Saturday, December 27, 2003

Visions and revisions etc.

The oddest thing to me about the cojoining of academic philosophy and law is that the two are so obviously contradictory. Philosophy attempts to analyze the tension between the twin imperatives of construction and observation, but quite obviously prefers one to the other. But law has both a langue and a parole and it has a parole of the school and another of the courtroom. As in liberal discourse, moreover, where the lower class, or the uneducated, or the unemployed, are objects, one gets the sense in listening to academic legal debate—at least under the labels of Law and Philosophy—that not only the public but lawyers, those who are performers in the courts, stand as inferior before the ideals of the imagination. I would expect a more reciprocal relationship to apply.

It is one of our losses that intellectuals are no longer orators, and that skill with language is looked down upon, or worse, indulged as mere style. Mentioning this brought about the end of my correspondence with Belle, who sees formalism as tragic but inevitable, and acts accordingly, even as her language overpowers her ideas (leave it to me to debate the merits of fatalism with a hooker.)

One of my accidental presents this year was a CD of an Otto Klemperer St. Matthew Passion from 1962. The sprightly baroque-isms of my more recent British recording always annoyed me, but now I'm faced with this. Is it possible that the lateness of the Klemperer style is manifest in owing too much to the meaning of the text, while the lateness in the style of John Eliot Gardiner is exhibited in his not paying it enough attention? If one is too close to the content, is the other content merely to replicate the form? A question for philosophers of art and language.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Nathan Newman:

I saw the documentary The Fog of War and was fascinated that Robert McNamara referred to himself as a war criminal, NOT in regard to Vietnam, where his self-judgment was somewhat ambiguous, but about his role in World War II. Back then, he was on the statistical team that helped plan the bombings of Japanese cities, which led to the total devastation of most of them and over 300,000 civilian deaths; Hiroshima was in many ways a sideline to the much broader conventional firebombing of their cities.

And McNamara noted his role as war criminal would only have come if the US had lost the war. With US victory, World War II recedes into memory as the "Good War" where the deliberate US mass murder of German and Japanese civilians is obscured.
No links, they're on the left. Go read Juan Cole, and Riverbend (Baghdad Burning.)

Thursday, December 25, 2003

I want to add a comment because I've been getting so many hits from Brian Leiter. I hammer away at the same themes, and sometimes while enjoying myself I get sloppy. These new readers are more likely than most to catch me.

It's called "Imperfect" justice for a reason. What's the nature of the imperfection? How can a philosophy founded on imperfection be seen as useful, or profound? The system of adversarial justice is built on nothing more than rules of engagement: it's stage managing as much as anything. On the other hand I would ask: how can a philosophy predicated on perfection be useful? What can be learned from mathematics as philosophy? If we rely on theater tricks to help resolve discussions of guilt or innocence -and life and death- how does mathematics have any more than an ancillary relationship to such discussions? If we're doing nothing more than studying the parlor tricks themselves, is this philosophy or merely technics?

And what do we call those who speak in court, those who convince, who seduce? Shouldn't legal realism mandate courses in rhetoric? In drama studies?

"Ok now... Everybody breathe in... slowly.
Now, exhale... through the body!
That's good."

A question to Brian L. or anybody since he linked to that absurd piece in The Guardian attacking Chomsky. Can he or anyone tell me what in Chomsky's political writings rises above the level of simple political reporting? I have no interest in those who attack him -they're hypocrites or idiots or both- but his partisans annoy me. What could Chomsky tell me if I asked him a question about the relationship of the individual as such to the collective? What would he tell me in response to questions concerning the necessity of coercion in any organized activity? I have no interest in hearing more vague anarcho-syndicalism. Chomsky's fine. I love him; great guy; right on all the basic issues, only because he pays attention to every detail. But let's talk philosophy for once.
I couldn't help myself.
In answer to a question:
I am an atheist. I have few formal -as opposed to informal- social ties and obligations. My parents in modernist fashion 'escaped' their pasts and family histories, replacing them with education and a sophisticated awareness of a wider world. One was an academic, the other ABD with hobbies (you can guess which of them that was.) It's safe to say that all of us were/are 'alienated' from our surroundings, myself less so, though sometimes I wonder. My parents were readers, and one of them still is a reader, of literature, which is not the same, is indeed often the opposite, of being its maker. The argument was often made in my parents' house that one should be 'in the world' and not 'of it' which again is a trait more of readers than of writers. Both were politically active from the 1950's on.
If my life has taught me anything it is to be wary of that 5% of the population that sees itself as being able to describe, and from that assumption to design and redesign the structures that define the existence of the other 95%. I am not talking about politicians, who are part and parcel of the world, but about intellectuals, a percentage, who aren't.

I live with that 95 percent. Any third rate writer of detective fiction does. So did Shakespeare and Montaigne. Living in that world, and thinking perhaps that its collective history is of more value than the works of those who are proud not to, does not make me a believer in mythologies.
I think Marx would agree.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Riverbend. Riots, gasoline shortages, blackouts, and how to explain to a seven year old in Baghdad that people sometimes choose to eat dinner by candlelight. Then a discussion of rising ethnic tension. The last paragraph:

I once said that I hoped, and believed, Iraqis were above the horrors of civil war and the slaughter of innocents, and I'm clinging to that belief with the sheer strength of desperation these days. I remember hearing the stories about Lebanon from people who were actually living there during the fighting and a constant question arose when they talked about the grief and horrors- what led up to it? What were the signs? How did it happen? And most importantly... did anyone see it coming?

Can Israel Escape a Binational Future?
According to Ha'aretz, Dr. Yitzhak Ravid, a senior researcher at the Israeli government's Armaments Development Authority, called for Israel to "implement a stringent policy of family planning in relation to its Muslim population." In case his meaning wasn't clear, Ravid added: "the delivery rooms in Soroka Hospital in Be'ersheba have turned into a factory for the production of a backward population."
Looking the blog today I saw a post from saturday I thought I'd dumped without publishing. It's still there.
Juan Cole: Wrangling over the future of Kurdistan.
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leader Massoud Barzani, a member of the Interim Governing Council, announced Sunday that the Kurds would not be satisfied with provincial federalism in Iraq. It was not enough that each of the 18 provinces retained certain privileges not granted to Baghdad. He wants the Kurdish regions to be constituted as a super-province, and wants it then incorporated into Iraq only as part of a loose, perhaps Switzerland-like, canton-based federalism. (AFP, ash-Sharq al-Awsat).
In response, the leaders of the 500,000 Turkmen in Iraq announced that they would oppose the incorporation of the oil city of Kirkuk into any such Kurdish super-province. (ash-Sharq al-Awsat)
The potential for ethnic strife over this issue is enormous. The Shiite al-Da`wa Party has in the past rejected this Kurdish formula for very loose federalism in favor of strong central government. Turkish officials in the past have also said that they will intervene militarily in Iraq to prevent Kurdish autonomy.
From Max:
Jim Heartfield on Qadhafi.
Homepage here.

Aside from illness, my posting ability is limited by the fact of the rental laptop. I have no access to my files, no mouse, and a tiny screen. And aside from the fact that I'm unfamiliar with OSX, the shop has it loaded on an ancient ibook, making it run slowly, even by my standards.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Away from the sickbed for a moment. One comment and I'll return to it:
Peer review is not a scientific construction but a social construction applied to oversee scientific practice. It's about as scientific as a court of law.
Got me?

And the attacks on Dean this morning by Carville et al. were absurd.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Yesterday I spent the day supervising a crew of Mexican immigrants demolishing the interior of a small building. For the first time in 20 years I didn't pitch in and help. I felt their contempt, a contempt I'd always consciously avoided. This time I bought them coffee. I didn't think it would change anything, and I was right.
My computer crashed this afternoon so I'm on a rental: a machine almost as old as my own and which I can not afford (any more than I can afford the repair bill.)
Lula the populist is thinking short term. I understand the reasons, but he could not be more wrong.
From The Guardian:

This is the Amazon, a vast lung producing 20% of the earth's oxygen, and home to 30% of all plant and animal species. It is so immense that it would swallow Europe in full and three more Englands besides.
The rainforest is shrinking at a rate that is staggering environmentalists. Around 25,000 sq km (10,000 sq miles) disappeared last year - an area about the size of Belgium. Brazil's environment minister has confirmed to the Guardian that this year's figures will be as bad. Others think they will be worse.
Am I the only person on the planet to argue that the fight is not between reason and faith but between faith and skepticism? Edward Rothstein tries to strike a balance in his piece in The Times today but misses the point. He did remind me that it was Richard Dawkins who coined the odious name of 'Brights' for the partisans of rationalist metaphysics. I'd suggest 'Brite' as the spelling most appropriate to the banality of his ideal.
At this point I'm willing to suggest to the brites that we abolish our outmoded system of adversarial justice, based as it is on the mistaken assumption that no one person should be allowed to stand for truth, and let atheist mathematicians run the courts.
Link from Josh Marshall, TPM.

