Sunday, May 31, 2009

Insider baseball from AbuKhalil
The US General would be Keith Dayton, of the Action Plan, and US handler for Dahlan.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

"'s nice seeing someone acknowledge that much of what journalists perceive as the standards of their profession, the 'objectivity,' was a business choice."
That's what I like about Atrios. He's a marker for all the changes in American liberalism, because he just goes with the flow and does it publicly. He's ever the avatar of the the new normal.
But it was more than a business choice of course.
Go to the top of the page. Search terms: "objective" and "objectivity"

There's also the relationship to this, but Brian Leiter the legal 'realist' can't catch the complexity. His realism begins with the assumption that he knows what he believes in and why; to him belief is a private matter. But debate is public and in describing and re-describing our beliefs we redefine them and change them. Duncan Black's beliefs have changed. And Philip Weiss is at TPM Cafe.
TPM is changing.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

This smooth and easy assimilation of fact, this air of all-over sophistication, is what Americans have learned more and more to admire in business, in conversation, and on television quiz shows -whether the man in the dock is Charles Van Doren or the president of the United States being questioned mercilessly (and pointlessly) about everything from Laos to Tammany. The quiz show did not die out with the exposure that the contestants had been briefed: the candidates in the 1960 campaign were also briefed, as is the president of the United States today and the show goes on. If the reporters sometimes act as if they wanted to trip the president up, the president knows that he can impress the country by way of the reporters. This overall style, so much like the division of even the arts and sciences into departments of Time magazine became a "research" style among the military during the war, and it has now invaded the big universities and "scientific research and development:' It is our national style, intellect-wise. We now admire it when it comes unaccompanied by personal stress. A recent article in a liberal weekly on "The Mind of John F. Kennedy" turns out to be an entirely admiring study of Kennedy's range as an administrator. This vocational or psychological use of the word mind is so typical of our time and place that it probably never even occurred to the author to extend the word to cover "beliefs.' Instead we are told that Kennedy's "marshaling of related considerations" defines Kennedy's mind "as political in the most aflencompassing sense. The whole of politics. in other words is co such a mind a seamless fabric, in which a handshaking session with a delegation of women is in exercise directly related to hearing a report from a task force on Laos:' And this ability to assimilate on the jump necessary quantities of fact, to get statements of a problem that carry "action consequences "this is what we have come to value as the quality of intellectual all-roundedness or savvy.
Alfred Kazin, The President and Other Intellectuals. Most of the above appears in a note in Dwight Macdonald's essay The Triumph of the Fact.

Facts are not a value, but if you assume that the liberalism and liberal values of the American model are based on facts then American values are merely the natural result. "In fact", the relation of the individual to the collective in American liberal theory is a belief -no more, no less- and not one that bears much resemblance to actual social relations. The Scandinavian model is also a model of belief and Swedes acknowledge it as such. The American model, in the imagination of American intellectual technocrats, is not a model of belief but truth: of non-contradictory logic. This being the case intellectuals are able to think of themselves as mechanics.

The 'living tree' of constitutionalism or Catholic doctrine is a fact, not an opinion. It's a fact that the Catholic Church of AD 2009, 1955, 1823, 1664 and 1235 are not the same. An actual tree -coniferous, deciduous- is a non-contradictory thing but the 'living tree' of language is contradictory in essence. The naturalized epistemology predicated as continuous with the hard or formal sciences is founded on analogy rather than logic, and that analogy is quite obviously false.
American liberal technocratic 'instrumental' reason is founded on exceptionalism, defended as rationalism.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Jane Harman advocates ethnic divide-and-conquer in Iran
From Arabist

Thursday, May 21, 2009

-What most of us in philosophy departments do is philosophy; we are engaged in the same activity as Hume, Kant, etc.

