the conflict, but the modern academy is dedicated to trying.
So obviously I find it disgusting but predictable that the liberal technocrats' model intellectual Paul Krugman spends his off hours in a science fiction fan club. It's what Krugman and Newt Gingrich have in common: a fondness for vulgar determinism.

The difference between an art that removes you from yourself and one that takes you somewhere else, intact, is the difference between an art of observation and an art of illustration, an art of frailty and an art of overarching authority. The fun and lie of John Carter Warlord of Mars, is that you are John Carter. The interest and truth of Anna Karenina is that you aren't. Pulp fiction is fantasy, and yet fantasy is the poetry of choice for the faculty of the modern social sciences. It fits the fantasy they have of themselves as engineers of humanity. Observation is often the observation of tragedy, but building is optimistic and "creative." The art of creativity is the art of invention and optimism. It's the art of "design" that when joined to wishful thinking is what in retrospect we call kitsch.

Art read observed or listened to seriously, whether made for that purpose or not is not read observed or listened to as fantasy but as philosophy. It is the observation and description of the world no more or less than the words of Plato, Aristotle, or Kant.
Economics as a humanist endeavor is the study of the weakness and frailty of the human imagination. As a "science" it becomes a celebration of the human capacity for reason: the reason of the observer. But reason trumps observation.
The observer refuses to observe himself. And unaware of himself, he becomes unaware when his reason has become the unreason that he fears so much in others. Wisdom requires both invention and observation. Machines, whether physical or logical, don't observe,

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The first two pages from Iconography and Iconology: An Introduction to the Study of Renaissance Art, by Panofsky. In Meaning in the Visual Arts. Originally published as Introductory in Studies in Iconology
"When an acquaintance greets me on the street by lifting his hat, what I see from a formal point of view is nothing but the change of certain details within a configuration forming part of the general pattern of color, lines and volumes which constitutes my world of vision. When I identify, as I automatically do, this configuration as an object (gentleman), and the change of detail as an event (hatlifting), I have already overstepped the limits of purely formal perception and entered a first sphere of subject matter or meaning. The meaning thus perceived is of an elementary and easily understandable nature. and we shall call it the factual meaning; it is apprehended by simply identifying certain visible forms with certain objects known to me from practical experience and by identifying the change in their relations with certain action or events

Now the objects and events thus identified will naturally produce a certain reaction within myself. From the way my acquaintance performs his action I may be able to sense whether he is in a good or bad humor and whether his feelings towards me are indifferent, friendly or hostile. These psychological nuances will invest the gestures of my acquaintance with a further meaning which we shall call expressional. It differs from the factual one in that it is apprehended. not by simple identification, but by "empathy". To understand it, I need a certain sensitivity, but this sensitivity is still part of my practical experience that is, of my everyday familiarity with objects and events. Therefore both the factual and the expressional meaning may be classified together: they constitute the class of primary or natural meanings."
"...a certain sensitivity, but this sensitivity is still part of my practical experience that is, of my everyday familiarity with objects and events."
Panofsky should be required reading for anyone in the social sciences, but I haven't met one academic in 20 years whom I could trust to understand the basic premises of humanism as described in those paragraphs. The vast majority of people take such questions for granted, without articulating them. We know this because they spend so much time and money watching and listening to others who do so: in music, movies and verbal fiction. But many who spend their lives in the academy think they're irrelevant to higher learning, an indulgence, or at worst an invitation to unreason.
And finally: besides constituting a natural event in space and time, naturally indicating moods or feelings, besides conveying a conventional greeting the action of my acquaintance can reveal to an experienced observer all that goes to make up his "personality." This personality is conditioned by his being a man of the twentieth century, by his national. social and educational background by the previous history of his life and by his present surroundings but it is also distinguished by an individual manner of viewing things and reacting to the world which, if rationalized, would have to be called a philosophy. In the isolated action of a polite greeting all these factors do not manifest themselves comprehensively, but nevertheless symptomatically. We could not construct a mental portrait of the man on the basis of this single action. but only by coordinating a large number of similar observations and by interpreting them in connection with our general information as to his period. nationality, class. intellectual traditions and so forth. Yet all the qualities which this mental portrait would show explicitly are implicitly inherent in every single action; so that. conversely every single action can be interpreted in the light of those qualities.
The panicked fear of subjectivity results in the inability to acknowledge its presence. Realism is not the assumption of "rational action." It is the attempt to examine rationally the irrationality of others so that one may respond to it and recognize it in oneself.