Right now, there is no Iraqi state and, in the absence of an Iraqi leader, President Bush holds power. Of course, Iraqis won’t get to vote for him when they do eventually go to the polls, and for that, at least, he can be grateful. His apparent impatience to get out of the country suggests that he recognizes how difficult it will be to maintain the claim that he is that country’s liberator even as he serves as Commander-in-Chief of an increasingly relentless counter-insurgency campaign. The President cannot afford to lose Iraq. What is less obvious, with the guerrillas setting the agenda, is what the price would be to win it.
Philip Gourevitch.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

"I know. It's beginning to seem corporate law is criminal law."

A note from Tom Bell, one of the 'Fucking idiots' linked to below, and the author of the quote.
I was much less harsh in the email version, and didn't include a link,
so now I'm racked by guilt (sort of.)
It's hard being human.
The Guardian put out the second list of the Best British Blogs, and the award for the best written blog went to Belle de Jour.

...[T]he diary of a London call girl. There's obviously a prurient and titillating element, but the quality of her writing took her blog well beyond that. Some judges were concerned it was a work of fiction, but even if it is, it remains an impressive piece of writing.
As Bruce Sterling, one of the judges said: "Archly transgressive, anonymous hooker is definitely manipulating the blog medium, word by word, sentence by sentence far more effectively than any of her competitors. It's not merely the titillating striptease aspects that are working for her, but her willingness to use this new form of vanity publishing to throw open a great big global window on activities previously considered unmentionable ... She is in a league by herself as a blogger.

I agree.

As you read the report, you're going to have a pretty clear idea what wasn't done and what should have been done... This was not something that had to happen.
14 hours later it's old news, but it's still interesting

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

My apologies, but the fact that Brian Leiter links to these fucking idiots makes me wonder. And linking to a post that contains this flourish of oxymoronic wisdom just adds to my confusion:
"I'm a corporate law person. All I know about criminals is I don't like 'em".
Say what?
And Bob Bork, as far as I can tell, is now a drunk and not much else.
Adapted from a note to Brian Leiter, in reference to Simon Blackburn, writing on Richard Dawkins:

Love is a Rose!!? Love is an emotion and a rose is a flower! A flower is a plant! How in god's name can an emotion be a plant!!

Language is a slippery slope. Once you allow metaphor, you risk the chance that someone is going to take it literally. You wanna get rid of religion, go to the root of the problem.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

I sent off a couple of letters that may get me involved in an interesting conversation. I'll write something, or post the letters and responses-with permission- if anything comes of them.
Listened to NPR this morning, and to interviews of the families of soldiers in Iraq, who were questioned on their response to the capture of Saddam. Treated as experts, they responded as if they knew what they were talking about, while making comments based on ignorance and wishful thinking.
This was not democracy, but a mockery of it.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Sometimes you read something, a description of a life, that makes you feel the loss deeply of someone you never knew existed. I had that experience reading Anne Midgette's obituary for the German Bass-Baritone Hans Hotter.
He came to music only slowly, though, and initially studied organ, with an eye to training as a conductor, until his music teacher got him a hearing with Matthias Römer, a singer who had studied with the great tenor Jean de Reszke and sung Parsifal at Bayreuth. Römer was immediately convinced of the potential of Mr. Hotter's voice, but it took a lot of persuading to get the young man "to leave music aside and become an opera singer," as Mr. Hotter later put it.
I'm awaiting Nathan Newman's post about tonight's episode of The Practice. Brian Leiter is interested, unless I'm mistaken, in the scientific analysis of what works in a courtroom, with no distinction between legal and non legal argument. Nathan I sometimes think is with Alex Cockburn in criticizing of the rule of law itself. Tonight's episode reached it's climax in an act of jury nullification, in the case of a black woman who killed a drug dealer in cold blood, and ended with the victorious defendant delivering a populist, near fascist, call to arms of the people against crime and criminals, while her lawyers watched nervously from the background. A nice subtle touch.
Juan Cole: Reflections on the Capture of Saddam Hussein
And an interesting final paragraph:
My wife, Shahin Cole, suggested to me an ironic possibility with regard to the Shiites. She said that many Shiites in East Baghdad, Basra, and elsewhere may have been timid about opposing the US presence, because they feared the return of Saddam. Saddam was in their nightmares, and the reprisals of the Fedayee Saddam are still a factor in Iraqi politics. Now that it is perfectly clear that he is finished, she suggested, the Shiites may be emboldened. Those who dislike US policies or who are opposed to the idea of occupation no longer need be apprehensive that the US will suddenly leave and allow Saddam to come back to power. They may therefore now gradually throw off their political timidity, and come out more forcefully into the streets when they disagree with the US. As with many of her insights, this one seems to me likely correct.
Of course Hussein is not going to be handed over to an international court, causing a further erosion of our government's credibility in the eyes of pretty much everyone else.
[update: Silly comment. His trial will be public; Bush isn't that stupid.]
And the war will go on.
In periods of real crisis, serious moderates and serious conservatives start talking sense. So who needs a leftist?
All of us are stuck, waiting for the peasantry to pay attention.
That's why I've been talking philosophy and literary analysis.
The week in review:
He's alive, and has stories to tell.
Fuck Taiwan (I'm sorry.)
The political system of this country is not based on educating successive generations of the electorate, but on asking them in all their ignorance, what they want. As I've said before, the result is nothing more than a negative feedback loop. When Dan Rather asks "Why do they hate us?" or when Tom Brokaw[?] asks John Kerry again and again if the capture of Hussein isn't a big boost for the president, both are being utterly sincere: they are afraid to have opinions about topics that only The People can speak to. Let's wait for a poll. Of course there's corruption, but things precede it.

I'm interested in Iran and China because the people in both societies are engaged in the debate over the rights and responsibilities of democracy. Culture and democracy as its modern form are my interests. Nation states don't interest me much, so the decadence of this country is something I can only describe.
Prostitution is the defining of one's own body in the terms of technocracy. Like technocracy itself, not only its causes but its consequences are tragic. But who am I to criticize the decisions of someone who chooses, out of what they consider necessity, to see their body in this way?
Bar Conversation.
"It's difficult with the [job title]s. They think I have too much power.
"And in theory you work for them"
"Yeah, but we have the same boss, and I talk to her and know more than they do at this point."
"[Job title]s are all women, right?"
"Mostly women... Two men."
"Sleep with the women. Fuck the men."
Ah, the ambiguities of language.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

A story from the history of The Journal of Philosophy. It's from the mid 80's, and I know those involved.

After a summer teaching at another university, a graduate student at Columbia returned to New York, and to her job at the Journal office. How were the students? she was asked. "Fine", she responded. "But it was weird. They were all obsessed with sex! Not the idea of sex, or the meaning of sex, but sex!"
Temporary title (suits my mood).

Friday, December 12, 2003

From a note, regarding legal realism among other things:

My interest is in esthetics. I think, for example, that cultures are collectives, that we create systems of normative activity and that we function within them. The arts are orders of esthetics that are not usually considered banal, even if they are entirely self supporting. Actors are liars, but profess depth. Fiction is 'un-truth' but is not cheapened by that fact. If culture precedes all, even science -in interpretation and function (no more no less) [science can't justify science]- then culture must be understood on its own terms. I believe in the [legal] priesthood, as I would argue in a sense for a philosophy of normative rhetoric.

There are master fiddlers and masters at chess; there are painters and poets. And there are scientists.
Science can't argue from sophistication, because it can't handle the facts on the ground -anger, lust, fear- and because given the limitations of our communicative skills, given that every communicative act is one link in a game of telephone (Derrida didn't invent that notion did he?) we need those who are skilled at interpretation. We need an ideal of 'wisdom.'

Another tack: Every individual act is considered superior -my word- in a court of law to any definition of that act. A trial is an act of naming. And at the end of the trial only that single instance is given a name.
Act "X" occurred. What is it? How do we describe it? What are the words? For this we need masters of rhetoric, in an adversarial relationship etc.
This is the fun part:
The normative, as such, is a function of any given system, and can not at such be denied its role in argument.
Anti-foundationalism is not banal if the system it describes is complex enough to exist as an organic whole. Society as a collective construction, is complex, self perpetuating and foundationless. Technocracy is foundationless, simplistic and inorganic, and is arguably the very definition of banality: an inorganic, indeed anti-organic, totality.