-You’re engaged in the same activity as Kant in the same way Frank Gehry and Renzo Piano are engaged in the same activity as Palladio, or Christopher Wren.
I'm in a bad mood. I have no patience.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I’ve met Robert Hughes twice, the first time in the early 80’s. He’d been invited to give one of the semi-annual lectures at the museum on campus. It was only a couple of years after The Shock of the New and he'd achieved marquee status. He put on a good show. Fulminating at the vulgarians in the new administration, he put up a slide of a statue of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, homosexual lovers and by an act of tyrannicide heroes of Athenian democracy, who opposed thereby everything Reagan and his cronies stood for. He came off as both High Church and decent; the lecture was a hit. At the reception he was left somewhat on his own, more out of fear I thought than lack of interest,  and at some point I nervously walked over to ask a question. They'd offered the rest of us the usual cheap wine but Hughes was drinking either gin or vodka; whatever was in his glass it wasn't water. A few minutes later when a museum flack tried to ingratiate herself to him by knocking me away, Hughes tried in a half-assed but well-intentioned way to introduce us. “What’s your name again, mate?” I stammered a response and she dragged him off.

I saw him again years later at a Rubens exhibit, when Larry Gagosian made his brief attempt to go into the market for old masters. The Fatal Shore had been out almost 10 years, and I asked Hughes if he saw a conflict between his interests as a writer, as a lover of writing, and an art critic. He said he didn’t see one. I asked him if the two different tastes, in objects and language didn’t have different relations to the world. Good paintings as objects are one-of-a-kind commodities, and copies of Dante, or his own books are comparatively at least, a dime a dozen, with the price having no comparable relation to their value. He thought for a minute but didn’t respond and I didn’t push the question. I said and he agreed that it was a great show and left it at that.

I’ve asked similar questions over the years to people involved in the art world/market in various ways, and never gotten a very good response. I asked Dore Ashton if there were any reason that art should try to be popular. She was horrified at the suggestion. I wasn’t quick enough at the time to ask about Shakespeare.

The art world, the market for discreet objects of pleasure and value, represents the most conservative aspects of society. Before democratic revolutions it was part and parcel of the culture of the old regime, and under democratic regimes it must play to or off the tastes of the elite. The reasons are obvious, but largely ignored, especially by critics who want to think of themselves as independent. Journalists who write about fashion or interior design are much less conflicted, though there’s considerable overlap in the marketplace.

The fine arts are aristocratic. That’s their strength and weakness. But the arts as a whole, high, low and in between, are descriptive. Two things to be aware of when following the various partisans of modernism past and present.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Tags: Philosophy, Culture, Determinism,

Chris Bertram: Justice, ethos, and parliamentary expenses

More examples of liberals coming to terms with the fact that rules are not enough. Less the return of this understanding to the broader public, which never forgot, than to the narrower academic one that did.
The study of the world does not begin with the study of externalities but in the study of our relationship to them.
The study of the world begins in the study of out relationship to it.
The slow painful process of accepting the obvious.

Religion is a system for maintaining social stability, it is not a system of truth production. The Bible is no more true than the Constitution, which is why Platonists are opposed to democracy, as relativism.

I'm always faintly disgusted by discussions of what is or is not now constitutional. Question of whether or not Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act 'is constitutional' can not be compared to a question of whether the table I'm sitting at 'is aluminum.'
The Constitution -the words on the page- is unchanging and as such, inert. We change. Our relations, to each other and to the words, change.

It amazes me that arch rationalists who see themselves as liberal are so unaware of how their logic reads when transposed to questions of judicial philosophy.

Rationalists who argue with the faithful feel compelled to do so because their philosophy requires them to see humans as computational actors, and when someone answers their logic with myth and allegory -defended as computation- they howl rather than responding with curiosity and questions. 'New Atheists' respond irrationally to the presence of computational illogic rather than trying to understand the patterns behind it. Those patterns serve a function, otherwise they wouldn't exist.
The new atheists are old-fashioned utopians. Given that utopianism is illogical what function does it serve for those who maintain it?
"Valid reasoning from pretty well-accepted psychological premises would surely 'dictate' the exact contrary." [also see below May 6th on this page]
So the fact that we understand we have to compensate for human weakness means we're strong. Now that we understand that power corrupts, we're incorruptible.