Economics as a humanist endeavor is the study of the weakness and frailty of the human imagination. As a "science" it becomes a celebration of the human capacity for reason: the reason of the observer. But reason trumps observation. Read economics as synecdoche for the social sciences. You can't will away the conflict, but the modern academy is dedicated to trying.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"Wer weiß welches Böse in den Herzen der Menschen lauert? Der Schatten weiß es!“
Spot the oxymoron
"Every citizen must respect the Declaration of Independence and the State of Israel’s Jewish and democratic character."

I posted this at Stephen Walt's page at FP
For the rest of the world the fact that Israel was founded on racist principles is accepted as simple truth. But American liberals have defended Jewish "National Front" politics out of the logic of exceptionalism, cold calculation and guilt.

A good part of the anger of Arabs now comes not from the fact of Israel or the fact of the expulsion but from the blithe response of westerners to their plight. The selling of Israel as the moral actor in the conflict has added endless insult to injury. Likudniks are honest with themselves if not with others, but liberals have been unwilling to admit what it is they've defended. Why should I offer support to any movement that puts race before representation? And we're supposed to see J Street as representing something like ourselves? In our multi-ethnic democracy? That's like seeing the lobby for a moderate version of Saudi bigotry as somehow a standard bearer for civil society.

Palestinians have been either reviled or pitied, but not treated with respect. This failure, of liberals more than the right -who've never cared at all- has given Israel as false sense of confidence in its own morality and modernity. The defensiveness hasn't faded over time as it should have been allowed to do, it's gotten stronger The Israeli radicals have grown stronger.
The hypocrisy of liberal Zionists is responsible for the present situation, more than the settlers and the Israeli right.
Another statement of the fucking obvious.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The purpose of life is the pursuit of pleasure. For some people, pleasure is work.

Daniel Davies, alias Dsquared [comments here] alias Bruschettaboy [comments here]
I'm in there.

Looking for a good passage from Cohen: Incentives, Inequality, and Community PDF
An example that for some readers may be close to home: the
policy argument that rates of pay to British academics should be
raised, since otherwise they will succumb to the lure of high for-
eign salaries. We can suppose that academics are indeed disposed
to leave the country because of current salary levels. The issue of
whether, nevertheless, they should emigrate is pertinent to the
policy argument when they are regarded as fellow members of
community who owe the rest a justification for decisions that affect
the welfare of the country. And many British academics with an
inclination to leave who put the stated policy argument contrive
to avoid that issue by casting the minor premise of the argument in
the third person. They say: “Academics will go abroad,” not:
“We’ll go abroad.”
Actually reading him now, and trying not to lose patience, he seems close to stating the obvious: that socialism is a habit -or needs to be- rather than an ideology, and one that needs to be strengthened, while individualism is a habit that needs weakening. I thought it was a common assumption at this point that Thatcherism marked the rise of the striving and vulgarly materialist lower middle class, in opposition both to the working class and the old aristocracy. But I'm beginning to suspect that I've been wrong. It's not a truism, It's still true of course.

It's silly to think of socialism as more just than individualism. There's no one definition of the just. There's only what civilized people prefer.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Progress towards what?

A military in the service of a democracy is a dictatorship in defense of freedom. What holds the relationship together is not laws but trust. Trust is a sphere or a zone of ambiguity, not a rule.
When rules are all that's left it's over.

Liberals continue to argue over rules

I think one of the things that disgusts me about this sort of debate, other than the productivist bias, is the thought that it's a debate over egalitarianism when the primary question is difference. But to liberals difference is secondary, so discussions of difference beggar the question of difference as discussions of freedom beggar the question of freedom. But freedom is more than the freedom to shop; and difference is foundational to democracy. Egalitarianism is secondary.

If productivism is the model, and progress is the goal then of course there will be servants and masters. By that logic the most important questions - What are we producing? What do we value?- are already answered. The whole debate becomes an argument for vulgarity from vulgarity. But democracy is founded on freedom of inquiry, not progress; and the debate at CT is over the objective ideal of hemlines -above the knee? how far?- rather than the history of British fashion.
The endless search for truth.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Socrates and Obedience to authority

Spencer Ackerman
Ret. Adm. Dennis Blair just refused to answer a very easy question, asked by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.): Is waterboarding torture? “I would say that there will be no waterboarding on my watch, there will be no torture on my watch.”

C’mon, a stunned Levin said. Blair: “I’m very much aware there were dedicated officers in the intelligence service who thought they were carrying out activities that were authorized at the highest levels … I don’t intend to reopen those cases of those officers who acted within their duties. I’m hesitant …” He doesn’t want to call his intelligence officials torturers, but, you know, still. Waterboarding is is clearly torture.