Terribly written, unclear, cutting corners.  "For this we need masters of rhetoric, in an adversarial relationship etc."  Because trials are concerned with findings of "fact" not findings of "truth", and the most important thing is that the community agrees on the outcome.  The legal realism of lawyers is not the legal realism of legal philosophers. I did this so much better later on.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Earlier today I was ready to describe the web, if not the western world, as being made up primarily of narcissists and technocrats; of the two, narcissists generally being more attractive and better in the sack, but both otherwise bearing the marks of a stunted emotional and intellectual life.
But then Max Sawicky made me laugh.

Check out the last few posts on the budget and employment. Max has got some good material.
And if thanks to Max I am now in a better mood, I'm still the same man I was 20 minutes ago.
A state predicated on the superior political position of a specific ethnic group is by definition a racist state. Is this not clear? If not, to whom? Defend Jewish exceptionalism all you want but don't be so stupid as to deny the obvious. The popularity of the Geneva plan is all well and good if you like Bantustans, and it may be the best the Palestinians will get for a while, but please spare me your self-serving false morality.
Lets see how much I can pack in here. (I'll fix it later)

From a series of posts here Quoting a law review article:
For morality to guide us appropriately, she argues, we need to know what it would be best to do (with full information), not what it is best to do given the imperfect information that we actually often have. But I think this is wrong, or at least overstated. Yes, it does help to know what would be best to do ex post (given full info). But it is also critical to have principles guiding our actions in cases of imperfect info. We want people to make reasonable choices ex ante about using defensive force etc. So we want them to make reasonable and (ex ante) justifiable inquiry into the facts, though not so much inquiry that this disables them from acting in a timely manner etc. In short, we don't actually want people, in all cases, to come as close as possible to full information before acting; for that might lead to an even higher probability of (ex post) unjustifiable acts. The principles we should adopt to guide action should consider, not just what would be the best thing to do ex post, but what are the best informational and action strategies for getting there.
Of course she's wrong. I'm amazed such arguments are still made, but as long as philosophy is centered on a search for solutions -for mechanisms- rather than on the definition of problems they will be, and the same fights will be held over and over in the classroom rather than in the courts where they belong.

On a similar point, relating to a discussion of the conceptualization of mistakes as 'justifications' or 'excuses':
All depends upon what the substantive normativity of a given criminal law regime is best understood to provide -- a question that is largely anthropological
I posted to comment on this post. I went off half cocked, but raised a couple of interesting questions I think.

A soldier who kills an enemy in battle is morally responsible for the death of another, but is not morally responsible for the 'crime' of murder. Given this, when are the questions of law not "anthropological?"

I'm understanding more and more why I never became an academic. It's not just because I'm lazy. I'm sick to death of people who have ideas, and ideas about ideas, and responses to ideas about ideas.
Ideas are easy and there aren't very many of them around to have. The long quote above about morality and principles comes from a discussion between people who have 'ideas,' but the interesting subject is not that of ideas but conflicts.

Law is not about ideas but about the conflict between/among them. The Bourgeoisie is not a homogeneous entity but an agglomeration of those whose common position is one of doubt. "What are we?!" This doubt is the engine that so fascinated Marx. The re-asking of this question, the rediscovery of this struggle is what engaged Michelangelo and Shakespeare. Go to the Academia in Florence and look at blocks of stone that do not illustrate but make manifest an unresolved and unresolvable dialectic of a man at war with himself. I posted something about this in relation to the more skillful but less complex Bernini a few months ago. The banality of science, and I'm really getting comfortable with that term now, is that it goes only in one direction, and struggles for only one thing, and this thing it calls 'truth.' But truth is a metaphysical concept. The struggles of science are for facts: banal in themselves. It's the desire that makes science morally profound, and any desire that is not self-reflexive is dangerous. It has nothing to go up against. "After all," science asks "What opposes 'truth' but ignorance?"
What is the relationship of the individual to the state, and of the state to the individual?
Who's in the right?
It all depends.
On what?
On who makes the best argument this time around.
According to what logic?
An imperfect one.
[And What's the difference between the collective and the state?]
This is where the action is. This is where the stakes are high. This is what's fun.
On The Natural History of Destruction.

Michael Kimmelman has a piece in The Times today which as luck would have it includes a discussion of the book I didn't succeed in polishing off last night. Sebald describes the avoidance of memory in post war Germany, the memory of the violence done to the German people, in the context of the denial of the violence perpetrated by them. He also relates this to the sort of autistic hyper-functionality that defined the post war state and population. But he also includes a discussion of "Bomber" Harris, and the British decision to bomb civilian populations even when hitting industrial sites would have been more useful to the war effort. And he does all this alongside a brilliant discussion of those who had been victims of the regime, who considered it their duty to remember, and of its servants, who claimed to speak for memory while absolving themselves of responsibility.

Aber etwas fehlt.

I remember in the mid 80's reading a memoir by Canetti, "The Play of the Eyes," soon after reading Primo Levi, and finding Levi flat by comparison. There was almost no art left in Levi's writing. The text was so self-effacing, so humble in its search for the memory of others that art would seem an indulgence. I preferred the arrogance and indulgence of Canetti, of the one who escaped intact.

Sebald discusses Peter Weiss'...
struggle against 'the art of forgetting,' a struggle that is as much a part of life as melancholy is a part of death, a struggle consisting in the constant transfer of recollection into written signs. Despite our fits of 'absence' and 'weakness' writing is an attempt 'to preserve our equilibrium among the living with all our dead within us, as we lament the dead and with our own death before our eyes, in order to set memory to work, since it alone justifies survival in the shadow of a mountain of guilt... The artistic self also engages personally in such a reconstruction, pledging itself, as Weiss sees it to set up a memorial, and the painful nature of that process could be said to ensure the continuance of memory.
It's only human to forget.

I scrawled this in the back of the book a couple of days ago.
"Unlike Levi and (Jean ) Améry and Weiss/ the men who no longer have the luxury of forgetting, of remaking, of lying, of art. The emptiness of those who must become memory machines, of those who must become unhuman to document the memory of others. Suicide the only end."
The memory machines are the tragic parallel to the forgetting machines of the German post war miracle.
It's odd no one discusses this.

Friday, December 05, 2003

We all knew he was a war criminal, but it's getting harder for his friends to deny it.

"He reportedly does not travel abroad without consulting his lawyers about the possibility of his arrest."
Yesterday in The Guardian:US jobs market continues steady pick-up
Today: Disappointing US jobs figures drive dollar to new low

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Also from The Guardian:
"I served more than seven years as a pilot," said Captain Alon R, who, like all the younger pilots, hopes to return to combat flying and so declines to use his full name in order to retain his security clearance. "In the beginning, we were pilots who believed our country would do all it could to achieve peace. We believed in the purity of our arms and that we did all we could to prevent unnecessary loss of life.
"Somewhere in the last few years it became harder and harder to believe that is the case"
Better late then never. It's a good thing, but that's all I can say.
A team of military lawyers recruited to defend alleged terrorists held by the US at Guantanamo Bay was dismissed by the Pentagon after some of its members rebelled against the unfair way the trials have been designed, the Guardian has learned.
And some members of the new legal defence team remain deeply unhappy with the trials - known as "military commissions" - believing them to be slanted towards the prosecution and an affront to modern US military justice.
The Guardian

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Read Nathan Newman on one lousy, disgusting, bit of judicial activism. Then go tell your friends about it.

Monday, December 01, 2003

I got the last one from Atrios
Some notes:
1:Crooked Timber again.
2: Alan Ryan on Amartya Sen
I read the piece on Sen when it came out and in my ignorance was struck first by the following reference, which I've had to type in from the copy on my desk. It refers to the work of Kenneth Arrow.

In 1950, Arrow... published his 'impossibility theorem'... which showed that (given a few quite irresistible requirements) there is no rule for combining individual preferences into a social choice that does not generate paradoxes. Suppose, for example, that a society wants to decide whether the proceeds of a national lottery should be spent on education, health, the arts, or sports. We are tempted to think that there must be some way of taking each citizen's preferences about the outcome and combining them to produce the choice of society as a whole. Arrow's theorem demonstrated that there is not.