I've said it before: Isaac Asimov as a writer is only slightly better than Ayn Rand, and Hari Seldon is no better a model of philosopher king than John Galt. But liberals have posited freedom as truth, so therefore the world can be reduced to a philosophical and moral essence: a non-contradictory essence. That's how debate about ourselves and our desires becomes a debate about externalities, since truths must be externalities.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Walter Pincus on "Newpaper Narcissism"

Less because the piece is interesting than simply to note that it was written on this date.
I'm inaugurating a new tag. [see below]

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

"And by your logic we wouldn’t need a black man or a woman on the Supreme Court because reason dictates that once we understand [by reason alone!!] what racism and sexism are we have no need for a black or female 'perspective.'"

"Sigh. Reason 'dictates' no such thing. Valid reasoning from pretty well-accepted psychological premises would surely 'dictate' the exact contrary."

"And those premises are based on the premise that pure reason is impossible."
I repost something about just this stupidity a few days ago and, voila, some fucking idiot with a Ph.D. -Forensic DNA Analyst- proves my fucking point. The reasons for diversity are substantive not merely political and practical.

Monday, May 04, 2009

"twenty coats of ruby-red maroon"

"This guy was out here, one of the head honchos, and he was upset -- what was it? -- oh, yeah -- because Billy Al Bengston was racing motorcycles at the time. This critic just dismissed that out of hand as a superficial, suicidal self-indulgence. And I said you can't do that. We got going and ended up arguing about folk art. He was one of those Marxist critics who like to think they're real involved with the people, making great gestures and so forth, but they're hardly in the world at all. Anyway, he was talking about pot-making and weaving and everything, and my feeling was that that was all historical art but not folk art. As far as I'm concerned, a folk art is when you take a utilitarian object, something you use everyday, and you give it overlays of your own personality, what it is you feel and so forth. You enhance it with your life. And a folk art in the current period of time would more appropriately be in the area of something like a motorcycle. I mean, a motorcycle can be a lot more than just a machine that runs along; it can be a whole description of a personality and an aesthetic.

"Anyway, so I looked in the paper, and I found this ad of a guy who was selling a hot rod and a motorcycle. And I took the critic out to this place. It was really fortunate, because it was exactly what I wanted. We arrived at this place in the Valley, in the middle of nowhere, and here's this kid: he's selling a hot rod and he's got another he's working on. He's selling a '32 coupe, and he's got a '29 roadster in the garage. The '32 he was getting rid of was an absolute cherry. But what was more interesting, and which I was able to show this critic, was that here was this '29, absolutely dismantled, I mean, completely apart, and the kid was making decisions about the frame, whether or not he was going to cad plate certain bolts or whether he was going to buff grind them, or whether he was going to leave them raw as they were. He was insulating and soundproofing doors, all kinds of things that no one would ever know or see unless they were truly a sophisticate in the area. But, I mean, real aesthetic decisions, truly aesthetic decisions. Here was a fifteen-year-old kid who wouldn't know art from schmart, but you couldn't talk about a more real aesthetic activity than what he was doing, how he was carefully weighing: what was the attitude of this whole thing? What exactly? How should it look? What was the relationship in terms of its machinery, its social bearing, everything? I mean, all these things were being weighed in terms of the aesthetics of how the thing should look. It was a perfect example.

"The critic simply denied it. Simply denied it: not important, unreal, untrue, doesn't happen, doesn't exist. See, he comes from a world in New York where the automobile . . . I mean, automobiles are 'What? Automobile? Nothing.' Right? I mean, no awareness, no sensitivity, no involvement. So he simply denied it: 'It doesn't exist.' Like that: 'Not an issue.' Which we argued about a little on the way back over the Sepulveda pass.

"I said, 'How can you deny it? You may not be interested, but how can you deny it? I mean, there it is, full blown, right in front of you, and it's obviously a folk art!'

"Anyway, he, 'No, no.'