But Eric Holder said it was torture, Levin continued: “That’s troubling to me … I’m looking for your judgment, is waterboarding torture?”

“You’ll just have to make the inference from my answer that on my watch we will not waterboard,” Blair said. He reaffirmed that torture doesn’t produce reliable intelligence. But still: WTF?
My comment:
The answer's obvious. He's trying to maintain the peace within the organizations under his purview. He's trying to "look forward not backward."
"You’ll just have to make the inference from my answer that on my watch we will not waterboard,”

People thought they were following orders. He doesn't want to have to work with people who are being told they are torturers, even if not charged with it. Military logic is simple: following orders is good, disobeying them is bad. The orders were bad. The people who followed those orders do not want to feel responsible, since they did the "right" thing . Ever heard of Stanley Milgram?

Socrates: "And is, then, all which is just pious? or, is that which is pious all just, but that which is just, only in part and not all, pious"

The military is founded on an ideal of piety. The government is [Democratic governments are] founded on an ideal of justice. Blair understands the conflict more than you do.
I'm not sure if he understands the conflict more than intuitively, but he understands that members of the military are not trained to think about moral complexity. But they should be. Military philosophy, as I've said elsewhere if not here, is Manichaean. To some degree -for practical reasons- it needs to be. But our military is not taught to understand the tensions between the military as authoritarian order in defense of a free one.

The bigger issue is that Blair lied about killings in East Timor

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

No one in this world has ever lost money overestimating the American addiction to public expressions of self-love.

Monday, January 19, 2009

All so fucking stupid

Once more unto the breach
John Mortimer was a novelist, a playwright, and a lawyer
“Doing these cases,” he wrote, “I began to find myself in a dangerous situation as an advocate. I came to believe in the truth of what I was saying. I was no longer entirely what my professional duties demanded, the old taxi on the rank waiting for the client to open the door and give his instruction, prepared to drive off in any direction, with the disbelief suspended.”
What I argued in "the Passing of the 'High Modernism' of American Journalism" and in subsequent writings (especially Hallin 2000) was that this professional model of media did not represent the end of journalism history, but a brief episode based on very specific historical conditions which are now passing away.
The Modernism that Hallin describes as "a brief episode" is not a model of professionalism as such but a model of professionalism as objectivity. The earlier model of professionalism, one that still holds outside the US, is advocacy and that is the model we should return to. But Hallin's American modernism -still prevalent in the academy if nowhere else- allows only the dichotomy of reason and unreason, of rationalism and free-for-all. Was Mortimer an irrationalist? Is the professional model of legal practice in danger of passing away!?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

From Juan Cole
Thanks Em.

This is the problem with "journalism." The documentation of absurd hatred requires context and this gives none.
New York City has the largest population of Jews of any city in the world. The Palestinians are the grandchildren of the holocaust.

At 2:30.
The woman puts her lips together and you hear the the beginning of the letter "p."
She's creating a narrative she wants to believe in.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Journalism again.
Jay Rosen posts a reply from Daniel C. Hallin. I respond.
I think journalists often play an important role as an independent source of information, and in many ways I'd like to see them playing a stronger role, not a weaker one, in shaping the public sphere. I'd like to see them play that role in a more independent and thoughtful way than they often do, but I would not like to see them vanish from the political scene--which to some extent is actually happening as media companies cut newsroom budgets.
I worry that the rhetoric about how terrible journalists are actually plays into the hands of other powers, partisan, corporate, and government powers-- who would love to marginalize journalists as much as they could.
They've already done it.
One argument against journalists is that they defend corporate and government power. Another says that they defend a 'liberal' elite. The Republican leadership used christian conservatives as a base, but only cater to them enough to get their vote. Rove called them "nuts." [The leaders of right wing populism are demagogues not populists]
The major failure of the press results from its own snobbery. The author of this post [Rosen] as many others do imagines the press as a referee, but that claim is based less on an empirical understanding of the press' important role or of its history than on the wishful thinking of a self-important college kid.

The press is a participant in the political game. They should think of themselves as being paid by the people to dig, not by the leadership to tell the people what the leadership wants them to hear. The the press' job is not to judge but to be hungry; to knock on widow's doors and photograph pornographic images of war and violence: to serve the people's voracious "need to know."

The left and the nativist right are both justified in their anger. The press represents the interests of the institutional elite. Nativists attack lawyers too, until they want to sue. But the press wants to be the judge and it's not their job, it's ours.

Objectivity is an illusion, but much of academic logic is based on the cult of reason rather than a respect for adversarialism. Think of economics where you would think fans of market theory would approve. But they don't.