The article then continues on to a discussion of Social Choice Theory as put forth by Sen and others. What bothers me about the discussion is what bothers me about all technocratic systems. Even Sen's structures are too controlling. They're too anti-Freudian: they make me want to rebel in the name of a sort of very human but blind principle. This needs explaining.
A few months ago I put up a post about how the ambiguities of legal debate in the courts and in the classroom create a flexible, dynamic, 'natural' structure that mimics the structure of religious organization without the need for metaphysical gobbledygook, and this because the only rules put down are technical rules for argument and not for result.
The discussion of how laws change parallels how religions adapt, and in both cases, the fact is conservatives can't win. Change -adaptation- happens to religion and to law as it does to language. But structures remain structures.
Here I'm going to jump a bit, make a quick comment, leave off for the night (and get drunk.)
One of the many things that annoy me about young technocrats is that when they move into working class neighborhoods they pay not only little respect but little attention to the people they are displacing. And I mean this not only in terms of their rudeness, but their lack of curiosity. A working class community is a social ecosystem, predicated on systems of mutual support and of coercion. The community is defined by social rules that are considered a priori, even as they were created by the community itself. The 'New People" or 'Liberals' or 'Assholes'- among the various words the community uses to describe the young conquerors- do not understand or appreciate the purpose of these rules. I wrote it almost by accident but I'll repeat it: The community is defined by social rules that are considered a priori, even as they were created by the community itself. My point is this: No technocratic construction can or will replicate the complexity of such self regulating systems. But left-liberals as well as conservative 'economic' liberals are unwilling or unable to criticize the primacy of the individual actor.

"...but the individual, as such, is not the centerpiece of our system of law. The system itself is."
I have to slip that in somewhere
Enough for now.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

ATRIOS:"Kevin Phillips has an interesting Op-Ed about the upcoming political season. At the end he raises the real possibility that during the RNC convention, NYC will likely effectively be operating under martial law. Sad but true. I don't know what to do about it except to implore the media to put the cameras outside as well as inside.

The RNC has already clearly stated that they've learned much from the way they handled the starry-eyed reporters during the Iraq war, and are planning to "embed" them into the convention as well. To do your jobs you need to look not just where they're pointing you, but where they're trying to point you away from."
"One of Britain's most high-profile charities was ordered to end criticism of military action in Iraq by its powerful US wing to avoid jeopardising financial support from Washington and corporate donors"
The Guardian

Saturday, November 29, 2003

British Performance Poet Rejects OBE:
I woke up on the morning of November 13 wondering how the government could be overthrown and what could replace it, and then I noticed a letter from the prime minister's office. It said: "The prime minister has asked me to inform you, in strict confidence, that he has in mind, on the occasion of the forthcoming list of New Year's honours to submit your name to the Queen with a recommendation that Her Majesty may be graciously pleased to approve that you be appointed an officer of the Order of the British Empire."
By coincidence I found the link while listening to LKJ, Linton Kwesi Johnson; his first album, Dread Beat an' Blood from 1978.

Link from Brian Leiter
A comment (mine) at Crooked Timber, from a post about Critical Theory and bad writing. It was written on the fly so it's rough:

-God save us all from the fans of ‘Theory,’ and its enemies.
What the theory-heads attempt is to reconnect narrative rhetorical style and philosophical jargon; and they fail only because they still want to be philosophers rather than mere historians or writers of prose. But at the same time they try because they know that in the real world the line between logic and bullshit is not a line at all, but a gray area. As I’ve said again, and again -and again- law and the struggle for 'imperfect' justice exist precisely here. Johnny Cochran- of O.J. Simpson fame- is not an analytical philosopher but he plays a part, literally, in the most theatrical sense, of an actor in the philosophically and morally profound structure we call ‘The Legal System.’ The fans of logical analysis, on the other hand, defend a philosophy disconnected from this world -and it is a bloody real world- of experience and ambiguity. The ideal of a man, or woman, alone with his thoughts somehow apart from social structures, implications, and obligations, is a utopian fantasy that Marx among others ridiculed mercilessly, and with good reason. It’s fine for mathematicians I suppose, but the hard sciences are amoral on principle, and peopled most often by those who avoid such issues entirely: scientists are often moral idiots. Philosophy, and philosophers, should never have that luxury.

It may be socially conservative to say so, but the creative capacity of man outside a priori structures is limited. We can not communicate without language. We can not express emotions without referring to symbols and documents of past emotion. And I'm sorry but I’ll be god damned if I’m going to get in an argument with someone who defends his vision of philosophy with references to the ‘DUNE’ trilogy. [which John Holbo does in his original post on his blog] You want to study philosophy? Go to a murder trial and brush up on your Shakespeare. Literary theorists, for all their faults, understand this.

And by the way, Kant is absolutely brilliant on art. It’s a wonder he’s been forgotten by his children. If you want to have a little fun read the section of the Critique of Judgment that deals with esthetics and in doing so substitute the word ‘justice’ every time you read the word ‘beauty’ and law’ every time you read the word ‘art.’
What a fucking brilliant man.- if the pretensions of theory and those of logical analysis aren't symptoms of the same disease.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Interesting juxtaposition.

Mr Dyke, who was given a broadcasting excellence award, said news channels needed to challenge governments.
"News organisations should be in the business of balancing their coverage, not banging the drum for one side or the other," he said.
He said coverage of the war showed the difference between the US and the UK.
He said the need for balance was "something which seemed to get lost in American reporting during the war".
British TV wins at Monday's awards included the best news award for Channel 4's coverage of the fall of Saddam Hussein, and the BBC's comedy The Kumars at Number 42 winning the best popular arts (scripted) award.
In his speech, Mr Dyke quoted research that showed that of 840 commentators aired on US TV, only four were opposed to the war. "I have to tell you if that was true in Britain the BBC would have failed in its duty," he said.

Bush's ploy will give him a small boost, but democrats should be careful. When dealing with a drunken teenager, whether the president or the American population at large, it's important to behave as an adult. Parents get called hypocrites for a reason, the same reason democrats lose elections: no one wants to sit through lectures on moral seriousness from a millionaire. In a country of easy cynicism and otherwise shallow political belief, the only time people are willing to think carefully is in a crisis. The Democrats can win if they respond carefully and practically.

The Washington Post:
"While the troops cheered the moment, it is too soon to know whether the image of Bush in his Army jacket yesterday will become a symbol of strong leadership or a symbol of unwarranted bravado.
Iraqis may be reassured that the United States will put down the insurgency and restore order in their country. Or they may take the image of Bush landing unannounced at night without lights and not venturing from a heavily fortified military installation as confirmation that the security situation in Iraq is dire indeed.
...In contrast to Bush's carrier landing, which they immediately branded a stunt, Bush's critics yesterday did not begrudge him the trip to Iraq, nor the necessary secrecy, nor even the disinformation the White House used to lead people to believe he would be at home on his ranch in Texas all day. Rather, they said the visit may come to reinforce their view that the administration has led the United States into a lonely occupation of Iraq without an obvious exit strategy."

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

The older I get the more amazed I am at those who think they are or should be considered experts on one subject or another because they're experts at talking. We're a nation of actors out to convince ourselves and everyone else that we're a nation of geniuses and heroes.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

What should I say to this?
I'm not a Zionist. I never was, and never will be; my father's family has more right to land in Poland and Germany than it does in the Middle East. I've heard Israel defended as a socialist state surrounded by dictatorships, but socialism for one group in a multi-ethnic state is not socialism. It's tyranny.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Department of Minor Comment.
I'd love to hear someone try to explain to a Libertarian, a Randian, or even a defender of rational actor theory, that there's a significant difference between the two texts. After all, they 'mean' the same thing, don't they? All other considerations are merely 'aesthetic.'
"Friends, the Republic is in real danger. It is not the UN black helicopters that threaten it, but elements of the United States officer corps. That is, if their thinking is in any way exemplified by Tommy Franks. Franks has speculated that in the wake of a major WMD attack, the US will scrap its constitution and adopt a military government. I can't imagine a more fascist, irresponsible thing for him to say."
"Friends, the Republic is in real danger. It is not the UN black helicopters that threaten it, but elements of the United States officer corps. That is, if their thinking is in any way exemplified by Tommy Franks. Franks has speculated that in the wake of a major WMD attack, the US will scrap its constitution and adopt a military government. I can't imagine a more fascist, irresponsible thing for him to say." Juan Cole.
With thanks to Zizka.
Makes me want to read Coetzee. I grew up on a diet rich in Weimar culture. As a child I used to listen to Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's Mahagonny and feel as if I were being ripped apart by the contradictions: between morality and decadence. This was a physical sensation, and a pleasureable one. Harold Pinter describes a similar experience, of a sort or esthetic bliss, reading The Jacobeans. When I spend too much time around philosophers and reformers, I need to remind myself of the world of things.
I'm not a nice man and I'm not in a forgiving mood:

"If everyone were as mature as I, the world would not be in such a sorry state. But since one can not speak out without being touched by the immature and vulgar, I think I'll stay at home."