"So I finally just stopped the car and made him get out. I just flat left him there by the road, man, and just drove off. Said, 'See you later, Max.'"
Max is Max Kozloff

Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees

It's on the top of the book list on the right. The link is to the expanded edition which I haven't read, but it's probably still the best introduction to contemporary art and artmaking I know. I've bought copies for strangers.  It's not an introduction to the modern sense of tragedy but the modern sense of curiosity.
I've looked at the updated edition since and it moves towards hagiography, which is a pity.

The relation is all pretty obvious. But my point, in the context of the last few posts [which should probably be read in reverse order beginning May 1st] is that Warhol is marketed by and to the intellectual class within the art world as a conceptualist and a philosopher and to the public as celebrant of celebrity, whereas Hitchcock is marketed more honestly to both intellectuals and the broader public as a storyteller famous for depictions of perverse psychology. The differences in media in presentation and marketing belie the similarity of their preoccupations and their similar relations to their work

For the art world as a whole this served two overlapping functions, fostering the inflated self-image of two opposed but equally idealistic groups central to the community: critics promoted Warhol to themselves as a critic or problem solver in the modern ideological tradition, and dealers promoted him to their wealthy clients as a celebrant of their own aspirations.

Warhol wasn't a philosopher any more than Hitchcock was. [And neither was 'creative.' Both were observant.]

Andy Warhol, Double Elvis, 1963

A doubled image of a fake cowboy -a movie image- played by a pop "icon," and beneath that of a person: Elvis Aaron Presley.
Two images of an image, of an image, of a man. And an image of psychosis.

Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo, 1958, and Psycho, 1960.

I shouldn't have to point out, but I will, that the spiral image also is from Vertigo.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The NY Times profiles Alastair Crooke
Conflicts Forum is on the linklist to the right. Or here

Saturday, May 02, 2009

From 2004. Published elsewhere:

No one is impressed now by the Eiffel Tower or the first Macintosh in the way people were when either first appeared; history describes the past, it doesn't relive it. The Eiffel Tower is impressive to us as a piece of engineering and as representative of a sort of 19th Century imagination. The first Mac is still impressive to computer techs and software designers but it's a charming relic to the rest of us: what was once a fascinating little box has become quaint.

Things age well that are semiotically complex, both flexible and resilient, they both change their shape- their meaning- and refuse to. I'll ignore for the moment those things that become complex by accident. The cast iron tower that rises above Paris, rather than merely exhibiting or documenting a kind of imagination, succeeds in describing it in a way that someone who is not an engineer or a student of 19th century social history may find fascinating. It's still beautiful and therefore contemporary, a thing too complex to be called either a relic or a symptom of its time.

One of the many mistakes of the 20th century was to imagine it might be possible to know without doubt which of our creations would avoid obsolescence. An art or society of ideas, a dream of scientific socialism, or of the morality of technological progress, all are predicated on the same assumption that modernity could mean infallibility, as if a cursory reading of Freud could render one immune to the effects of the unconscious. Such confidence doesn't work now any more than it did 80 years ago. It doesn't work for Donald Rumsfeld or Steve Jobs any more than it did for Lenin or Le Corbusier. Apple only makes a single button mouse, even though the software supports two, for reasons that a salesman admitted to me were 'basically ideological.' Why not have a pinhole release for the data drive? Because in theory, if not in fact, CDs never get stuck. Conceptual idealism is still popular, in art and politics, and absurdly so in architecture, which unlike the others is and needs to be an optimistic occupation. But what about the supposed opposite of an art of ideas? What is Taste?

Walking through the Neue Galerie, New York's new temple of Viennese culture at the turn of the 20th century, I'm struck as always by a sense of thinness, of attenuation; the designs have that as their subject as much as or more than skill, and everything in the place is marvellously crafted. But one form of decadence is defined by the sense that articulation and detail no longer heighten awareness, but numb it. The theme here is not so much emptiness but inadequacy: the inadequacy of the beautiful in the face of the intelligent. The works in the Neue Galerie displays therefore take the form of the self-consciously gratuitous and minor.