There's a difference between demagoguery and respect for your audience, between giving the people what they need to make an educated choice and giving the people "what they want" which as often as not may be bread and circuses; but there is no way to legislate that difference. That's what defenders of "reason" fail to understand. Taking yourself seriously is not a strategy for doing a good job at anything. Taking your job seriously is something else entirely. Judges have very specific rules they have to follow, and strict limits on their authority. They have to defend every decision for the public record. What are the rules for journalists in their self-appointed role as judges? There are none.
If lawyers can respect their role as officers of the court then journalists should be able to respect their own as servants not masters of the people.
The Passing of the 'High Modernism" of American Journalism Revisited Hallin can't quite grasp that professionalism and faith in one's own capacity for reason are two different things. Tradecraft is a form of professionalism, and it's a better model.
notes in general/old wine new bottles.
What does it mean that in the history of modernism, bad modern art, even bad examples produced by famous practitioners, is recognized as kitsch? A bad Cezanne, a bad Manet, a bad Picasso. Courbet at his worst is almost an inventor of the $39 oil painting. It's a common understanding that Lichtentstein worked in reverse, with what he thought of as kitsch. He referred to the military comics he copped from as fascist.

Roy Lichtenstein, Image Duplicator, 1963.
Magna on canvas. 24" x 20"

But Manet and Cezanne began with kitsch as well. The difference is that they started with their own.
Continuing from the previous post, I was thinking about debates I overhear regularly over law, proportionality etc. and the Israel-Palestinian situation. They're all predicted on the assumption that law by being law is somehow a Platonic form. I usually ignore these arguments, but this time I'll make the effort.
I've posted this elsewhere as well, since it's a simple illustration of the absurdity of that argument:
Imagine a beach and a small group of people sitting on and around a blanket having lunch. Another group comes onto the beach a few feet away and sets up a volleyball net between themselves and the first group. Then they start lobbing volleyballs over the net that all go unreturned. When the count of unreturned balls reaches 25 the second group declares the game over and themselves the winners. Another group arrives, friends of the second and wanting "their turn." They tell the first group to move so that they can play. A rule book is consulted and it is decided that the first group lost their game and have no right to occupy the "volleyball court". The police are called and they are removed by force.
Demands are made that the Palestinians abide by all the restrictions of law but they're offered none of the benefits. It's as if a woman were accused of biting her rapist.

The deaths of Palestinians are called "heartbreaking." The deaths of Israelis are called a crime.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A comment at FP gave me the opportunity to jot something down I've been thinking about since beginning to read Stephen Walt. The context is a discussion of US policy towards Iran.
Sooner or later people should begin to consider that democracy is preferable not because its more moral than other forms of government but because its more stable. The rule of law is preferable because laws founded on agreement if enforced evenly and simply build trust. And trust is the goal. The idealism of law as some form of Aristotelian logic is absurd. But realism should be the understanding that most people are stupid, not the defense of stupidity.
I think that puts it nicely.
The introductory essay: Art History as a Humanistic Discipline gives one of the best brief definitions of Humanism I've ever read: as the dual awareness of our capacity for reason and unreason. And his description of the relations of the humanities to the sciences, unified in the Middle Ages, separate spheres in the Renaissance, reminded me again of the Medieval origins of contemporary rationalism, popularized in "geek" culture. From "science geeks" and technology geeks, we now have humanities geeks, carpentry geeks and cooking geeks, and of course journalism geeks (see previous post).
The inability to accept contradictory thoughts and the need to will them away, or encapsulate them in a fetish

The man on the left is James Watson

An article from Natural History.
"In awe of science" as opposed to being in awe of god. The need to be a servant is the need to have a master: a simple dichotomy of power and powerlessness; to no longer be willing or able to face moral responsibility.
I may transcribe some passages from Panofsky and post them.

Media Studies: With Jay Rosen


Rosen, responding to someone else.
"...It's just a factor in what journalists do that tends be be under-weighted: their need to demonstrate deatchment, neutrality, nonalignment, professional distance.
Simplest method: politics as a game, journalists as savvy analysts up in the booth, sizing up the strategies and what the players have to do to win."
So journalists are outside the circle. Amazing.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Starbucks does Google

A couple of paragraphs taken from a comment at Crooked Timber in July, now posted again at TPM.
Another study someone should make: Compare Google to Apple. Google deals in information and money and in the the esthetic of the abstract and intangible. [On money and invisibility I owe a debt to my old roommate. I'm one of the two dedicatees for that paper so I'm returning the kindness.]