Politics is theater not philosophy, you idiot.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

I haven't gone back to Steven Jay Gould (Nov 16) yet. I've been too busy for real thought. In the meantime I had hoped to link to this article on Amartya Sen in the new issue, but now I see you have to pay for it. Again, from the Gould article:

Linda is active in the feminist movement;
Linda is a bank teller;
Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

Now it simply must be true that the third statement is least likely, since any conjunction has to be less probable than either of its parts considered separately. Everybody can understand this when the principle is explained explicitly and patiently. But all groups of subjects, sophisticated students who ought to understand logic and probability as well as folks off the street corner, rank the last statement as more probable than the second. (I am particularly fond of this example because I know that the third statement is least probable, yet a little homunculus in my head continues to jump up and down, shouting at me—"but she can't just be a bank teller; read the description.")

Obviously, my point is that I think we 'match to type' for a reason, and that 'type', or belief, skews statistical analysis.
Imagine a description of Linda that implies, but does not state, that she is Jewish (call it racial profiling.)
Then attach these options:

Linda is an FBI agent;
Linda is a member of the American Nazi Party;
Linda is an FBI agent and a member of the American Nazi Party.

Politics: Today?
I'm disgusted. We'll leave it at that for now. It's a beautiful afternoon,
I'm going outside to play.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Spirited Away...

Before I go [to bed]: Jonathon Delacour on Miyazaki Hayao's wonderful Sen to chihiro no kamikakushi. Read the comments as well.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Christie's said it's Florentine. It's Chinese, buried in dirt for a year or two. A friend says he can get Michelangelo's David full scale if I or anyone wants.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Hey Dick! (It's the aftermath, Stupid.)
Steven Jay Gould in The New York Review, from 1988.

- Amos Tversky, who studied "hot hands," has performed a series of elegant psychological experiments with Daniel Kahneman. These long-term studies have provided our finest insight into "natural reasoning" and its curious departure from logical truth. To cite an example, they construct a fictional description of a young woman: "Linda is thirty-one years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations." Subjects are then given a list of hypothetical statements about Linda: they must rank these in order of presumed likelihood, most to least probable. Tversky and Kahneman list eight statements, but five are a blind, and only three make up the true experiment:

Linda is active in the feminist movement;
Linda is a bank teller;
Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

Now it simply must be true that the third statement is least likely, since any conjunction has to be less probable than either of its parts considered separately. Everybody can understand this when the principle is explained explicitly and patiently. But all groups of subjects, sophisticated students who ought to understand logic and probability as well as folks off the street corner, rank the last statement as more probable than the second. (I am particularly fond of this example because I know that the third statement is least probable, yet a little homunculus in my head continues to jump up and down, shouting at me—"but she can't just be a bank teller; read the description.")

Why do we so consistently make this simple logical error? Tversky and Kahneman argue, correctly I think, that our minds are not built (for whatever reason) to work by the rules of probability, though these rules clearly govern our universe. We do something else that usually serves us well, but fails in crucial instances: we "match to type." We abstract what we consider the "essence" of an entity, and then arrange our judgments by their degree of similarity to this assumed type. Since we are given a "type" for Linda that implies feminism, but definitely not a bank job, we rank any statement matching the type as more probable than another that only contains material contrary to the type. This propensity may help us to understand an entire range of human preferences, from Plato's theory of form to modern stereotyping of race or gender.-

More on this later.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Some awful writing in the last post; now fixed (I hope.)
I am relying more and more on Juan Cole, not only because he's a college teacher and fluent in Arabic, but because he gives Iraq and Iraqis the respect they deserve. Even to say he 'gives' respect misses the point. I've spent some free time this week posting comments on this thread on Maxspeak, and I've had it.
I noticed a few weeks ago that some righteous liberal had posted a list of favorite movies from the past few years. Others chimed in with their own lists; I don't even want to say who got involved, it's too embarrassing. The imports were limited to a few films from the past year or two. Nothing from Iran. Nothing from China or Taiwan: No Wong Kar Wei or Hou Hsiao-Hsien. No Claire Denis; no Mike Leigh. I don't think even Almodovar made a list. It's the same disease.
Not that it's been mentioned much recently but here's the graph showing the results for many of those who took the Political Compass test. I'm not listed but I'm in the lower left somewhere. When I took the test I hoped I would end up in the upper left, along with Russell Arben Fox. But there is a difference between approving of something and allowing it to occur. The Anarcho-narcissism of libertarians -left and right- drives me nuts, but I don't think there is much we can do about it without redefining justice in a way I can't accept. I don't think it's practicable, or moral, to proscribe self indulgence. But I do approve of forms of social coercion other than those given the force of law, and that's a different matter entirely.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

A word that disgusts me, mostly because those who make use of it subscribe to a certain form of positivism that chooses analysis and design over history and interpretation: the synchronic, ahistorical and therefore pseudoscientific over the historical, narrative and therefore 'merely subjective'. But of course by referring to the history of ideas as the equivalent of a blind struggle for genetic dominance, the core idea of humanism- our sense of free will- is tossed in the dustbin. How quaint that science and anti-humanist postmodernism fit so well together.
Fucking idiots.
Posted without comment
"And Bremer roars and rages- where are the Puppets? Where are the marionettes?! How dare they miss yet another meeting! But they all have their reasons, Mr.Bremer: Talbani is suffering from indigestion after an ample meal last night; Iyad Allawi is scheduled for a pedicure in Switzerland this afternoon; Al-Hakim is jetting around making covert threats to the Gulf countries, and Chalabi says he's not attending meetings anymore, he's left the country and will be back when it's time for the elections…" Riverbend.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Mario Merz.
I worked with him on an installation for a week or so in 1985. I have some fond memories.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Fun on Saturday morning.
A good piece on the reaction to Dean's comments, in The Times.
Blackman's dilemma: contempt [I had written cynicism] on one side, condescension on the other.
Got me?
Why I have no respect for self serving liberals. From Tapped, Quoting Ken Pollack:

Whether you wanted to go into Iraq or not, whether you thought it was right or not, the simple fact of the matter is, that the entire region, the entire Middle East is now watching to see what unfolds in Iraq.

For the longest time, they basically had two options. They had the autocracy offered by their government and they had the Islamic republics offered by the Islamic fundamentalists. And here comes the United States and says, "We've got another idea. We've got another way of doing things, and that's democratization."

The U.S. is trying to do that now in Iraq. We're doing it with 130,000 troops and 100 billion of our own dollars. The rest of the region is watching to see if it succeeds. And if it succeeds, there is the chance that others will start to accept and start to move in that direction. If it fails, every Arab is going to look at it and say, the Americans tried, they tried with $100 billion, and 130,000 troops, and if it can't work in Iraq, there's no way it can work here.

To which Nick Confessore adds:
This is reality, like it or not. The United States needs to succeed in Iraq, something I think most Democrats actually do understand, conservative piping to the contrary. We can't go home; we have to figure out a way to make this thing work.

The arrogance of well meaning liberals continues to astound me. I don't mean to push the comparison too much, especially since I changed my mind recently -regarding one example- but the condescension towards blacks and arabs is too similar to ignore. The idea of one sovereign nation imposing democracy on another is always rather odd, and combined with the circumstances of our relationship to the Middle East, the haphazard policies and -amazingly- corrupt economics of the occupation are only making things worse.

The hope for democracy in the Middle East has always come from within: from Palestinian reformers, and as anyone who's been following that country for the last decade understands, from Iran. That is now augmented by the comparatively new sense among Arabs that 'Christian' Europe is nonetheless separate and distinct from its American cousin. None of this means that we, in whatever grouping, should not offer help, but the arrogance of the statement quoted so approvingly by Tapped leaves me shaking my head.

And here I get to lump everything together, since again all this turns on one point: the refusal of the self absorbed observer to have any sense of ironic detachment, no sense his own psychology nor that of his charges -is that too loaded a term?- when regarding the schemes of his grand imagining.

Friday, November 07, 2003

A link from Juan Cole:
Modern Iraq is no postwar Germany
Lawrence Korb Day 3.
At this point I'm more than a little worried that what our Asshole in Chief is planning is a replay of Nixon's "Christmas Bombings." In order to keep the war out of the election he'll up the ante on the Iraqi opposition, declare victory and pull out. It's a recipe for disaster. In the future we'll be able to remind those who defended him of the promises he's made, and of his lies.
I'm reminded again that with all of my arguing against the absurdity of ' logical actor theory,' -see below- all I'm doing is demonstrating my faith in it, in it's Chomskian variety. Why else would I continue to bang my head against the wall if not for my assumption that "if only they knew the facts, they would change their minds." [And of course I hate Chomsky.] Every time I remember this, I laugh. People, especially those with a taste for philosophizing, never learn from their mistakes.