The first time I was in Barcelona I was amazed at the the rigor and precision of Gaudi's Catalan Modernism. I had expected simple decadence, but the buildings, tubs of melting ice cream, are neither decadent nor lazy but curious and open. And in a strange and beautiful way they aren't mannered at all.

August Sander, ThreeYoung Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, 1914
Yohji Yamamoto, in Wim Wenders' Notebook on Cities and Clothes is seen poring over a book of August Sander photographs, describing his envy of the subjects and their clothes, of the way each uniform -for every character wears a uniform, even if it's only the tilt of his hat- describes the person, and how the person describes the suit. Yamamoto the fashion designer is envious of purpose, of the space for expression it allows, of the weight of information carried by the fabrics and cuts, a weight that has accumulated over time by a commingling of tastes, free invention and necessity. It's hard to predict which of our constructions will be remembered in this way, but there's a lot to be said for at least understanding what has succeeded in the past, and why. That's an uncommon sentiment these days.

Friday, May 01, 2009

What does it mean when someone talks about their practice?
What's the psychology, or the sensibility, behind the use of that term? I won't call it a logic because it doesn't originate in logic but in a preference for a relation of thought to action (and preference precedes logic). It comes off as a worried, Pythonesque, defense of one's own autonomy: "This theory which is mine!" It's symptom of a sort of cramped bureaucratism. Organization man as the mass man of the educated middle class, and from there to the academy.

I found Org Theory from a discussion at CT. That the header has a quote from Tocqueville is just amazing to me. He would have been appalled.

What does it mean that universities now have professors of "Management"?
"Performativity is the idea that theories or models bring about the very conditions that they attempt to explain."
The wish to see intelligence as unified instead of conflicted, to see "the principle of bivalence, as the best guide we have in philosophy," is to choose rationalism and idealism over empiricism and the facts.
I was aware of vagueness as a challenging issue from my undergraduate days. It seemed to present the strongest challenge to the classical, realist picture that has always rung true to me, on which the world is largely independent of us, and the principle of bivalence holds ― every proposition is either true or false (and not both), even if we do not and perhaps cannot know which ― and other standard principles of logic hold too.
So idiot, from one naturalist to another, tell me, are Jews white or black?

Performativity affects the way we see things, not things themselves, but pathological externalism is a symptom of autism not a form of reason. The last 200 years of intellectual history is a record of the attempt to put the cart before the horse. The more we've come to understand the patterns of predetermination that ruled our past, and the more we've tried to see ourselves as free from them, the more we've become addicted to the logic of determinism. If we're aware more than ever of how much we have in common, is it therefore somehow natural and 'scientific' that we conspire to limit ourselves to just those aspects that are most common? "Management science" and its progenitors treat individuals not as types but tokens.

Where the art of the past has been considered the highest product of a culture, and referred to as descriptive, our social scientists now see themselves as architects, their method as prescriptive, and their model as the hive.
"So, too, our Collegiate Gothic, which may be seen in its most resolutely picturesque (and expensive) phase at Yale, is more relentlessly Gothic than Chartres, whose builders didn't even know they were Gothic and missed so many chances for quaint effect."
Dwight Macdonald
History will always tell us what we were. Our descendants will understand us better than we understand ourselves. That's the "Nightmare of Modernism"

A description does not have the rhetorical force of a proposition. A proposition is no more than a hope packaged as fact.
"I’m only about half way through it myself, and am reading in the chaotic way that I tend to read collections (moving randomly between chapters at whim—though to be honest I read just about everything other than detective stories the same way)..."
"He reads for "ideas", not for tone and implication, or the possibility of subtext. An author's form, manner, temperament, always colors and often contradicts their surface argument. The inability to engage subtext in others comes from an unwillingness to engage it in yourself. HB has a mind as flat as a pancake.

I meander through good books because I'm afraid of drowning in implication, but since implication is all I'm interested in I hope that makes up for it. I'm browsing Tocqueville and Dwight Macdonald. They'd both be horrified by the rise of Academic Organization Man.