Apple is preoccupied not only with abstraction but with the material presence of it's products, not only with conceptual but physical design. It's an example of a boutique capitalism that's also as a result self-limiting. The only way for Apple to go beyond it's chosen niche would be for it to be joined under a conglomerate cf. Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. You prefer the latter because unlike Microsoft, it's a competent organization, but if anything that makes it more dangerous. Competent hegemons always are, yes?
Adding this:
Google is far more dangerous than Microsoft could ever be. Microsoft was once at risk of having some of its products put into the public domain. Google itself -in its entirety- may have to nationalized in the future, or put into an international public consortium.
Again, all obvious.

Make it idiot-proof IV

Jay Rosen discovers that journalism is a form of culture

graphic from The "Uncensored War" The Media and Vietnam
by Daniel C. Hallin

I tried to clarify.
"It's not a model of the press but of normative language and reference in any social group. Ask an anthropologist.
And compare Hallin's model with this one. It's more dynamic.
Hallin doesn't think to include time."
You can't escape the circle, all you can do is try to remind yourself that it exists. Awareness begins in self-awareness, and delusion begins in the assumption that you are what you claim to be, regardless of what others say. Barbarism is not caring one way or the other, which has the advantage of being neither delusional nor dishonest.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Not Even by Rocks

Continuing from here

Pattern-making is an intellectually and emotionally pleasing activity, but without some representative or mimetic function both process and product lack depth. Comparing apples to oranges is pattern-making but that doesn't make it worthwhile to anyone but the enthusiast. Mathematical pattern is seen as compelling because complexity is compelling and because mathematics is felt to describe the world at its foundations. But mathematics is still more rigorous as form than representation.

Philosophy can't claim to have such rigor either way. The human capacity for inventing analogies is boundless and the ability to test them is limited. The application of language in symbolic logic can't model our experience. Yet the use of word forms in the context of number and of numerical jargon in common language makes it easier to dream of an equivalence of one with the other, to argue for a representational formalism of language long after most mathematicians have been forced to give up on the dream of perfect order.

Imagine Colin McGinn as Ken Starr and his moralizing screeds on religion and democracy like a treatise on a cum-stained dress. At some point while reading you'll start to wonder if his interests are other than he claims. If Starr/McGinn were merely a writer this would have the makings of a novel or as read against itself an interesting book: the autobiography of a prosecutor as lecherous prude or of an atheist philosopher as Catholic moralist. Writing is pattern-making and an audience can enjoy an author's company without having to agree with his beliefs, or even think them anything but absurd.

Art is the objective description of subjective experience. A seven volume novel originating in a flash of memory brought on by the taste of a cookie isn't about the cookie but its significance to the author. And no one else would care if the novel weren't crafted in such a way as to provoke a related engagement in the reader. Words aren't cookies, which is why a novelist, even one who's spent her entire career writing stories about one event or period -even the Holocaust- is called a novelist: labeled by trade trade before subject. The error of many scientists and philosophers (and prosecutors) is to mistake their preoccupations with aspect of the world with the world itself -"I am the law"- to imagine they can close the gap between self and world, self and other, ignoring the mediating form of language.

March 2008
I suppose it would be an arcane point, but (again) facts are mundane. Truths even at their simplest are mundanities compounded with values. The struggle for “objectivity” is the attempt to separate facts from values.

A month or so ago I scanned through a PBS documentary on space exploration, following the Cassini mission and the Huygens probe. After the landing on Titan one of the project managers, describing her near ecstasy as the data began coming in, referred to her relation to Titan as akin to love. This was said seemingly without self-consciousness or irony.

The rocks on Titan are facts. The landing didn’t change them atomically or Platonically. The desire for them or for knowledge about them, and all the psychological baggage that accrues to the process are something else. I was more fascinated by the wide-eyed childlike expression on the woman's face than by the rocks. That interest is what defines me as a humanist: an awareness of the difference between first and second order awareness, or first and second order curiosity.
Reason unmoored is hot air. McGinn's ecstasy of complexity is the ecstasy a mind and an ego, unchallenged by anything other than itself. Not even by rocks.
Jumping forward again, to May 24, 2009:
"An actual tree -coniferous, deciduous- is a non-contradictory thing but the 'living tree' of language is contradictory in essence."

Israel bans Arab parties from running in upcoming elections

The beginning of the end.
Zionism has to be allowed to fade. if it explodes the prospect is terrifying.
And I worry about Israeli extremists much more than Arabs ones.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Duncan Black on Gaza? Cowardice as rational action?

Expanding on a comment on page at Stephen Walt's page at FP.
A large number of usually generally engaged writers/bloggers/organizations have become absolutely silent on Gaza. Where in the past they felt obliged to at least blather some attempt at being "even handed" -blaming Hamas for most things but Israel for overreacting- this time nothing.