I say now that although I've come to terms with my own mistakes and failures, and with my constant confusion of intellect and desire -and come to terms in the sense of taking pleasure from them- I'm still shocked by those who do not have the same sense of ironic detachment, and shocked in the sense of being disgusted, and furious- at the educated classes most of all. I still know how to hate. I do it well, and too much.
I posted a comment on Max's post about Sharpton and Dean's reference to the Confederate flag. Initially I agreed with Max, but as I wrote just now in a new comment on the same post, I've changed my mind.

"The Democratic response is superficial and cynical. Max is right about that. But I felt odd defending a reference to the confederate flag. Sharpton has as much right to be pissed as I would be if Dean made a passing reference to working class anti semites. And he needs their votes too. I might prefer it if Sharpton's response were more nuanced, but I'm not going to lump him with the white boys, or demand that he be more, how shall I say... Christian about it."

Thursday, November 06, 2003

I'm betting on China.
Interesting news today, at least for me. I never have much money, and what I have a rarely save. I have no debt; I don't even have a credit card; I own nothing. But if I don't have money I have plenty of cultural capital, and to the degree that I've used it, it's what has kept me afloat the past 20 years. Still, at 40, I've begun to worry.

I only have a few thousand dollars at the moment. Sometimes it goes down to a few hundred, but I survive. As of today, however, I have $3000 in a Roth IRA at Wachovia Securities. I won't say what I got. Nothing fancy, but I'm in early. Cultural capital at work.
I have other plans. I am an expert in a field that requires social skills I don't enjoy using; in certain instances my avoidance of them is almost pathological. That needs to change I guess.
We'll see what happens. Thinking practically, I've been poor my entire adult life. And I'm tired.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Posted without comment (the fuckers.)
Baklava Burning
I haven't linked to Max in a while:
"Bush's miserable failure here is magnified here by virtue of the point that it's not that a failure to progress, as defined by liberals. It's a failure of Commerce, what Republicans are supposed to be good at. But there is commerce and there is crony capitalism. We all know how Mr. Bush got rich. It wasn't by finding oil. Clinton was called our first black president. I say George Bush is our first Indonesian president."

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

The last post isn't a defense of emotionalism any more than Mendelsohn's article is. Our actions are colored by emotion, and those people who claim otherwise about themselves, while not always self-deluded are limited in their intellectual understanding of others. Singer, however, seems as confused about his own motivations for writing the book as he is about those of his grandfather. I'm thinking of paying 4 bucks for the web version of the article and putting it on my site.

Finally in reference to the by now absurd post at CT:  Let's remove the name "philosophy" from the subject heading of this discussion and replace it with "self-referential logic". That seems to be the only thing being discussed.  None of the categories discussed represent anything in the world; they refer only to each other. And when someone does make reference to the world,  to the point even of answering the question, he's ignored…
Mathematically, it wouldn't take that long. If you wait till the 4th day, you would get 4 flips giving you a 93.75% chance of getting at least one head. At the 12th day, you would have a 99.997% chance. Each extra day would give you only a very slight increase to your chances. (Waiting till the 13th day would increase your chances by 0.001% to 99.998% ...Then again, at the 13th day, you would have a 1/50,000 chance of losing. If you wanted to get the chances better than 1 in a million, you would have to hold out another week.
And this is because there is no interest shown in this discussion in the world as such, nor in anything concrete.

For a couple of years in the 80's I had a subscription to The Journal of Philosophy, and I've kept one issue on or around my desk for 15 years. It includes an article I've never forgotten: Morality and Self Other Asymmetry by Michael Slote, at the time and perhaps still of Trinity College Dublin. Not having read Allan Sokal's piece in Social Text, I can only say I'd be surprised if it were any more worthy of ridicule than this. What Slote attempts, using only the tools of logical analysis, is an explanation of why in common-sense morality it is considered appropriate to offer oneself as a sacrifice in place of another, but not to offer another in sacrifice in place of a third party. Any anthropologist would tell you about the ways in which societies create categories for those 'outiders' who are allowed, or required, to transcend such definitions. The military is the obvious example, since it is divided between the majority and the officers who live apart from them, but command them. This information could be used to reflect back on common sense morality, understood as the moral dynamic among the enlisted, as among the various officers (grouped by rank.) It takes an understanding of psychology to gather why this division is required, though it seems obvious. But Slote, being a philosopher, is unwilling to take account of such a mess. [On another front, the grapevine says Dear Leader is thinking about getting the draft up and running]

I'm done for now. I'm tired. But since I'm back on analytical philosphy, and I seem to be getting a few hits from CT I'll take this from a post on Sept 26:
In The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Simon Blackburn writes this about Donald Davidson: 
"Davidson is also known for rejection of the idea of s conceptual scheme, thought of as something peculiar to one language or one way of looking at the world, arguing that where the possibility of translation stops so does the coherence of the idea that there is something to translate."

So if it is impossible to translate the finer points in Mallarmé, then no finer points exist.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Again, it will be a slow week for writing. I wrote the comments on Crooked Timber in a hurry. Short overstuffed paragraphs make for pompous diction. 

In my third comment—not reposted here—I mentioned Daniel Mendelsohn's review of Pushing Time Away: My Grandfather and the Tragedy of Jewish Vienna by Peter Singer. The article is a logical defense of the relation between emotion and human intelligence, written in response to an author who seems not to understand that such a relationship exists, even as he is describing his family history and himself.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

"If you want proof of the ultimate intentions of conservatives and why filibustering judges is needed, check out the post by Daniel Bernstein defending the pre-New Deal Supreme Court at the The Volokh Conspiracy. Appeals Court nomine Janice Brown has refused to disavow decisions from this period, notably the Lochner decision, which struck down a state overtime law, so Bernstein sets off to defend the court era." .Nathan Newman.
Having fun at Crooked Timber today.
Art is the articulate, even brilliant, glossing over of conflict and contradiction. To take art seriously, as more than a simple diversion, is to choose what is complex, indirect, intelligent and most often logically wrong, over what is simple, direct and quite often technically speaking, right. This is not practical at least in the short term, but in the long term neither is simplicity. ‘Justice’ is not simple, and is defined in our literature as ‘Imperfect’ Justice, imperfect both because of the third party systems of communication we are forced to use -language etc.- and because we have a tendency to replace logic with art for reasons of simple desire. This means: 1- That we may each ‘desire’ an outcome and -2 We can not even agree on the meaning of words. What is the definition of the color ‘red’. “Well… I think it’s more orange actually” These are limitations to our experience which we will not escape. Art reminds us, indeed demonstrates to us, the subtlety of our perceptions, the subtlety of our ability to bend and twist things beyond recognition. It is a dangerous drug to take by choice, especially since we’re born drunk. However, in my leisure hours, when I am not rushing someone to the hospital or at work -on a construction site- I choose to remind myself of the ambiguities we face by going to museums, listening to Mozart and 50 Cent, and attacking conservative arguments on constitutional law. That way I know that when it comes time to make the important decisions, I will have prepared myself to face them, aware of my limitations, as best I can.
Philosophy is ‘an attempt’ to think clearly. Please don’t confuse that with clarity.

Friday, October 31, 2003

"Professor Timothy Mitchell, of the New York University Political Science Department, spoke on contemporary Middle East affairs in Ann Arbor on Thursday. Mitchell is among the more original and insightful thinkers about the region. One point he made was that successful democratization, whether in Japan, India or elsewhere, has always been preceded by land reform." Juan Cole.
Briefly before I give out for the night.
In re: Tapped and the the second of two posts on Al Sharpton.

"SHARPTON: We were the ones that worked with Saddam Hussein. The United States worked with bin Laden. I went in 2001 and met with Arafat at the insistence of the Israeli foreign minister. Would anyone here meet with Arafat, in terms of trying to get peace in the Middle East?
Let's put the hard questions out, Senator Lieberman. Would you meet with the head of the Palestinian Authority? (APPLAUSE)
In answer to your question, I think that Boykin's statement is wrong. This is not about one religion against another. It's about right versus wrong.
I said it earlier when we were talking about right to choose, one of the reasons I'm glad to be in this race is we're going to have the battle between the Christian right and the right Christians. (APPLAUSE)
IFILL: Senator Lieberman, you've got 30 seconds to . . . (APPLAUSE)
. . . you can hardly hear me -- Senator Lieberman, you've got 30 seconds to respond to Reverend Sharpton's statement. (APPLAUSE)
Senator Lieberman?"

Tapped: "The applause that followed Sharpton's demand seemed unpleasantly enthusiastic...
Sharpton has a long and unpleasant history with the Jewish community in New York, but in recent years he has been smart enough not to cross any obvious lines."

What the hell is wrong with anything Sharpton said here? Is the phrase 'the right Christians' now coded anti-semitism?
"...unpleasantly enthusiastic." Talk to me about the racial politics in Brooklyn, Ms. Franke-Ruta, when you are ready to go into detail. Until then you're talking crap.

[I had a lot more, but I was too angry. It's not worth it]
I'm trying to fix some lousy writing.
Another long week.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

I listened briefly this morning to Hollywood studio flack Jack Valenti do his spiel on downloading. I have to admit the people who defend it sound silly, much sillier than those who just shrug and push the button. And there's a reason for that.

People are lazy and easily corrupted. They try to get away with things, and are allowed to within the limited context of what the population as a whole considers normative. Exorbitant rent, ridiculous prices for goods and services, and absurdly high salaries for CEOs are accepted if not defended by the majority because in the name of personal freedom, we have decided that there should be limits on our ability to sanction or impose rules of behavior.

On a case by case basis downloading is a minor offense, with an economic impact only because it's popular. In the minds of the majority a petty crime is being redefined as an acceptable if not moral act. The people have spoken (and we are not after all talking about murder.) Hollywood and the rest should find another way to make money off their products.

This is an outline of a complex argument, but I'll leave that to somebody else.

Brad Delong on Luskin v. Luskin.
An interesting article in the Times on Tuesday on what physicists call the Anthropic Principle - in this case, the Weak Anthropic Principle. What interested me is that although WAP is being put forth only as a nonmathematical parameter for scientific, mathematical, research - we exist in this universe, so why not use our existence as a point of reference- those who are opposed to it seem irrationally to equate the inclusion of nonmathematical factors with a religious impulse. But the explicitly religious Strong Anthropic Principle, or SAP, is something else entirely.

If physicists can come around to the use of such terms, how long till mainstream economists become willing to factor non-mathematical criteria into their calculations? It's not quite the same situation, but the fear in the hearts of purists is the same. And it clarifies the relationship as it has developed between individualism and the hard sciences.
8 AM Friday:

Of course economists use non-mathematical criteria. To say otherwise as I did above, is silly. And the result of WAP is to make physics more like economics: my point was perfectly backwards. But greed, unlike our presence in the universe, is both a constant and a variable, and as such is a subject for sociology and literature as much as- more than- mathematics. The use of various mathematically derived, simplistic and explicitly vulgar 'constants' in economics reduces the complexity of human behavior to its lowest common denominator. Technocracy is banality. The Weak Anthropic Principle, by comparison, is simple logic.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

I'm exhausted, but at least I'll add a link. I ran into an old acquaintance at the memorial on Sunday. So here are Simon Grennan and Christopher Sperandio. The Kartoon Kings.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

I have a little time and chance gives my my subject:
Read Chris Bertram on why he likes this quote from Colin McGinn.

The metaphor that best captures my experience with both philosophy and sport is soaring: pole vaulting, gymnastics and windsurfing clearly demonstrate it, but the intellectual highwire act involved in full-throttle philosophical thinking gives me a similar sensation - as if I have taken flight, leaving gravity behind. It is almost like sloughing off mortality. (Plato indeed thought that acquiring abstract knowledge is a return to the prenatal state of the immortal soul.) There is also an impressiveness to these physical and mental skills that appeals to me - they evoke the “wow” reflex. Showing off is an integral part of their exercise; but as I said earlier, I don’t have any objection to showing off. In any case, there is not, for me, the discontinuity between sports and intellectual activities that is often assumed. It is not that you must either be a nerd or a jock; you can be both. It has never surprised me that the ancient Greeks combined a reverence for the mind with a love of sports: both involve an appreciation of the beauties of technique skilfully applied. And both place a high premium on getting it right - exactly right.

One thing here should be obvious to anyone who considers himself either thoughtful or observant. And that is that unlike philosophers and scientists, artists and athletes are more interested in being good than 'right.' Sport is skill. And even allowing for the comparison of athletics to intellect, there's no such thing as "exactly right" when you're competing against another human being. There is no strategy without context

"There's a Sucker Born in Every Medial Prefrontal Cortex" The NY Times Magazine

Measuring brand influence might seem like an unusual activity for a neuroscientist, but Montague is just one of a growing breed of researchers who are applying the methods of the neurology lab to the questions of the advertising world. Some of these researchers, like Montague, are purely academic in focus, studying the consumer mind out of intellectual curiosity, with no corporate support. Increasingly, though, there are others -- like several of the researchers at the Mind of the Market Laboratory at Harvard Business School -- who work as full-fledged ''neuromarketers,'' conducting brain research with the help of corporate financing and sharing their results with their sponsors. .

Saturday, October 25, 2003

I posted this a few months ago, but for various reasons, personal and otherwise, I'll post it again as a link today.
Have a good weekend.
Another long week. I wake up from a long dream not sure where the world ends and I begin. Politics is draining, not the discussion of it but the experience. I need to sit by myself to remember how to think rather than just react.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold
I turned on the stereo when I fell out of bed and got my bearings listening to early Schoenberg: simple, almost vulgar narrative. No wonder he became an ultramodernist. If not for that he would have ended up doing film scores for Errol Flynn. Listening to Verklarte Nacht I keep imagining Olivia de Havilland staring out a window.
From Childhood I associate Chopin with Charlie Chaplin, and not the other way around.

This weekend is going to be pretty busy as well, most of it taken up with a long going away party for my friend Colin de Land, who died a few months ago. A small party tonight; tomorrow at the great hall at Cooper Union; and a concert tomorrow night at CB's. I think Debby Harry is playing, and Lou Reed may show up. I'm a minor player in this scene, on the outer reaches of the inner circle, but need to be there. And it should be fun. It's not going to clear my head however.

From The Times:

"But in his parliamentary appearance, Mr. Hu went beyond economics by painting China as an all-around global player that was reaching out for broad diplomatic and cultural relations, including an increase in the already tens of thousands of Chinese students attending Australian universities.
In contrast, Mr. Bush in his address on Thursday, dwelled on a narrow agenda of the campaign against terrorism, and his gratitude to Australia for sending troops to Iraq.
The biggest difference was in style, with an almost complete role reversal of what might be expected. The Chinese leader was gregarious; the American president, aloof.
Mr. Bush left after 21 hours in Australia, stuck to this sleepy capital, and was whisked around in motorcades on routes swept clear of ordinary people. He declined to hold a news conference, and was criticized in the usually pro-American press here for offering little beyond a pledge to complete the outline of a free trade agreement with Australia soon.
Mr. Hu is lingering for three days. He took the traditional outing for visiting dignitaries — a cruise on Sydney's splendid harbor. He met with Australian business executives at a working lunch, and, in an unusual move for a Chinese leader, held a news conference, albeit a fairly scripted affair.
'Bush came, Hu conquered,' headlined the Financial Review, the conservative, business newspaper"

If I were much of a nationalist...
But I gave that up for Lent years ago.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Krugman on Mahathir Mohamad:
"At that time, rather than accept the austerity programs recommended by the U.S. government and the I.M.F., he loudly blamed machinations by Western speculators, and imposed temporary controls on the outflow of capital — a step denounced by all but a handful of Western economists. As it turned out, his economic strategy was right: Malaysia suffered a shallower slump and achieved a quicker recovery than its neighbors."

He doesn't mention his position at the time. My first thought is that he was not one of that 'handful' but I don't want to make any assumptions.

update: Crooked Timber.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Go read Riverbend.
I had a short paragraph on Easterbrook, with links to Atrios and Josh Marshall, but it got lost due to an accident before I clicked 'publish.' The gist of it was this:
The charges of anti-semitism are overblown, but the piece itself is awful for any number of other reasons. Easterbrook, whoever he is, is an unsophisticated putz. And it doesn't say much about the Washington press corps that it can only criticize stupidity in its ranks as a means of self defense.
How the hell did David Brooks ever get a job at the Times?

Sunday, October 19, 2003

James Atlas has a piece in the Times today about Hitchens and Berman and the neoconservatives. Ignoring the facts on the ground in a way that seems absolutely bizarre, Atlas' argument only confirms the obvious: shallow self indulgent liberalism will become lazy conservatism, and the serious responsible left –sorry Christopher– has to hope that right wing realists will save the day.
Someday someone will write a critique of the the events of the sixties focusing on the final destruction of community and the rise of technocratic individualism. And the person who writes it won't be a liberal.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

"Those in Congress who voted for the loan are motivated by domestic political considerations. This is not new. Underlying it is something legitimate: the Bush Administration has redirected huge resources while neglecting the domestic economy. It failed to deal effectively with the recession, and it suffers the proliferation of service cuts in state and local governments. People are saying, how about some charity at home? One can hardly blame them."