This time they're as afraid of being branded the defenders of war crimes as they are of being called anti-Semites, and that silence is as big a change as the Bush Administration silence this week at the UN. It doesn't say much for the illusions of the Reality Based Community but it's a point for the realists.

Atrios may be pulling his hair out in private, or not. I have no way of knowing what Duncan Black thinks. But his primary interest is in holding his coalition together, so whatever else his silence is strategic. It's a tough call, or it should be in the politics of this country, though in absolute terms it's always been easy. Arguments could be made for the creation of a Jewish state in either of two places: Antarctica or near the Rhine. The displacement of any population not directly associated with the Shoah could not be considered just by any definition of the word. But for various reasons, neither place was ever an option.

My old annoyance with DB comes from my sense that he avoids complex issues not only in public and out of strategy, but also in private, and for more personal reasons. He tries to avoid subjectivity, and the result is a kind of emotional and intellectual shallowness,

Politics is not a good place for moral absolutes, but that's not the same as saying they have no role to play. So now the Jews in the US are being left to argue with each other about the Arabs and that's rightfully called progress. And we have no choice but to appreciate that progress at the same time as we condemn it for being miniscule and pathetic.
Art review in the form of an email to an art collector.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

-----Original Message-----
From: "S. Edenbaum"

Date: Sat, 10 Jan 2009 00:34:08
To: xxxxxx xxxxxxx
Subject: Marlene Dumas

She paints like a very good writer.

Friday, January 09, 2009


This is interesting.
A case sitting quietly in the Supreme Court’s in-basket promises to tell us more than almost any other about John G. Roberts Jr. and his evolution from spear carrier in the Reagan revolution to chief justice of the United States — and in the process set the direction of the debate over race and politics for years to come.

The question is whether Congress acted within its constitutional authority two years ago when it extended a central provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for 25 years. An appeal challenging the act’s reauthorized Section 5, a provision that requires certain states and localities to receive federal permission before making any change in election procedures, awaits the justices when they return today from a holiday recess.
And today the court agreed to hear it.
More from Rick Hasen

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Pity is more concerned with self-gratification than concern for others. It's self-regarding and passive. Respect is engagement with others as equals. It requires us to listen to them when they speak. That's the risk. Pity is risk free: it requires their silence.
For our purposes, however it is important that humanity manifests itself in such brotherhood most frequently in "dark times." This kind of humanity actually becomes inevitable when the times become so extremely dark for certain groups of people that it is no longer up to them, their insight or choice, to withdraw from the world. Humanity in the form of fraternity invariably appears historically among persecuted peoples and enslaved groups; and in Eighteenth-century Europe it must have been quite natural to detect it among the Jews, who then were newcomers in literary circles. This kind of humanity is the great privilege of pariah peoples; it is the advantage that the pariahs of this world always and in all circumstances can have over others. The privilege is dearly bought; it is often accompanied by so radical a loss of the world, so fearful an atrophy of all the organs with which we respond to it -starting with the common sense with which we orient ourselves in a world common to ourselves and others and going on to the sense of beauty, or taste, with which we love the world- that in extreme cases, in which pariahdom has persisted for centuries, we can speak of real worldlessness And worldlessness, alas, is always a form of barbarism.
In this as it were organically evolved humanity it is as if under the pressure of persecution the persecuted have moved so closely together that the interspace which we have called world (and which of course existed between them before the persecution keeping them at a distance from one another) has simply disappeared. This produces a warmth of human relationships which may strike those who have had some experience with such groups as an almost physical phenomenon. Of course I do not mean to imply be this warmth of persecuted peoples is not a great thing. In its full development it can breed a kindliness and sheer goodness of which human beings are otherwise scarcely capable. Frequently it is also the source of a vitality, a joy in the simple fact of being alive rather suggesting that life comes fully into its own only among those who are, in worldly terms, the insulted and injured. But in saying this we must not forget that the charm and intensity of the atmosphere that developes is also due to the fact that the pariahs of the world enjoy the great privelidge of being unburdened by care for the world.

Hannah Arendt, On Humanity in Dark Times: Thoughts about Lessing
in Men in Dark Times
Referred to by Adam Kirsch in the New Yorker. Being a zionist -and not even a liberal one- he misses both her point and the larger problem. “Interspace,” is not "isolation." And the warmth of community at its extreme becomes the illusory unity that sees people as indistinguishable twigs, tied tightly by necessity into a bundle: a collective, fearful, narcissism. [see Dec 31st below.]
Kirsch's article linked from As'ad AbuKhalil who as a proud haute bourgeois leftist doesn't quite see the problem either.
from a note to a friend:
But the tribalism of the Israelis is fascist in the way Arendt describes. And the best liberal Jews can muster for the Palestinians is pity. To have respect for Palestinians would be to recognize they have a case. Liberal Jews defend fascist Jews -while having pity for their victims- because they're trying to hide from their complicity in a crime.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Bilious Humours

Pity is more concerned with self-gratification than concern for others. It's self-regarding and passive. Respect is engagement with others as equals. It requires us to listen to them when they speak. That's the risk. Pity is risk free: it requires their silence.

Philosophy in the moment of worldly crisis; theory, when the rubber meets the road.
Is there any more proof needed for the basic, if not particularly new ideas behind "Deconstruction" than the documented ability of people to rationalize the reasonable out of the obscene? Once victims, now victimizers, but still held by themselves and abetted in this by supporters their abashed ex-torturers, under their previous designation. When "Never Again" becomes not an argument for moral responsibility but a graven image -when the cops become the law and not its representative- there is no law.

Since Chris Bertram did me the favor of deleting my post but not the link to what I wrote [reposted below] I'll return one. He understood something here but not the implications.
SoH regret that the things they value about England are being squeezed out by a crass commercialism (partly of US origin, partly not). They also regret that English people are ignorant of their own folk traditions. This is also true though a good deal (though not all) of the loss happened with 19th C industrialization and a good deal (though not all) of the “folk tradition” is a manufactured response to the same. Lots of stuff that strikes a chord there – loss of authenticity, commodification etc etc.

Lots of people who also feel, with them, the loss of that sense of place and belonging also (unlike them) blame their own anomie, alienation, etc on immigrants, the EU and so on.

A rallying cry to defend English culture attracts a lot of the same people, unfortunately.

This kind of dialectic has been played out since the dawn of industrialization and, of course, it leads the market-utopians to want to tar all the particularists (for want of a better word) with the same brush. That’s a charge that should be rejected because William Morris ain’t the BNP (or even UKIP). But we’ll carry on squirming and feeling uncomfortable because the left and the right both share a discontent with modernity.
"...particularists (for want of a better word)"
But there will never be a better word. And its the right one. "Particularist" as opposed to both Generalist and Expert. A French novelist is a particularist of his own language and an English novelist is a particularist in hers, but their particularisms are not in conflict, any more than a violinist's particularism is in conflict with a pianist's. You could say the same for French and British lawyers. [Why should I need to telegraph that point?]
The assumption that doctrines are truth rather than armature results in the absurdity of the defenses of Israel as "a State" while the Palestinians being only a people are of secondary status. [previous post]
A particularism concerning armature is not the same as a particularism concerning truth.


I used to like Searle when I read him in the NYRB. Maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention, maybe I view things differently now, or maybe I just liked him for hating Dennett as much as I did. I've never spent much time with Derrida. I've defended him because I take his basic premises to be truisms rather than for any interest in the details of execution. Still, Searle makes me like him and that wasn't his intent.

My family was so prejudiced against art-making as opposed to criticism that the thought of wanting to be an artist filled me with self-loathing that will never leave. Artists were self-indulgent idiot savants, or very very rarely geniuses to be revered from afar, preferably from at least 100 years away. But even then biography was frowned upon as a expressing a vulgar preference for teller over tale. Authorial intention was dismissed with the same tone, and not without reason: the goal is to make something that might be interesting in 2000 years, when the text itself is all that's left. That's why we still read Homer and the Bible. In art as in law originalism is a weak argument for lousy politics, and serious men are readers while those known for speeches by comparison presume too much. Reading is a social act as texts are public property, as public memory, while speaking not in response to texts but freely is first of all a demand for attention.
Derrida is a Jew from the old school, and if you compare arguments from authority that originate in the speaker with arguments also from authority that originate in a written, and public, text you'll see that the rhetorical power of such claims in the second is much weaker, that statements in this form invite a reply or counterclaim: call implies response. Two men arguing over a book that all can read and many do is not the same as one man's proclamation or proposition from uncommon knowledge. This is what separates the rule of law from the rule of reason, and why we choose the former.

The rhetoric of reason is not reason. The rule of reason defaults to the rule of the reasonable: not a response to situations in the world but to a normative and in times of crisis -as now- an often otherwise obviously perverse sensibility. The reasonable in a crisis can become the irrational. Josh Marshall this morning links to this from the WSJ: "Ignoring the Oracles: You Are With the Free Markets, or Against Them" about the wagon-circling response to a presentation before the the Fed in 2005. I posted a comment at TPMCafe noting the parallel to other current events. "Ignoring the Oracles: You Are With the Jews, or Against Them." Defenders of Israel will have more to be ashamed of in the future than the administrators of the Fed do now.