The problem is that most members of congress agreed with Bush, or at least agreed to follow him, and now are trying to back away from the only appropriate action- appropriate by their own definition since they would never choose to cede authority to the UN- out of concern for "domestic political considerations." So yes I do blame them, as I blame those they represent.

"A hundred years ago, the radical Randolph Bourne opined, "war is the health of the state." Imperialism requires domestic tranquility, and that costs money. In U.S. history, every great military venture was accompanied by expansion of the welfare state, strengthening of the tax system, and measures to forge cross-class national unity. A cross-dressing Maggie Thatcher could never pass for Bismarck. Bush probably doesn't know who Bismarck was. He's not up to the job of empire-building, and he's too stupid to back down. It seems more and more likely that elites -- by whom I do not mean Barbara Streisand and Alec Baldwin -- will do their best to bring down this incompetent Administration."

I've been arguing this from the beginning, but Max states it well. Maxspeak
And again though it's a week late.
What I like is the way there is a no separation between storytelling and description. There is no falsely neutral scientific 'objectivity.' She takes sophistication for granted. It's so fucking un-American.
She writes well and has a nasty, almost patrician, sense of humor. If she were British, she'd probably vote Conservative; but she's not British she's Iraqi...

Evening Tea and Turkish Troops.
"It's like this: imagine America being invaded and occupied by, say, North Korea. (Note: I only say 'North Korea' because of the cultural differences between the US and North Korea, and the animosity.... I, unlike Chalabi, am not privileged to information on WMD, etc.) Imagine Korean troops invading homes, detaining people and filling the streets with tanks and guns. Then imagine North Korea deciding it 'needed help' and bringing in?. Mexico. And you ask, "But why Mexico?!" and the answer is, "Well, Mexicans will understand you better because the majority of Americans are Christian, and the majority of Mexicans are Christian- you'll all get along famously." Riverbend
"No idea's original, there's nothing new under the sun. It's never what you do, but how it's done."

Thursday, October 16, 2003

I've had a very busy week.

Monday, October 13, 2003

"The Former Republican Communications Staffers and Speechwriters Group of Washington." aka "FREAKSHOW."
And again.
Mark Kleiman again, this time commenting on the possibility of charging both the leaker and Novak with fraud:
"It would be a horrible travesty if the Plame scandal became the means by which we adopted an Official Secrets Act via the back door."
Yes it would. And it's why I've argued against encouraging chants of 'Treason!.'

Saturday, October 11, 2003

When Mark Kleiman goes on a tear, I'll follow him sometimes even if I can't share his anger: my interest in the Wilson/Plame affair is practical. But he's also the only other person I've read who has responded to the Vatican's policy on birth control, in the age of AIDS, in a way appropriate to the crime: "Makes you want to believe in Hell, doesn't it?"
Yes it does.
"Economics101b: Fall 2003: Problem Set 2 Due at start of section on September 9. 1. Consider an economy with the production function: (Y/L) = (K/L)a(E)1-a a. Suppose a = 1/3, E=1, L=100, and K=64; what is output per worker Y/L? b. Suppose a = 1/3, E=3, L=196, and K=49; what is output per worker Y/L? c. If both capital K and labor L double, what happens to total output Y? (Not output per worker Y/L, but total output.) d. Holding E=1, suppose that capital per worker increases from 2 to 4 and then from 4 to 6. What happens to output per worker? 2. Would the balanced-growth path of output per worker be shifted upward, shifted downward, or remain the same if capital were to become more durable--if the rate of depreciation on capital were to fall? 3. Consider an economy in which the depreciation rate is 3% per year, the rate of population increase is 2% per year, the rate of technological progress is 1% per year, and the private savings rate is 19% of GDP. Suppose that the government increases its budget deficit--which had been at 1% of GDP for a long time--to 4% of GDP and keeps..." Brad Delong.

It may seem odd but I can't read things like this without feeling a certain despair. The words describe a philosophy of relative value. I've spent the last half hour trying to find a comment I made recently to the effect that individualism as an ideology is destructive to individuality as lived experience; that freedom is destructive to the notion of choice. Anyway, I can't find it, and I'm almost out of time, but the exercises described above make me want to act in an even less predictably 'economic' way than I do already. I want my individuality back [sic].

Remember I'm a construction worker:
Sheetrock is the modern replacement for plaster applied over wood or metal lath. It's economical to use, and in relative terms the two are identical: they serve the same purpose. But sheetrock is cheap and flimsy. It sucks. It's the 'Big Mac' of building materials. And it is ubiquitous.
I gotta go, but part II of this if I get around to it- and the timing is perfect- is to discuss an acceptance of cultural givens and values and truths, including my defense of plaster and brick, or stone or craft itself, as representing 'absolute' values. "Absolute Value? You mean like the Pope?"

It's sloppy but it's a start.

To begin with, here's David Brooks' defense of the of the begetter of crimes against humanity.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

I'm coming close to making an argument for the banality of all scientific discourse, whenever that discourse itself is seen as the engine of change. The notion of a 'scientific imperative' is beginning to disgust me. And, of course, I have no interest in a 'return' to religion.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

This is disgusting. This is evil: "The Catholic Church is telling people in countries stricken by Aids not to use condoms because they have tiny holes in them through which the HIV virus can pass - potentially exposing thousands of people to risk. The church is making the claims across four continents despite a widespread scientific consensus that condoms are impermeable to the HIV virus. A senior Vatican spokesman backs the claims about permeable condoms, despite assurances by the World Health Organisation that they are untrue."

I don't have it in me even to ask how officials of the church can imagine they serve a moral purpose. Catholicism has become a parody of itself. It has become murderous kitsch. I wish death upon this man. I wish death upon the pope.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Waiting to pick up a Pizza I walked into a local electronics store to browse. The DVD of The Matrix Reloaded was playing on one of the large flat panel screens. Watching it and the blank affectless expressions of the characters, what struck me was that the moral esthetic of the film is one of a sort of autistic perfection, a supreme competence predicated on nothing more than itself.

When wisdom is irrelevant all that there is left to judge is skill. The esthetics of information is based on this assumption, being a philosophy of tools and techniques rather than of their use. It's the philosophy of Neat -'That's neat!'- an esthetic of preadolescent invention, the worldview that considers science fiction a noble art. I'm amazed at how many people refer to Tolkien. And now we have Neil Stephenson. How much acquired knowledge can you put into 800 pages?
That seems to be the only point. It's the MENSA theory of value, sprung from the minds of half-educated youth, and it is mind numbing, good only for libertarians and narcissists.

It's been commented on before by others, but Sebald in On The Natural History of Destruction writes well about post war Germany and the moral philosophy of empty perfection that gave birth to the economic miracle.
Gerhard Richter, Eight Gray (Acht Grau), 2002 

From Altercation
I hadn't realized Nathan Newman has put up three posts on the Wilson/Plame story. I linked to the second one yesterday. Here is the first, with a list of agency crimes, and here is today's.
My only comment would be to add that we 'need' the CIA only because of our position in the world, a position that is not and has never been predicated on morality. Operatives may perform good deeds, and feel proud of doing so, but that's not their job. Every small independent state needs ways of gathering information, but we are not a small independent state, and except in our collective imagination, haven't been one for a long time. If Valerie Plame is such a paragon of virtue, why doesn't she work for the UN? I would probably say it's because she puts her country first.
And how is that the 'moral' choice?
And Assad's intelligent response.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Bush has backed Sharon. The stupidest thing he could possibly have done.
I've deleted the Schwarzenegger post from yesterday. The tone was offensive. I wasn't taking his actions seriously enough, and my comments on the schism between social conservatives and the neocons was wishful thinking. But there's a thought that victory could cause problems for his party, as the Times has noted, and now considering how much is coming out, his victory may become something of a disaster. If the election were two weeks away, I don't think he'd have a chance. And even if he pulls it out it's quite possible that he, and not his wife will be seen as damaged goods.
Thank you Nathan.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Atrios displays his know nothing sense of decency. I find it amazing that the citizens of this country, even the "advanced" ones, are so often so willing to claim a right to ignorance about those things they haven't bothered to learn. It's embarrassing.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

Reuters "Four months after the Security Council ordered an independent board to monitor U.S. spending of Iraq's oil revenues, diplomats on Thursday accused the United States of blocking it from taking up its duties.
The diplomats blamed the delay on U.S. disagreements with the designated members of the as-yet nonexistent International Advisory and Monitoring Board over its duties. The board was to be created under a May 22 Security Council resolution."