As an aside, since I found the new McGinn link from Leiter [again prev. post]: can it be called obvious at this point that the constitutive structures of academic philosophy are not to be found in the external, objective, non-anthropocentric world, but simply in the self-perpetuating social formations of the academy? How can something so brittle ever survive reference to anything outside itself?
The games continue
Notes. [thread removed] Arguing with idiots: Colin McGinn
By your logic the whole notion of law as decided by anyone other than the elite is false.
By your logic the notion of democracy is "false." But legal doctrines like religious doctrines are merely a formalism, States are a formalism. The assumption that doctrines are truth rather than armature results in the absurdity of the defenses of Israel as "a State" while the Palestinians being only a people are of secondary status.

And Gaza is being turned into the Warsaw Ghetto as you read.

Please explain to me how Steven Weiinberg can analogize the defense of Zionism as the defense of science? [See Chapter 15] I've asked you this once before. Weinberg is a mythologizing pedant, who being a pedant refuses to admit he's capable of mythologizing. He is in own opinion, a rational man. He's made himself a fool. Are you that oblivious to the fact of the influence of Catholic metaphysics on your arguments for truth?

The public discourse of a civilization could be founded on scholarly debate and interpretation of The Bible, The Koran, The Constitution, or the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Any of them is better than a government of the elect and unaided reason.

Meanwhile: more notes [deleted within the hour]
-Heller: ”I do not know enough to conclude that Israel’s attacks are criminal.”

-Bertram: ”I do not know enough to judge that P” is not synonymous with “there is no evidence that P.” Dershowitz believes “the evidence is that not-P”, so quite how you could construe Heller as giving him support is a mystery.”

The facts are here. [same as previous post] I want to assume -can I?- that you know who Uri Avnery is.
But you won’t link to it. You’re more comfortable with academic debates over proportionality than you are with public debates over morality.
On Hamas read Stephen Zunes of Foreign Policy in Focus.
There is nothing in these links that is not known to those who’ve cared to know it.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Uri Avnery: "As a matter of fact

...the cease-fire did not collapse, because there was no real cease-fire to start with. The main requirement for any cease-fire in the Gaza Strip must be the opening of the border crossings. There can be no life in Gaza without a steady flow of supplies. But the crossings were not opened, except for a few hours now and again. The blockade on land, on sea and in the air against a million and a half human beings is an act of war, as much as any dropping of bombs or launching of rockets. It paralyzes life in the Gaza Strip: eliminating most sources of employment, pushing hundreds of thousands to the brink of starvation, stopping most hospitals from functioning, disrupting the supply of electricity and water.

Those who decided to close the crossings – under whatever pretext – knew that there is no real cease-fire under these conditions.

That is the main thing. Then there came the small provocations which were designed to get Hamas to react. After several months, in which hardly any Qassam rockets were launched, an army unit was sent into the Strip “in order to destroy a tunnel that came close to the border fence”. From a purely military point of view, it would have made more sense to lay an ambush on our side of the fence. But the aim was to find a pretext for the termination of the cease-fire, in a way that made it plausible to put the blame on the Palestinians. And indeed, after several such small actions, in which Hamas fighters were killed, Hamas retaliated with a massive launch of rockets, and – lo and behold – the cease-fire was at an end. Everybody blamed Hamas.

What was the aim? Tzipi Livni announced it openly: to liquidate Hamas rule in Gaza. The Qassams served only as a pretext.

Liquidate Hamas rule? That sounds like a chapter out of “The March of Folly”. After all, it is no secret that it was the Israeli government which set up Hamas to start with. When I once asked a former Shin-Bet chief, Yaakov Peri, about it, he answered enigmatically: “We did not create it, but we did not hinder its creation.”

For years, the occupation authorities favoured the Islamic movement in the occupied territories. All other political activities were rigorously suppressed, but their activities in the mosques were permitted. The calculation was simple and naive: at the time, the Palestine Liberation Organization was considered the main enemy, Yasser Arafat was the current Satan. The Islamic movement was preaching against the PLO and Arafat, and was therefore viewed as an ally.

With the outbreak of the first intifada in 1987, the Islamic movement officially renamed itself Hamas (Arabic initials of “Islamic Resistance Movement”) and joined the fight. Even then, the Shin-Bet took no action against them for almost a year, while Fatah members were executed or imprisoned in large numbers. Only after a year, were Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and his colleagues also arrested.